Pandering by politicians is as old as the act of casting ballots itself. Who can forget daughter-of-Illinois Hillary Clinton’s sudden adoption of a southern accent during her presidential campaign? Who actually believes Mitt Romney wakes up every morning with a plate of cheesy grits?
But political pandering took an odd turn in Madison, Wis., last year, when Democratic soon-to-be-congressional-candidate Kelda Helen Roys addressed a gay-pride parade near the steps of the state capitol. In a show of solidarity with the LGBT marchers, Roys referred to how she and her “partner” fled to neighboring Iowa to get married, since gay marriage was legal there.
The only problem is, Roys’s “partner” is a man named Dan Reed — a fact she never mentioned during her speech. She could have gotten married in the Madison-area district she currently represents in the state legislature. “She was clearly trying to represent herself as a member of the LGBT community,” said Katie Belanger, executive director of Fair Wisconsin, the state’s most visible LGBT-rights organization.
It makes sense that Roys would want to garner the gay vote in the Second Congressional District. The district is represented by the openly gay Tammy Baldwin (who is leaving the seat to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Herb Kohl), and her challenger for the Democratic nomination is state assemblyman Mark Pocan, who is openly gay.
But LGBT advocate groups aren’t thrilled with Roys’ ruse. Belanger called Pocan and Baldwin “courageous” for being openly gay while in public office. “So when you have a candidate trying to mislead or play cute, it’s troubling,” said Belanger. (Fair Wisconsin has endorsed Pocan.)
Roys’ primary showdown with Pocan is set for August 14.
— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute and a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.