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'Tough call' for lawmakers could mean political fallout
- By KATHLEEN HENNESSEY, Associated Press Writer
Thursday, September 8, 2005
(09-08) 00:54 PDT SACRAMENTO, (AP) --
For Assemblyman Simon Salinas — a moderate, middle-ground hugging Democrat — deciding how to vote on the gay marriage bill was a stark proposition.
"On the one hand, the people have voted for Prop. 22; they've said that marriage is between a man and a woman," Salinas, who is considering a run for higher office, said Wednesday. "On the other, I've always been a strong supporter of civil rights. Sometimes you just have to make unpopular decision. I just figured it was time."
Salinas, from the Monterey County town of the same name, was one of three lawmakers who tipped the vote in favor of the measure Tuesday, making the California Legislature the first in the nation to pass a bill allowing same-sex marriages.
Along with Assemblyman Tom Umberg and Assemblywoman Gloria Negrete McLeod, Salinas abstained from voting on the issue the first time the Assembly took it up in June. Two months later, each of the lawmakers described their switch to 'aye' votes as decisions of conscience made under the weight of intense political pressure.
All three are facing the end of their Assembly terms and are looking to run for the state Senate. Each will need the votes of Hispanics and blacks, Democratic constituencies more likely to oppose gay marriage than other Democrats.
"They were courageous to vote the way they did," said Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican political consultant. "They did in fact cast a vote that is contrary to the opinion of a large number of voters in their party."
Umberg, D-Anaheim, is running for Senate in Orange County and said he came to his decision after being turned off by the overblown rhetoric on both sides.
A Catholic, Umberg said he felt pressure from his church and was urged by Orange County Auxiliary Bishop Jaime Soto to oppose the bill.
"He said that the majority of my constituents do not support gay marriage, and he hoped that I would not succumb to the more extreme elements who were supporting the bill," Umberg said.
"Both sides threatened to mobilize voters against me. The threats really had the opposite effect."
In the end, it was his 22-year-old daughter, a senior at Stanford, who made the most persuasive argument.
"She told me to think of what it meant in terms of history," he said. "It was a personal decision."
The reaction to his vote was immediate. A longtime detractor and school board member in Santa Ana called his office and threatened to run against him. His office received a barrage of calls and e-mails from opponents of same-sex marriage and many form letters circulated by conservative groups.
"There will be fallout," said Karen England, executive director of the Capitol Resource Institute, a Sacramento-based group that lobbied against the bill. "I think there's going to be a lot of fallout, and not just for the few that were considering voting against it, but for the others, as well. People are furious."
Hoffenblum said the real threat for the three swing lawmakers comes from within their own party.
"The main concern for them is, 'Does this create a single-issue voter that wasn't there before, someone (a Democratic voter) that will cross over and vote Republican based on this issue," he said. "I'm not 100 percent sure it will."
Negrete McLeod, D-Chino, said she made her decision based on her personal belief in equality and the bill's effect on gay family members.
She said she's hoping that voters who disagree with her decision will consider more than her vote Tuesday night.
"It's the soup du jour, the issue du jour and people get hung up on one issue," she said. "Well, I have five years of record here. They have to look at the broader spectrum of what you do."
Negrete McLeod will face Assemblyman Joe Baca, D-Rialto, in the primary race for the 32nd-district Senate seat. Baca voted against the gay marriage bill in June and abstained Tuesday.
Salinas is weighing a challenge to Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Salinas.
Denham campaign consultant Steve Presson said he has no doubt Salinas' vote will become an issue in the campaign.
"I think there are certain votes that telegraph really clearly where you are philosophically," he said. "This is a vote that indicates that Simon Salinas will be a very liberal politician who is out of step with the voters in the district."
Like Negrete McLeod, Salinas said he, too, hopes voters will look at his entire record. "People have a sense of who I am, and at some point I have to make the tough calls," he said.
Schwarzenegger to veto gay marriage bill
Wed Sep 7, 2005 11:04 PM ET
By Jim Christie
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said on Wednesday he will veto a bill to allow gay marriage in the state and said the issue should be decided by the courts or by voters directly but not by the Democrat-controlled legislature.
A veto had been widely expected after California's Assembly on Tuesday endorsed gay marriage, the first time a state legislature had taken such a step. California's Senate passed the bill last week.
Schwarzenegger's press secretary, Margita Thompson, said the governor "believes that gay couples are entitled to full protection under the law and should not be discriminated against based upon their relationship."
But since California voters approved a ballot measure five years ago defining marriage as between a man and a woman, the question of gay marriage should be put to voters again in a referendum or decided by courts, she said.
"We cannot have a system where the people vote and the legislature derails that vote," Thompson said.
Gay marriage is under review in California courts following San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's decision in 2004 to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples -- a move that set off a national debate.
California's Supreme Court has invalidated the San Francisco licenses, but left the wider issue of whether the ban on gay marriage is constitutional to lower courts.
Democrats admit the gay marriage bill was largely a symbolic gesture and had said they did not expect support from Schwarzenegger, a moderate Republican grappling with declining voter support.
"It certainly seems like he wants the courts to make the decision for him, but we truly feel like we did the right thing," said Richard Stapler, an aide to Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez.
Republican media consultant Wayne Johnson said it was inconceivable Schwarzenegger would have signed the bill because his approval ratings have slumped, leaving him with only Republican support. "The people who are his strongest supporters are among the least likely to support this bill," said Johnson.
Schwarzenegger faces an uphill struggle to convince voters to back ballot measures in an unpopular special November election he has called.
A Field Poll released on Wednesday found 56 percent of California voters are not inclined to support Schwarzenegger if he seeks re-election.
But voters hold the state legislature in even lower regard, one analyst said, allowing Schwarzenegger the opportunity to cast his veto of the gay marriage bill as a defense of existing state law.
"He can wrap himself in the rule of law and say, 'The people have spoken,"' said Tony Quinn, co-editor of the California Target Book, which tracks state political races. "This is probably one issue in which Schwarzenegger is probably a winner at a time when he has very few issues going his way."