Bush-Cheney Campaign Manager, Ex-Chairman of Republican Party Comes out as Gay
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Ken Mehlman, the erstwhile chairman of the Republican National Committee and campaign manager for George W. Bush's 2004 reelection effort, has come out of the closet as gay in a column published in The Atlantic.
Mehlman came out in a column by Mark Ambinder on the website of The Atlantic, after the blogger who outed former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) and onetime Virginia congressman Ed Schrock revealed that Ambinder was to publish the story. Blogger Michael Rogers was the subject of the documentary "Outrage," a film about outing gays in government who have used their positions of power to advocate against gay issues, which aired earlier this year on HBO.
Mehlman, 44, spearheaded the Bush re-election campaign. The campaign used aggressively anti-gay tactics, including the mailing of a flyer in some states which suggested liberals would allow gay marriage and ban the Bible. Some believe Bush’s support for anti-gay marriage measures carried him to victory, particularly in Ohio, which had a gay marriage measure on the ballot.
According to the Atlantic's Ambinder, "Mehlman arrived at this conclusion about his identity fairly recently, he said in an interview. He agreed to answer a reporter's questions, he said, because, now in private life, he wants to become an advocate for gay marriage and anticipated that questions would be asked about his participation in a late-September fundraiser for the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), the group that supported the legal challenge to California's ballot initiative against gay marriage, Proposition 8."
"It's taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life," Mehlman told Ambinder. "Everybody has their own path to travel, their own journey, and for me, over the past few months, I've told my family, friends, former colleagues, and current colleagues, and they've been wonderful and supportive. The process has been something that's made me a happier and better person. It's something I wish I had done years ago."
Mehlman's coming out marks a significant reversal for the man who was at the heart of the Bush-Cheney re-election strategy. The onetime chairman of the RNC has previously refused to discuss his sexuality in both public and private settings.
The onetime RNC chairman's sexuality received treatment in the 2009 documentary "Outrage," which was aired in theaters and was later broadcast on HBO. Michael Rogers, who outed Mehlman on his blog, blogACTIVE, as well as this author, discussed the media's complicity in keeping the conflict between Mehlman's private and public life under wraps.
Prior to the 2004 presidential election, two New York newspapers received calls urging them not to publish information suggesting Mehlman was gay. Raw Story revealed this in November 2004. Raw Story was party to an investigation of claims Mehlman was gay in the run-up to the 2004 election but no one was willing to go on the record.
When asked about his sexuality in 2004 by blogACTIVE's Michael Rogers, Mehlman hung up the phone.
Two sources told blogACTIVE in 2004 that they had been pressured by the Republican Party to remain silent. The site added that two New York City newspapers "were called by press folks at the Bush campaign attempting to kill the Mehlman story."
The Washington Blade asked Mehlman about openly gay staff in an interview in May 2004.
"I'm not going to comment or provide information on the private activities of campaign staff," he said, when asked if there were out gays among the president's campaign advisers. "The president is leading based on principle. His principles are reflective of his values and his values are compassionate and conservative."
Staffers at the nation’s then-largest gay newspaper chain told Raw Story at the time the Blade's editor thwarted efforts to run a story reporting Mehlman was gay. Chris Crain, the Blade's editor at the time, denied killing the story.
“If you talked to people on my staff,” he said, “you know how many times I’ve brought up in meetings that I wanted to nail this story. And I don’t want anyone to get it before me.”
The staffers asserted that Crain refused to print an article regarding Mehlman's sexual orientation.
Crain -- who was Mehlman’s supervising editor for a Harvard public policy journal in law school and partnered with him in an organization in the early 1990’s -- said he has not “credibly” confirmed Mehlman’s sexuality. He denied that their previous involvement had any bearing on his editorial decisions.
The Blade editor said he helped former Blade reporter Adrian Brune get onto a call with Mehlman during the campaign, instructing her to ask him directly about his sexuality, which she did not. Brune asked about campaign aides being gay and Mehlman “completely evaded” the question.
Brune said she repeatedly tried to interview Mehlman.
“The Bush campaign and Ken Mehlman were very restrictive with access,” Brune remarked. “I was always denied any sort of access; they largely ignored all of our requests.”
A secondary source, Brune said, “knew Ken Mehlman at Harvard Law School and everyone knew very well that he was gay, but there was no empirical evidence to back that up.”
Raw Story and blogACTIVE revealed in 2004 that both the then-Chief Financial Officer and the number two political adviser to the Republican National Committee were openly gay. Neither would answer questions relating to the party's policies.
Dan Gurley, the then-political adviser, has since championed gay issues.
The 2004 Republican Party platform denounced prejudice and trumpeted equality, despite the party's political positioning on gay issues. It said, "Ronald Reagan believed that people were basically good, and had the right to be free. He believed that bigotry and prejudice were the worst thing a person could be guilty of," and included a bolded section titled, "Ensuring Equal Opportunities," leading with the sentence, "Our nation is a land of opportunity for all, and our communities must represent the idea of equality for every citizen."
Such equality and freedom from prejudice didn't apply to gay Americans. The 2004 platform continued, "We believe that neither federal nor state judges nor bureaucrats should force states to recognize other living arrangements as equivalent to marriage."
The party's position continued, "After more than two centuries of American jurisprudence, and millenia of human experience, a few judges and local authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization, the union of a man and a woman in marriage."
In 2005, a top GOP official denied Mehlman was gay in a GQ interview.
"Ken Mehlman is not gay," Steve Schmidt, a senior official of the Bush campaign told Jake Tapper, an ABC News correspondent who wrote the piece for the magazine.
Tapper also interviewed Dan Gurley, the former National Field Director for the Republican National Committee, who acknowledged to RAW STORY and Rogers that he was gay in a phone interview last year. Gurley blamed liberals for the mailer he sent to Southern states that said liberals would ban the Bible and allow gay marriage.
“I would rather it not have been done,” Gurley told GQ. “But if the left had pursued civil unions as a positive affirmation of legitimate gay relations as opposed to calling it marriage, it’s highly unlikely a mailing like that would have existed.”
Disclosure: Michael Rogers is Associate Publisher of Raw Story. He and John Byrne, the author of this article, appeared in the documentary "Outrage," in which Mehlman's sexuality was discussed.
With earlier reporting by Raw Story.