The gay-bashing radio advertisement from the American Family Association attacking Tom Henry delivers a mean-spirited, divisive and inaccurate message that desperately attempts to boost Matt Kelty's campaign. Steve Shine, the Allen County Republican chairman, was right for denouncing the advertisement despite the political risk involved.
The ad unconscionably suggests Henry, a longtime member of Most Precious Blood Catholic Church, is not a proper Christian because he “repeatedly authored legislation promoting the gay rights agenda” when he served as a City Council member. In fact, Henry sponsored a single anti-discrimination ordinance in 2001 that makes a strong statement against discriminating against people because of their sexual orientation. Compliance is voluntary because discrimination based on sexual orientation is not included in state or federal law. The council approved it 6-3; among the supporters was John Crawford, a Republican seeking re-election whom the advertisement does not name.
The American Family Association is entitled to use its free- speech rights as it wishes, but it does little good for the Kelty campaign, other than to wave some red meat to encourage Kelty's supporters. The ad comes at a time the Kelty camp - trying to deflect attention from the criminal charges pending against the nominee and Congressman Mark Souder's rescission of his Kelty endorsement - insists it wants to focus on the issues affecting city government. Repeating that Kelty is pro-life and endorsed by Allen County Right to Life has little do to with city government issues.
Shine, for his part, has long had a record of seeking diversity within the local GOP (See Tracy Warner's column, at right.). Given the heat Shine has already felt from Kelty supporters, he risked the wrath of the party's social conservatives when he sharply criticized the ad. True to his aim for inclusiveness, he rightly took the association to task.
“I fear greatly that the AFA's radio campaign conveys a message that Republicans are willing to look down upon men and women who share our moderate to conservative value, but who differ from us in other ways,” Shine said in his letter to Kelty. “Our city is a melting pot of different beliefs, religions, cultures, races and lifestyles. We work every day with people who may not live their lives as we do, but whose philosophies about government and fiscal policy we share.”
Kelty professed ignorance when confronted with controversy, saying he hadn't heard the ad - which is easily available on the Internet. He also said he was only vaguely familiar with the ordinance Henry wrote - despite the fact that a poll commissioned and released by the Kelty campaign specifically asks about the ordinance.
Kelty cannot control the American Family Association, but he can speak out against the ad. He hasn't.
Shine, as a political leader should, stood up for what was right rather than what was expedient, and Republicans should show their support for the chairman.