C’mon, Craig, you’re better than that

Posted on 01 Mar 2012 at 4:29pm

Senate hopeful James resorts to anti-gay tactics despite long career working with gays in media — and hiring one as a campaign consultant

LOSING GAME PLAN | Recent polls indicate that James’ candidacy isn’t resonating. (Associated Press)

In the fall of 1991, I was the afternoon news editor at an all-news radio station in Dallas. We had an opening for an evening sports talk show host. The station hired a former college football player from Southern Methodist University who’d recently retired from the NFL.

His name was Craig James, and now he wants to be the next U.S. senator from Texas.

For two years, I did newscasts during his show. Somewhere at home, I have a coffee mug adorned with photographs of myself, James and everyone else working at the station in 1992. James left the radio station one year later to be a sports anchor for a Dallas TV station, and then moved on to CBS Sports and, finally, ESPN.

Over the years, I’d occasionally see him on TV as a college football commentator, and I shook my head when the stories came out about his efforts leading up to the firing of Texas Tech’s football coach. I passively watched when James announced he was running for the U.S. Senate.

That changed last week. At a Republican candidate debate sponsored by the Eagle Forum, James said being gay is a choice, said he strongly opposes the rights of LGBT people to marry and added that the nation is, in his words, “sliding down a slope that is going to be hard to stop” because former Dallas mayor and fellow U.S. Senate candidate Tom Leppert marched in a Pride  parade.

I have a message for my former colleague: You’re better than that. Stop with the cheap shots and demeaning language against the LGBT people of Texas.

Surely, in the 20 or so years James has been in the media, he’s worked with any number of LGBT people, including me. They’ve been beside him on-camera and behind the scenes. Did their personal lives matter to him if they edited his scripts or ran camera on the set? Are LGBT people not worthy of respect? Would he rather we lose our jobs because of who we are and whom we love? Are James’ words of exclusion those of somebody running for an elected office that purports to represent all Texans?

Last month, the Dallas Morning News reported that the James’ Senate campaign had hired New York-based political consultant Arthur Finkelstein. He’s an openly gay man who married his partner in a civil ceremony in Massachusetts in 2005. The campaign is happy enough to pay for Finkelstein’s political advice, but if James is to be taken at his word, he has no regard for Finkelstein’s family. How does someone reconcile the two positions?

This isn’t the first time James has spoken about the marriage issue. In early February, he was interviewed on a Houston radio station. James stated that he doesn’t judge people and isn’t in favor of gays and lesbians getting married, but doesn’t support the existing ban on LGBT marriage approved by Texas voters in 2005. James also said that it should be up to the military to decide the fate of the defunct “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. It’s a nuanced position that makes me wonder if this is what somebody told James what to say, or if this is what he believes in his heart. Which is it?

Based on recent polling, the James’ candidacy isn’t resonating, and some political observers speculate it’s just a prelude to a 2014 statewide run.

Texas is changing, and the James campaign should realize this. Younger voters are more supportive of LGBT issues than previous generations. A statewide poll conducted by Equality Texas in 2010 shows seven out of 10 Texans favor employment nondiscrimination for LGBT people. Those numbers include a majority of Republican voters, rural and urban voters, and people who attend weekly religious services. Support for marriage recognition is also growing, and is strongest among Texas’ younger voters. It may not be the majority position now, but that day is not too far down the road.

I remember Craig James as a charismatic guy back in the radio station days. He came across as genuine and likeable — characteristics that have allowed him to work in the media for two decades. He was also a man of strong opinions — that’s what commentators are paid to do. Words have meaning, and James knows that. The campaign should remember that if they win this or any future political race, James would represent a broad constituency including people he may not agree with or those who may not back him at the ballot box. Stop using the LGBT community as a wedge issue to appeal to a shrinking pool of potential voters. It’s not working now, and it’s less likely to work in the future.

Rafael McDonnell is communications and advocacy manager, Resource Center Dallas. He can be reached at RMcDonnell@rcdallas.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 2, 2012.

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