HRC: Bush’s Record On Cabinet Nominations Mixed

President Elect George W. Bush recently reversed his generally positive course of appointing moderates to his cabinet by nominating former Missouri senator and religious right hero John Ashcroft for Attorney General. This controversial choice is disappointing and follows on the heels of two encouraging nominations in the reported choice of Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson for secretary of Health and Human Services and the nomination of New Jersey Gov. Christine Whitman to head the Environmental Protection Agency, says HRC.

“We had been pleased by the president-elect’s fair-minded nominations of moderates like Thompson and Whitman,” said HRC Political Director Winnie Stachelberg. “So we are extremely dismayed with the Ashcroft nomination which represents a clear U-turn in Bush’s pledge to bring Americans together. We hope Bush returns to the trend of choosing moderate nominations for sub-cabinet levels at all federal agencies.”

The nomination of Ashcroft signals a frightening halt to the moderate tone set by previous nominations, says HRC. As a Senator, Ashcroft voted against the Employment Non Discrimination Act, which would have banned employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. He also voted against the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act that said a same-sex marriage performed in one state did not have to be recognized by another. Ashcroft is also virulently anti-choice.

“Ashcroft’s dismal record for racial, gender and sexual orientation civil rights issues raises serious concerns about his ability to enforce our nation’s civil rights laws,” said Stachelberg.

Thompson has a long history of strong support in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Wisconsin. He supported expanding Medicaid coverage for people living with HIV/AIDS. In 1998, the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin awarded Governor Thompson with the Sterling Rose Award, its most prestigious honor “for his leadership in supporting comprehensive AIDS services throughout Wisconsin.” As governor, Thompson, never advocated for the repeal of a 1970’s Wisconsin law that prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation. During this year’s Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, Thompson made a concerted effort to remove anti-gay language from the Republican Party platform. And he signed legislation that gave gay men and lesbians and their partners hospital visitation rights. However, Thompson is staunchly anti-choice and as governor he stated that a woman’s right to an abortion should be limited to those whose lives are in danger and who are pregnant as the result of rape or incest.

While Whitman’s nomination will not have a direct impact on gay or HIV issues, it does add another supporter of gay and lesbian equality to the most senior level of the Bush administration. As governor, Whitman supported anti-discrimination protections for gay men and lesbians in employment, housing, public accommodations. Whitman was in favor of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling that the Boy Scouts ban on gay members violated New Jersey’s anti-discrimination law. Additionally, Whitman is pro-choice, a position which has caused her to be frequently attacked by conservatives in her own party.

While the results of the nomination process have so far been mixed, the potential nomination of former Indiana Republican Sen. Dan Coats for Secretary of Defense is raising concerns. In 1993, Coats was a leader in efforts to keep gay and lesbian service members banned from serving openly in the military. During his tenure in the Senate, Coats averaged a meager 12 percent on HRC’s legislative scorecard.

HRC is the largest national lesbian and gay political organization with members throughout the country. It effectively lobbies Congress, provides campaign support and educates the public to ensure that lesbian and gay Americans can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.

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