Why I Can’t Handle Handel

There’s a famous saying that goes “All Politics is Local.” I am not sure that this is true, but it does come to mind with the topic of this blog post. As many of you probably know, Georgia’s 6th Congressional District is in the midst of a tumultuous election between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel. This election is getting far more national attention than a Georgia Congressional race would typically get. Off the top of my head, the last one to get this amount of coverage might have been John Lewis vs. Julian Bond–in 1986. In a fact that may surprise some readers of this blog who envision me inveighing against examples of Southern bigotry such as the Confederate Flag from somewhere in Manhattan, I have lived in the Atlanta area all of my life and am a registered voter in the 6th District. In contrast to the overall city proper of Atlanta and the counties of Fulton and DeKalb, which are very diverse and vote heavily for Democrats, the 6th District is heavily Republican. Despite this, Trump did not do so well there. To put this in perspective, the district has been represented by Republicans, including Newt Gingrich and current senior Senator Johnny Isakson, since 1979. Before that, its Democratic Representative, Jack Flynt, had a segregationist record. From 2000 to 2012, Republican presidential candidates garnered anywhere from 61 to 70% of the vote there. So it was a striking departure when Trump came in at 48%, beating Clinton by a measly 1%. I am generally of the mindset that Democrats should give up on winning statewide elections in most former Confederate states–excluding obviously Virginia and perhaps Florida and North Carolina–for the time being. The Democratic Party was a bastion of bigotry and persecution when it did well in the South, and Democrats who run for statewide office here tend to have very watered down positions on civil rights and civil liberties issues. Congressional races, however, are an entirely different matter. Representative John Lewis of Georgia’s 5th District is appropriately called the “Conscience of Congress” for his tireless support of civil rights causes, and I would pit his record against that of any Representative from New York.

As a young man who became a public figure fairly recently, Ossoff obviously does not have the same kind of record that we can look to. Nevertheless, he has included a reference to discrimination based on sexual orientation in his official platform and stated that, “I oppose any legislation or policy that allows discrimination against LGBT Americans, and I oppose this [‘religious freedom’] executive order, which undermines the intent of Congress in order to allow more money into our political system.” He also believes that, “Same-sex couples should have the same rights as every couple in every context. There’s no excuse for discrimination in federal law or state law, and it’s a sad commentary on the state of affairs in Washington that we’re still having these debates.” He has promised that, “If I’m elected, I’ll be a public, outspoken, unashamed ally of the LGBT community with a zero-tolerance policy for hate speech, discrimination or scape-goating — no questions asked.” And this weekend, he is speaking at an LGBT rights march in Atlanta. Which brings us to Karen Handel. Where does she stand on LGBT rights? In a recent debate with Ossoff, she talked about trying to balance religious freedom with nondiscrimination, which in practice is generally a warning sign that a politician is not very supportive of LGBT rights. But to really see how abysmal Handel is on LGBT rights issues, we need to go back to 2010.

In 2010, Georgia was in the midst of a gubernatorial election. In the Democratic Party camp, the pickings were slim. I recall sending a questionnaire to all of the Democrats running in the primary and never receiving a single reply. In fairness, I received a reply from one of these candidates’ staffers explaining that the candidate was out of town and did not have access to a computer. I guess he is still out of town. But if most of the Democrats were slim pickings, the Republicans were by and large toxic pickings. The GOP primary essentially devolved into a game of “any gays you can bash, I can bash better.” Current Governor Nathan Deal and Karen Handel were particularly vigorous at playing this game. Deal accused Handel of having a “liberal gay rights record,” including being a member of the Log Cabin Republicans, supporting gay adoption, and favoring domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples. So how did Handel respond to these claims? She denied ever being a member of the Log Cabin Republicans, despite a paper trial suggesting otherwise.  She also insisted that she opposed gay adoption and domestic partner benefits for gay couples. These days, Handel is more cagey. Her team apparently ignored multiple requests for interviews with The Georgia Voice regarding her views. However, she has shown that she will  throw LGBT people under the bus at the drop of a hat. Some people will compare this to Obama publicly supporting gay marriage in 1996, claiming to oppose it in 2004 and 2008, and pivoting back to support in 2012. There are parallels, but the situations are not equivalent. Obama’s overall gay rights platform during his “lukewarm period” was still far more progressive than Handel’s. He favored gay adoption, ENDA, and repealing DOMA and DADT. Handel, on the other hand, went out of her way to present herself as anti-LGBT rights in general. And she has shown little interest in trying to atone for her behavior the way that Obama did. She does not deserve to hold any public office again.

I would like to close this blog post with a quote from Ossoff’s campaign website:

“Our Constitutional rights, our civil liberties, and our privacy are sacred.

Throughout our history, patriots, abolitionists, civil libertarians, suffragettes, and civil rights heroes have made huge sacrifices to advance liberty and justice for all. We should continue striving together toward a more perfect union.

Jon will fight for our civil liberties to ensure that every American is free to determine the course of their own life so long as they don’t harm others.

Jon will oppose cynical attempts by politicians to win elections by undermining Americans’ hard-fought, sacred voting rights.

Jon’s mother is an immigrant who became a small business owner, an American citizen, and a champion for women’s rights. America needs a strong border policy that protects American citizens and American jobs. We should welcome those strivers who, like our own forebears, seek the opportunity to work hard, play by the rules, and build better lives in America.

Jon believes it is a violation of core American principles to slander entire religious groups and that it’s unconstitutional to ban anyone from entering our country on religious grounds.

As our representative in Congress, Jon will fight tirelessly against discrimination, hate speech, or violence against Americans on the basis of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or place of birth.

Jon will stand up for due process and equal treatment under law for all of us, regardless of race or income level. Jon will honor law enforcement and stand up for Georgians who are mistreated by the criminal justice system.

Jon will oppose legislation or executive action that undermines Americans’ access to private communications and strong encryption.”

Now that is a platform that we should all be able to get behind!

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