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Volume 34
Issue 37
 
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Judical races among the most important races in September primary, says LGBT advocates
Judical races among the most important races in September primary, says LGBT advocates
"The outcome of this Tuesday's primary election will have a major impact on the future of LGBT rights in Washington state," said longtime LGBT-rights advocate Bill Dubay.

by Robert Raketty - SGN Staff Writer

Judicial races are the last races listed on the ballot and often go overlooked by many voters.

However, pro-Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender organizations and activists believe this year those judicial races are among the most important votes to be cast in the September 19th primary election, especially as well-financed right-wing special interests flood the state in support of candidates they present as conservative ideologues.

"There is absolutely no question. We must vote," said longtime LGBT-rights advocate Marsha Botzer, who is also the co-chair of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Board of Directors. "In this country - the way it is structured currently - the courts have a great deal to say about all of our liberties. For our community in particular, the courts are vital. They bring much needed justice to us, as we all know from recent events and history."

Likewise, Bill Dubay, also a longtime LGBT-rights advocate, agreed. "The outcome of this Tuesday's primary election will have a major impact on the future of LGBT rights in Washington state," he wrote in a letter to the editor. "Of major concern to all of us in the LGBT community are the races for State Supreme Court. The outcome of these races will affect us for years to come."

They urge the state's LGBT community to vote in the primary election for the three incumbents: Chief Justice Gerry Alexander and Justices Susan Owens and Tom Chambers. The Seattle Metropolitan Elections Committee (SEAMEC), which rates candidates based on their record and opinions on LGBT issues, and Equal Rights Washington (ERW), a statewide LGBT rights advocacy organization, have both endorsed Owens and Chambers.

"We have been actively notifying our 20,000 advocates across Washington State - not only to make sure that they vote for Tom and Susan, but to ask them to talk to their friends and family, because many people are unaware of the records of judicial candidates," said ERW Advocacy Director Josh Friedes. "In addition to our outreach to our 20,000 advocates, the ERW PAC has donated to the candidates, both Tom Chambers and Susan Owens.

"We could not endorse Gerry Alexander in the race because we believe he made a mistake in voting that Gay and Lesbian people don't have a constitutionally protected right to marry."

Owens and Chambers had ruled in a minority opinion to overturn our state's law barring same-sex couples from marriage. Alexander issued a concurring opinion and ruled to uphold the ban; however, he noted that the Legislature had the power to rectify the inequity. The three justices have also ruled to recognize the defacto status of Gay and Lesbian parents and on other issues of concern to the LGBT community.

"I think I have been 100 percent in your camp on equality issues," Owens told the SGN on Wednesday during an on the spot mini-interview at the GSBA candidate forum luncheon.

Owens opponent, State Senator Stephen Johnson, has a poor voting record in the Legislature on LGBT issues. In fact, he voted against the Anderson-Murray Civil Rights Bill during this past legislative session, whose passage finally outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Chambers' opponent, Jeanette Burrage, a former King County judge, opposes his vote in the marriage equality case and is no newcomer to controversy. She required women to wear skirts, not pantsuits, in her courtroom.

In light of his past record of support, Friedes says Alexander deserves the community's vote. "It needs to be noted that Gerry Alexander has participated in other rulings that have supported rights for Gay and Lesbian people," he said. "That really does demonstrate - on the part of Justice Alexander - a recognition that it is often in the best interest of children to have a Gay or Lesbian parent and to have that relationship recognized.

"It is unclear as to whether or not [his opponent] would provide much recognition of Gay and Lesbian families. So - for many people - it is going to be a hard vote because Justice Gerry Alexander just issued a ruling that we strongly disagree with. However, we feel very strongly that this is one of those instances where we have to take the long view, put our emotions aside and make a smart vote. We are therefore urging our members to vote for Gerry Alexander.

"I think what we have to look at - with respect to justices - is do we believe that the justice is deeply prejudice against Gay or Lesbian people or an ideologue or do we believe he simply does not have the appropriate factual understanding of the issues that face Gay and Lesbian people. In this instance, we do not believe that Justice Gerry Alexander is deeply prejudiced against Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender people. We believe he made a poor court decision and we hope he will evolve his position over time."

