Update, Oct. 19, 2012: MeckPAC endorsements challenged after some candidates appear at anti-gay, anti-Semitic Louis Farrakhan event. Read more…
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A local political action committee that works to ensure equality for local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens announced their slate of endorsed candidates on Wednesday evening, including eight Democrats and one Libertarian vying for spots on the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners.
Jason Bateman, at-large (L)
Pat Cotham, at-large (D)
Trevor Fuller, at-large (D)
Kim Ratliff, at-large (D)
Keith Bradford, Dist. 1 (D)
Vilma Leake, Dist. 2 (D)
George Dunlap, Dist. 3 (D)
Paula Harvey, Dist. 5 (D)
Connie Green-Johnson, Dist. 6 (D)
Republican Dist. 1 candidate Karen Bentley and Republican Dist. 6 candidate Bill James were given warnings due to their anti-LGBT record.
The Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee, or MeckPAC, announced their endorsements, available online, at a public candidate reception hosted at a supporter’s home in Myers Park. Several dozen citizens and candidates attended the event.
All but one of the nine Democratic candidates on the county commission ballot this year were endorsed. The incumbent District 4 candidate, Commissioenr Dumont Clarke, was the only Democrat who did not return a survey and was not endorsed. Completion of the group’s candidate questionnaire is required for endorsement. Jason Bateman, an at-large candidate and the only Libertarian on the ballot, was endorsed.
The group endorsed no Republicans this year, though they did publish an incomplete survey submitted by Republican District 2 candidate Kevin Spitzmiller and correspondence with Republican at-large candidate Wayne Powers.
MeckPAC evaluates and endorses candidates seeking local races only. Their endorsements reflect candidates’ responses their questionnaire, past position statements, interviews and other information.
Early voting begins today and continues through Nov. 3. The general election will be held on Nov. 6.
In their answers to MeckPAC, which are available online, county commission candidates had a variety of opinions on several LGBT issues.
Several candidates noted their opposition to the anti-LGBT state constitutional amendment approved by voters in May and many said repealing the amendment would be an important to advancing LGBT equality. Some, including at-large Democratic candidates Kim Ratliff and Pat Cotham and District 1 Democratic candidate Keith Bradford, indicated they worked personally to help defeat the amendment. All three were endorsed by the group.
Almost all candidates said they valued a comprehensive, all-inclusive approach to achieving LGBT equality, a topic sensitive to many transgender citizens who have often been left behind in political advances. Locally, both city and county workers remain unprotected on the basis of gender identity.
Only one candidate, at-large District 5 Democratic candidate Paula Harvey, mentioned employment non-discrimination as a piece of legislation or policy important to LGBT advancement. She, too, was endorsed.
MeckPAC’s endorsement decisions this year have not been without challenge. The group says it is nonpartisan, but in correspondence with the committee one candidate has disagreed. He urged the group to publish his correspondence.
Republican at-large candidate Wayne Powers, who had previously been rated “receptive” toward LGBT issues during his primary campaign, said in an email to MeckPAC that he had a “lifelong record of unwavering support for equality of justice under the law for all citizens, including the LGBT members of our community.”
He said his “lengthy record of actions to match” made it all the more “outrageous” that MeckPAC had failed to endorse him during the primary.
“To be quite frank, I consider your prior official dismissal of me as simply ‘receptive’ to be absurdly unjustified and deeply offensive,” Powers wrote. “In my opinion, your ‘nonpartisan’ organization has indeed demonstrated an overwhelming record of overt partisanship, with extremely rare exceptions — and that’s truly a shame for the wide spectrum of our LGBT citizens whom who claim to represent.”
In an email reply to Powers, MeckPAC Chair Scott Bishop explained that the Powers had failed to complete the group’s questionnaire, a requirement for endorsement. Bishop also said the committee had concerns that Powers “did not fully have a grasp on the laws pertaining to workplace rights, or the lack thereof for LGBT citizens.”
Bishop added, “However, through your interview, we did see some level of support for LGBT citizens, so for these reasons, we felt ‘Receptive’ was the appropriate assignment to make regarding your candidacy.”
Asked about Powers’ comments at the candidate reception on Wednesday, Bishop again reiterated his group’s requirement that candidates fill out and return their questionnaire. He said no Republican candidate returned a complete general election questionnaire and most had no communication with the group.
“We want to have a record of responses to the questions that we ask,” Bishop said. “We want to see where they stand on the issues — if they are willing to on on record to say this is where I stand on marriage equality, this is where I stand on domestic partner benefits or sexual orientation and gender identity in a non-discrimination policy, but I don’t think they are willing to do that. I don’t think they are willing to go on record.”
Bishop also said his group leaves room for diversity of opinion. Though not all candidates might agree with every position MeckPAC holds, he said he still expects a working relationship.
“What I expect is if someone wants an endorsement from MeckPAC or wants to work with the LGBT community, they will at least have the respect to fill out the questionnaire and at least say to us, ‘You know, I might not agree on this issue but I’m willing to talk to you about it,'” Bishop said.
MeckPAC does have a history of supporting candidates from both major parties and from the Libertarian Party. The group’s highest profile Republican endorsee is former Charlotte City Councilmember Edwin Peacock, III. He was the only Republican endorsed by the group in 2007 and shared the honor in 2009 with at-large candidate Georgia Belk.
[Ed. Note — This writer served a brief term as a volunteer member of the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee’s steering committee during his hiatus from the newspaper this past spring. He no longer serves on the organization’s committee and had no special or prior knowledge of the organization’s general election endorsements or endorsement process.]