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Republican National Convention Returns to Twin Cities after 106 Years: Log Cabin Republicans Planning Major Presence

By Lavender August 14, 2008

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For the second time in history, the Republican Party will hold its National Convention in Minnesota. This year’s is set for September 1-4 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Minneapolis hosted the Republican National Convention in 1892, ushering incumbent President Benjamin Harrison into a national race. He lost a close presidential vote to Democratic challenger Grover Cleveland (who had been his predecessor, and thus the only President ever to serve two nonconsecutive terms).

This time around, Republicans are determined to change the outcome. Resting their hopes on Senator John McCain, prominent Minnesota Republicans, including Governor Tim Pawlenty and Senator Norm Coleman, will look to throw their support behind the presumptive nominee at the 39th annual National Convention.

Participating as well in a major way during the convention will be Log Cabin Republicans (LCR), which, according to the group’s Web site, is “the nation’s only organization of Republicans who support fairness, freedom, and equality for gay and lesbian Americans.”

LCR Director of Programs Jimmy LaSalvia says the group will have a fairly large presence during convention week. It has a number of events planned, with a centerpiece, called the Big Tent, taking place Tuesday in St. Paul, featuring prominent Republican leaders who support an inclusive Republican Party. LCR also will have an information booth set up where LaSalvia believes its most important work will take place.

LaSalvia explains, “Our convention presence is critical to the mission of our organization in that it is a vehicle for outreach to our fellow Republicans. We will have the opportunity to speak to every single delegate, and share our ideas, and talk about how we can join with them to elect fair-minded Republicans. We have a great opportunity to communicate with Republican leaders at all levels, and that’s important dialogue that has to happen in order for us as a broad community to be successful.”

In LaSalvia’s view, it’s not until gay and lesbian Americans have support from both parties that change truly will start to happen, and that’s just one of LCR’s missions.

LaSalvia points out, “We work to make the party more inclusive. The misperception we hear a lot about is: ‘How can you work to help so and so?’; or ‘You’re helping the party of so and so.’ But you know what? We don’t help antigay Republicans, period. Those candidates who use gay people as a wedge issue in their campaigns or are the most vocal opponents to issues important to our community—we don’t help. I think that’s a mission that should be supported by everyone in the GLBT community. We want both parties to be inclusive and fair-minded, and to support equality.”

While perhaps not a new challenge, LCR faces the prospect of supporting a candidate who “has a mixed record” (according to the organization’s Web site) on GLBT issues of concern.

LCR’s national board will consider an endorsement at some point this fall. The group’s first real national presence was in 1993, and in light of precedents since 1996, decisions historically haven’t come until after a convention. This year, the board will have a lot to consider, both good and bad, before casting an endorsement McCain’s way.

McCain, as one of only six Republican senators to do so, voted against the 2004 and 2006 Federal Marriage Amendment bills, which sought to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, saying on the Senate floor, “The constitutional amendment we’re debating today strikes me as antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans.”

LaSalvia contends no one in the GLBT community can overlook the political risk McCain took that day: “That was just two years ago, when he probably knew he would be running for President, and knew the social fundamentalists wouldn’t like the speech. He took a political risk for our community, and that’s something Barack Obama has never done. He’s never put his name on the line. McCain’s record isn’t perfect, but we can’t overlook the risk he has taken for our community.”

McCain consistently has expressed his views that the people, not the courts or federal government, should decide the marriage issue at the state level. Perhaps in accordance with that stance, he recently stated he would support an amendment to Arizona’s Constitution that would ban gay marriages, deny government benefits to unmarried couples, and roll back domestic partner benefits offered in some areas in the state.

While Obama also opposes marriage for gay and lesbian couples, this may be where the two candidates’ similar views on many GLBT issues end. McCain, unlike Obama, is against civil unions, but would support allowing gay couples to have access to some benefits, specifically, allowing them to enter into contracts like power of attorney.

LCR is concerned with other issues regarding McCain. He voted against extending the definition of hate crimes to include sexual orientation. He opposed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would outlaw job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

McCain also supports the antigay military stand, telling viewers of Meet the Press in November 2007, “I do believe the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy has been very effective. We’ve got the best military we’ve ever had. I think it’s logical to leave this issue alone.”

Yet McCain in general has kept an open door, and demonstrated a willingness to listen.

LaSalvia remarks, “It’s important that they’re willing to listen, and hear the argument, and for a long, long time in both parties, people didn’t even want to hear the argument in favor of fairness. I give Senator McCain credit for that.”

While McCain won LCR’s endorsement during his 2000 presidential bid, it looks as though he’ll have his work cut out for him this time around if he wants another one. The only question is: Will he put in the effort to get it, and will it be enough?

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