Botzer agreed. "For me, I have to look at what has been our winning ability in the past, and that is our long term vision," she said. "In this case, he is so far superior to his opponent that we must look to the future. We must."

Alexander's opponent, Bellevue property-rights attorney John Groen, has received the support of groups such as the Building Industry Association of Washington's PAC, ChangePAC, and Americans Tired of Lawsuit Abuse, an Alexandria, Va. based nonprofit funded mainly by American Tort Reform Association. So far PACs have spent more than $1.1 million to support Groen's race against Alexander.

A PAC with close ties to State Supreme Court candidate Jeanette Burrage's campaign ran radio ads criticizing Chambers for his recent vote to overturn the state's ban on marriage for same-sex couples. The ads had claimed "[m]arriage is under attack in Washington state."

Owens told the SGN she is concerned about the influx of special interest money in judicial races. "They are trying to buy a seat on the Court that will deliver guaranteed results," she said. "There is no other reason...for $500,000 to be sent from Virginia to a Washington State Supreme Court race. What interest do they have? They have an interest in particular results.

"I think that this is a very important election. I think this is part of a national movement to take over the courts. They can't get their political will done in the legislatures. I think it is very important for us to send a message. No, our courts are not for sale! Otherwise - if they make any kind of progress at all - you are going to see every judicial race in every part of the state and at every court level turn into a bunch of hit pieces and diversion from the issues."

Owens is being challenged by Republican State Sen. Stephen Johnson of Kent, attorney Michael Johnson of Seattle, environmental attorney Richard Smith of Seattle and administrative-law Judge Norman J. Ericson of Olympia. Stephen Johnson has received support from the BIAW-sponsored ChangePAC.

Alexander seemed equally concerned about the influence of PAC money in judicial races. "Historically, we have not had judicial elections where a large infusion of money has come from special interests," he said at a candidate forum sponsored by the Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA), a chamber of commerce for the LGBT community and its allies. "That is changing and I'm very, very, concerned about that. If the public starts to believe that judges are like legislators and that their elections can be bought, then I think it is going to shake the public's faith in the judiciary."

Michael Johnson, who is challenging Owens, also attended the GSBA candidate forum. He is a GSBA member, has done volunteer work for the LGBT Community Center, and contributed free legal services to people with AIDS. He claimed to be the only "impartial person here," when it comes to special interests.

"I am a small business owner. I come from that perspective," he said. "I am not beholden to any special interest as I go onto the Court. I have a small practice where I do mostly small transaction work and I think it is time that somebody filled a slot on the Supreme Court that is neutral..."

In an interview with the SGN on Wednesday, Groen took no responsibility for the ads, but said it was "great that people support me and are willing to spend their money to run ads."

"They are not my ads. I know. It's hard. I hope they don't detract from the track record of Court. That is what I have been running on since April," he said.

Groen denies he would be hostile on issues of importance to the LGBT community, but said he could not discuss specifics because the issues - including marriage equality litigation, which is currently under re-consideration by the State Supreme Court - may be considered by the court. Instead, he offered a character reference: two Lesbian friends, who are also clients, who had married in Oregon's Multnomah County, only to have the marriage license invalidated by the Oregon State Supreme Court.

"I understand the difficulties facing this community. I really do," he said. "As an individual, I am a man of integrity, of independence and one who will engage in very rigorous constitutional analysis. That is what I offer the voters of Washington."

Friedes says ERW is not convinced. "We are urging our members to vote for Gerry Alexander over John Groen. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is simply that John Groen is a conservative ideologue and we do not believe he will vote for civil rights for Gay and Lesbian people in the future," he said. "If we look at the voters guide that the Faith and Freedom Network has distributed, they have given John Groen a plus and Gerry Alexander a minus. And among the things that the Faith and Freedom Network says that he agrees with: the U.S. Supreme Court decision that the Boy Scouts can deny leadership positions to Gays and Lesbians.

"John Groen has also earned the endorsement and strong support of pro-life groups. While there is not always a direct correlation between the choice issue and civil rights for Gays and Lesbians, there often is."

ERW has endorsed several candidates in the Sept. 19th primary. For a complete listing, visit their website (www.equalrightswashington.org). SEAMEC's Fairness Ratings are also available online (www.fairnessratings.org) and can be found in the pages of this week's edition of the SGN.

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