Local gay leaders, including six state legislators, two Seattle City Council members, a King County council member, and a Seattle Port Commissioner, have sent a letter to the Mainstream Republicans of Washington condemning the GOP group's political hit on U.S. Rep. (and now gubernatorial candidate) Jay Inslee.

The MRW, which endorsed Rob McKenna within 48 hours of his own announcement that he's running for governor, had criticized Inslee for a pair of anti-gay rights votes he took in 1993—one banning public money to help implement Washington, DC's domestic partnership law and one supporting President Bill Clinton's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" rule.

MRW executive director Alex Hays said in an email to his group that McKenna is pro-gay rights, comparing McKenna's position on gay marriage to President Obama's belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman, but that gay people should have the right to domestic partnerships. Hays called McKenna's position "much more supportive [of gay rights] than any [position] Gregoire ever took during a campaign."

Perhaps "campaign" is the operative word. As governor, Gregoire has signed more gay-friendly legislation—including domestic partner rights and anti-workplace discrimination laws—than any other Washington State governor.

The letter---signed by state Sen. Ed Murray, state Reps. Jamie Pedersen, Laurie Jinkins, Marko Liias, Dave Upthegrove, Jim Moeller, Seattle City Council members Sally Clark and Tom Rasmussen, and King County Council Member Joe McDermott, among others, states:[pullquote]Your recent criticisms of Congressman Inslee are misplaced. Congressman Inslee has a long history of standing with the LGBT community and is the only candidate for Governor who supports marriage equality.[/pullquote]
Your recent criticisms of Congressman Inslee are misplaced. Congressman Inslee has a long history of standing with the LGBT community and is the only candidate for Governor who supports marriage equality. This is significant. He supported us in our work to adopt domestic partner benefits and then endorsed the campaign to stop the attempted repeal. Whereas many of the Congressional candidates MRW supported in the last election cycle received a “0” rating from the Human Rights Campaign, Congressman Inslee has consistently received excellent ratings on LGBT issues. We know his record is crystal clear on LGBT rights: it is truly “mainstream” as he strongly believes in equal protections for all Americans.

We are not sure we can say the same for your past or current MRW-endorsed candidates. We continue to see MRW provide support for candidates and incumbents who are not only against many of the same advances Congressman Inslee supports, but who are also openly hostile to our community. Many of your endorsed candidates from last cycle have penned legislation that would roll back LGBT rights or have made openly hostile, even-times hateful comments about LGBT Washingtonians. These candidates are hardly ‘mainstream,” and this pattern gives us pause when we think about your current gubernatorial endorsement.

Local political consultant Jason Bennett, a founding board member of Equal Rights Washington, put the letter together. He tells PubliCola: "They [the MRW] don't get to nitpick about votes that Jay Inslee took back in 1993. We've worked with Jay for years and his position has evolved. It's time for Rob McKenna's to do the same."

Jay Inslee came out in support of gay marriage last month when he announced his candidacy. McKenna told KUOW he's opposed.

Bennett adds, "Until the Mainstream Republicans hold their own candidates' feet to the fire, they don't get to provide commentary on issues that are relevant to the LGBT community."

MRW has endorsed anti-gay rights state legislators, such as Janea Holmquist Newbury (R-13, Moses Lake).

The MRW's Hays says his group endorsed Holmquist because she's "a centrist for her district. ... It's not just about gay rights. We're not a gay rights organization."

He adds: "McKenna is pro-public schools, pro-environment, and the most pro-gay rights candidate for governor the [Washington State] Republican Party has ever had." He says gay rights activists are "making a mistake" by attacking MRW. "New York State's ability to advance the cause of gay marriage was because of moderate Republicans. When you attack Republicans who are embracing gay rights, you threaten the ability to build bipartisan support, and that's the only way [gay rights are] going to happen."

Asked point blank if Inslee isn't better on gay rights than McKenna, Hays said cynically: "His promise is better." In other words, Hays thinks Inslee is just saying what he has to say to shore up his Democratic base. "McKenna gets nothing from pandering on this issue, yet look how much he's embracing gay rights," Hays says.

Ultimately, Hays says he was simply correcting the record on Inslee's gay rights voting record.
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