Ed. Note: As we go to press a mere three days before the election, we are not running any of the many political releases we received. This one, however, resulted in a major news story, resignations from the HRC board and a lot of resentment from NY lesbians and gays.
WASHINGTON -- In a long-anticipated move, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay political organization, today endorsed Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., for re-election.
HRC has endorsed 193 candidates -- 178 Democrats, 15 Republicans and one independent -- and contributed almost $1 million from its political action committee this election cycle.
The following is a joint statement regarding the D'Amato endorsement. It was issued by HRC Executive Director Elizabeth Birch and HRC Board Co-Chairs Jeff Sachse and Candy Marcum:
"As is our custom each election year, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has in recent months endorsed candidates in more than 200 important 1998 congressional races. And, although this is customary for us every other year, we are working this year in extraordinary times. From the abhorrent and irresponsible comments from some of the Republican leadership in Washington to a vicious assault in Wyoming, those who are concerned about justice and decency for gay and lesbian Americans know that this is not an ordinary time.
"Typical of previous years, the majority of candidates HRC has endorsed this fall have been Democrats. But a growing number of Republicans are also represented among those we have named as preferred candidates. The process by which our endorsements are made is rigorous, but two aspects in particular, incumbent preference and single-candidate endorsements, are worth special note.
"First, where an incumbent in office has worked consistently on behalf of gay and lesbian Americans, even if a rival's record is also excellent, we reward the incumbent for supporting the cause of gay and lesbian equality while in that office.
"Second, because a dual endorsement does not direct voters toward a single candidate, we select one candidate in each race even when the record and official position of more than one candidate is exemplary.
"These strategies (and our support for them) have been tested over the years. And it appears that one contest in this year's election may test our ability -- as an organization, and perhaps as a community of support for gay and lesbian Americans -- as never before. After rigorous review and discussion, the HRC Board of Directors has made a decision to endorse Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-NY) in his race for re-election against challenger Rep. Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
"We know this endorsement will not be met with widespread approval among members and friends, especially in New York. In fact, many have already expressed their rage. But as an organization, HRC cannot seek fairness in civil society unless it is also willing to model fairness in its own behaviors. And this endorsement resulted from an application of the same rules that have been applied before, in less strident campaigns and less unsettled times, with an absolute devotion to fairness. (For example, HRC confronted an analogous situation in 1996 when we endorsed incumbent Senator John Kerry (D-MA) over then-Governor William Weld, the Republican challenger, who is a true hero to our community.)
"On their records, both Sen. D'Amato and Rep. Schumer could warrant an HRC endorsement. Rep. Schumer has an excellent record over a longer period of time on issues of special significance to gays and lesbians. He has been a good friend to the gay community. His record in the House is one of the best, and he enjoys wide support in the New York gay community. But Sen. D'Amato has improved his record significantly. He has helped secure critical increases in HIV and AIDS funding, has cosponsored the Hate Crimes Prevention Act and has both cosponsored and worked on behalf of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). He has been with us on other critical votes as well. In short, his record is among one of the best in the United States Senate at this time.
"Five years ago, while other Republicans (and Democrats) stood silent on the issue of gays and lesbians serving openly in the U.S. military, Sen. D'Amato broke with his party's leadership to vigorously support such service. This year, as the nomination of Jim Hormel languished under
Trent Lott's benign neglect, Senator D'Amato challenged his party's leadership by championing a fair hearing and approval process.
"As a Republican in a Republican-controlled Senate, Sen. D'Amato has taken personally and politically unpopular positions in defense of the dignity, rights and contributions of gay and lesbian Americans. For these positions, he has paid a price and, in our estimation, has earned the privilege of an HRC endorsement based on incumbency. And for HRC to change our rules or precedents at this moment, or to withhold support of Sen. D'Amato because his opponent is a friend of our cause, would meet the test not of honor but of hypocrisy.
"HRC is a pro-choice institution, and over 97 percent of HRC-endorsed candidates are also pro-choice. Sen. D'Amato's anti-choice position clearly clashes with our own. However, there is no single litmus test on which we judge candidates. Both candidates disappointed HRC with their positions on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). On balance, therefore, given incumbency and our belief that single endorsements are strategically right, the HRC board has endorsed Sen. Alfonse D'Amato.
"This action has been taken in a painful, challenging context. As a community, we have suffered tremendous pain over the savage beating of Matthew Shepard. The terrible brutality of his death has been made more frightening by the demagoguery of some political leaders in Washington. Senator Trent Lott's comparison of gays and lesbians to addicts and kleptomaniacs was only an opening salvo; others, especially from the ranks of the Republicans, have both whispered and trumpeted their lack of concern for the rights of gay and lesbian Americans to be employed, to be safe, and to be equal.
"But because so much of the opposition to gay and lesbian rights has either come from or been sanctioned by Republican leadership, we recognize that it is imperative for us to provide support and political protection for any Republican candidate who faces with courage the leadership's ignorance and prejudice. Obviously, Republicans are in control. But even if Republicans were not, we believe the call to bipartisan support of candidates is right and the need for our support is greatest where the attacks are keenest: in the ranks of the Republicans.
"Some have urged us not to endorse Sen. D'Amato because, although he publicly supports it, he did not secure passage of the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA) in the New York State Legislature. It is important to note that HRC has never evaluated candidates for federal office on their work at the state level. It would be unfair to begin doing so now.
"Therefore, despite the fear of losing some friends and institutional support as a consequence of it, we will stand by our decision to endorse Sen. D'Amato. Given HRC's historic positions on incumbency and single-candidate endorsements, we believe HRC would have failed its own integrity had it taken any other position.
"An HRC endorsement is intended to send a message to voters. But it also sends a message to the parties. At a time when Republican leadership itself has aggressively demeaned gay and lesbian people, we hope this endorsement tells Republican candidates that if they oppose the bigotry of extremism and the ignorance of their leadership, they can look to us for support. We will not turn from them on partisan grounds. But neither will we offer our endorsement without expectation: we will call on Republican leadership to show the same degree of respect for our concerns that we have shown for their candidate.
"The passion of the hour and the strategic principles by which HRC has chosen to make its candidate endorsements have both brought us, as an organization, to a position which we believe is right even though we know it is painful. Especially now, if we fail to endorse a Republican who has earned our support as an incumbent, we are convinced we will, in the long run, weaken both our integrity and our cause. Principled positions, even when difficult, are also important."