The following is a story in today’s Long Beach Press Telegram regarding the attack against Black congressional candidate Assemblywoman Laura Richardson leveled by openly gay California State Senator Sheila Kuehl. Richardson and I took the above photo yesterday in Compton at a town hall meeting on health care legislation.
As Assemblywoman Laura Richardson seeks a seat in Congress, she’s coming under pressure to explain an anti-gay attack mailer she distributed against a lesbian candidate 11 years ago.
The mailer targeted Gerrie Schipske, Richardson’s opponent in the 1996 Democratic primary for the 54th District Assembly seat. The mailer accused Schipske, who is openly gay, of being "committed to a radical gay rights agenda" and of having the backing of the "ultra-liberal" Sheila Kuehl, who was then the only gay state legislator.
Last week, Kuehl unearthed the mailer – which she called "a homophobic and hateful attack" – and put it in a fundraising appeal for Richardson’s top rival, Sen. Jenny Oropeza.
"I think it’s only fair to be held accountable for your actions," Kuehl said. "She has never apologized or taken responsibility for that mailer."
Kuehl also noted that when Richardson was on the Long Beach City Council, she voted against a resolution to oppose a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
At the time, in 2004, Richardson said she opposed gay marriage.
Oropeza, by contrast, was a co-author of the 2005 bill to allow gay marriage in California. The bill passed both houses of the Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In a race in which Richardson and Oropeza can be expected to agree far more often than they differ, the gay rights issue appears to create some daylight between them. Both are vying to succeed the late Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, who died in office last month.
Valerie McDonald, the congresswoman’s daughter, is also seeking the seat in a June 26 special election.
John Shallman, Richardson’s campaign consultant, argued that Richardson has atoned for the mailer.
"Ultimately, she took bad advice," Shallman said. "She admitted it was a mistake, and she made peace with the other candidate."
Richardson lost the 1996 primary by a wide margin. Schipske went on to the general election, where she was defeated by Republican incumbent Steve Kuykendall. Schipske was elected to the City Council last year.
Shallman charged the Kuehl fundraising e-mail represents "the beginning of the Oropeza smear campaign against Laura."
"Laura has had an extraordinarily positive record as it relates to social justice issues and gay and lesbian issues," Shallman said. "Laura Richardson is the daughter of an African-American father and a Caucasian mother. She’s been the victim of discrimination her whole life."
Richardson has been in the Legislature only since December, and has not had a chance to vote on the gay marriage issue. But Shallman said that she supports the newest version of the bill authorizing gay marriage.
Jasmyne Cannick, an aide to Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally, said she arranged for Richardson to speak before a group of black gays and lesbians last year.
"She compared the struggle of her parents to the gay community’s quest for the right to get married," Cannick wrote, in a response to Kuehl. "Ten years ago was 10 years ago, and a lot can happen in that span of time, including education and a new sense of right and wrong."
Cannick, who is black and gay, also charged that black politicians are more likely to support gay issues than gay politicians are to support black issues.
"More often than not, black politicians are labeled homophobic until proven gay-friendly," she wrote.
Speaking on behalf of Oropeza, campaign manager Parke Skelton said that the 1996 mailer was "sleazy" and "the grossest kind of ad hominem attack."
But he also said that he would not be making an issue of it in the congressional campaign.
"Jenny’s going to be talking about her qualifications and her positive achievements," Skelton said. "We have no plans to be going after anyone in this race."
Schipske’s sexual orientation was the topic of another attack mailer in her successful race for the council last year.
"It’s yucky," Schipske said at the time. "It’s nothing but an attack on my life."
Schipske was briefly a candidate for Millender-McDonald’s seat last week, but dropped out to focus on her council work.
Kuehl said she had called Schipske to try to persuade her not to run because she was just recently elected to the council and because the odds were against her.
"I came from the point of view of the race being between Jenny and Laura," Kuehl said. "I thought she would be wasting her money."