YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Gay Rights Flap Engulfs Simon

Politics: Under pressure from conservatives, the GOP candidate for governor denies signing supportive responses to questionnaire.


SACRAMENTO — Under pressure from conservative supporters, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon Jr. on Tuesday disavowed his campaign's response to a gay rights questionnaire, saying someone signed his name on it without his approval.

The response to 24 questions from a gay rights group, the Log Cabin Republicans of California, included pledges to sign a Gay Pride Day proclamation and to support job benefits for partners of gay state employees.

After Simon's answers were publicized a week ago, he twice discussed gay rights with the news media without disavowing his response to the questionnaire.

Simon acknowledged that his campaign sent the completed questionnaire, dated Aug. 9, to the organization. But on Tuesday he denied signing it and reaffirmed his opposition to several gay rights measures.

"Someone answered it for me," Simon told reporters during a campaign stop at the Calvary Christian Center in Sacramento. "I did not review or approve that questionnaire."

Simon's remarks reassured some conservative supporters, but angered gay Republican leaders.

The controversy illustrated a key challenge facing the candidate who billed himself as a "conservative Republican" during the GOP primary: In a state dominated by Democrats, Simon has attempted to move toward the political center in recent months, but has struggled to do so without alienating the conservative voters who helped him beat former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan in the primary.

Moreover, his attempts to reach out to sympathetic Democratic and independent voters have been contested by Democratic incumbent Gov. Gray Davis.

The governor is airing extensive political advertising on television, and on Tuesday criticized Simon's latest move as evidence that he is inconsistent and unfamiliar with issues that matter to Californians.

As part of his efforts to court moderate voters, Simon has sought the support of gay Republican groups. His campaign arranged for Simon to be the guest of honor Thursday at a Hancock Park reception for a gay rights group, the Republican Unity Coalition. Guests were to pay $500 for photos with the candidate and Mary Cheney, the lesbian daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney.

"It's part of the outreach program that we have at our party," Simon said.

But a few hours after Simon disavowed the Log Cabin questionnaire, Mary Cheney and the coalition's other four board members revoked Simon's invitation, said Brian O'Leary Bennett, the vice chairman.

"It is hugely disappointing to us to see Bill Simon bow under the pressure of a small fringe group who evidently yanked his chain hard the first time he reached out to us and to all voters in the middle where elections are won," the coalition said in a statement.

Log Cabin President David Hanson said Simon was "letting the right-wing people who control the Republican Party in California dictate to him what he should be doing."

The Simon supporters who are most outspoken against gay rights said the candidate had satisfied their concerns by denying that he signed the questionnaire.

State Sen. Ray Haynes (R-Riverside) said his office had received more than 600 e-mails from constituents angry to read that Simon would sign a proclamation for Gay Pride Day and support domestic partnerships.

"The concern was, based on these responses, that either he lied to us or he changed his position on the so-called homosexual agenda," Haynes said. "Either way, particularly among the socially conservative wing of the party, they would have taken it as a betrayal."

Haynes said he asked Simon to put down his explanation in a letter he could distribute to angry conservatives. Simon did so Sunday night, and the letter was posted on the Web site of the Traditional Values Coalition.

The Traditional Values chairman, the Rev. Louis Sheldon, said he had been so upset by the questionnaire response that he spoke to Simon about it at least 10 times over the last six days. On Tuesday, Sheldon said he was no longer angry.

"The bottom line to all of us was that Bill Simon had not changed his positions," Sheldon said. "Bill doesn't support Gay Pride Day, doesn't support preferred status for homosexuals."

The questionnaire with Simon's signature at the bottom is dated Aug. 9. Asked in a brief telephone interview whether someone had forged his signature, Simon responded, "I didn't review it." He cut off further questions by saying, "I've got to run into this meeting."

Simon spokesman Mark Miner said a campaign employee used an "auto-pen" to put Simon's signature on the response.

Many of the Simon responses were written in the first person. "There are a number of gay and lesbian people in my business and campaign," it says in response to a question on whether he would name gay men and lesbians to judgeships and other state positions. "My record of including all people is very clear, and it would certainly continue in the governor's office."

Los Angeles Times Articles