When there's no political oxygen left
COLUMBIA, Mo 03/1/15 (Op Ed) -- The nuclear bomb dropped back in my lap yesterday, this time from an anonymous tipster calling himself (or herself) "Barney Miller" in an email with the 10-megaton titillation, "So-and-so has ties to controversial 'Pray Away the Gay' groups."
What's a "Pray Away the Gay" group? And how can email deliver nukes?
In political reporting, some stories are so explosive that once in print, online, or on the air, they blast a crater into a campaign, sucking out the air on every other issue and leaving a cloud of commotion behind.
After a nuke drops on a campaign, no one wants to talk about anything but the cause of the blast.
Not infrastructure nor crime. Not the nanny state or the ninny state. Not taxes and rate hikes nor fine and fee hikes. Not how City Hall and the Town Bosses are sucking us dry.
The bomb's trigger this time is a CoMo candidate's possible ties to the so-called "gay reparative" or "gay conversion" movement, people who believe homosexuality is a sin or an illness that can be "cured".
Most gay conversion groups use organized prayer to invoke what they believe is the healing touch of Jesus. But some groups go farther, confining "gay sinners" to "conversion camps" or "deprogramming programs" that have been accused of taking draconian measures to pluck out sinful sexuality.
Our candidate may be tied to a notably radical wing of this movement, "Barney Miller" explained in his email -- to the Heart Beat, the Tribune, and the Missourian. "I feel that the voting public should be made aware of this potential link between one of their political candidates and a radical ministry," he -- or she -- wrote, borrowing the nickname from one of the first television shows to regularly feature gay characters.
The email named the candidate, and included links to websites, writings, and attached documents in a zip file I've already seen that support the allegation.
It doesn't take a Karl Rove or David Axelrod to see the megatonnage in the charge. Just the words "homosexual", "sin", and "political campaign" are enough to draw eyeballs, if not gaping stares.
Throw in the myriad gay and LGBT issues on government's plate -- same-sex marriage, same-sex benefits, anti-discrimination laws, etc. -- and the stage is set for the political equivalent of a mushroom cloud that won't settle until after the campaign.
This mushroom cloud has been rising silently but steadily since the candidate announced for the seat.
I received a phone tip the next day, and haven't stopped hearing about it. I've researched it, as others have, and find merit in the concerns. It doesn't matter how you personally feel about homosexuality; the question is political, about a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy: Equal representation under the law.
Just named one of the nation's "queerest cities," Columbia has a sizable LGBT population, with some members worrying they could be marginalized or disenfranchised if "So and So" is elected.
Alas, I've been kicking the bomb down the road like so many others for the last month. I haven't talked to the candidate and I don't know if I will. The Heart Beat's political mission is alarmingly single-minded: To ask and answer, "Are the Town Bosses screwing us? If so, how? And how can we stop them?"
Fortunately, it doesn't take an iconic TV detective like Barney Miller to answer those questions.
-- Mike Martin