Governor expected to join gay-rights fray
By Steven G. VeghGov. Angus King aggressively opposed Maine's 1995 referendum against gay rights, even starring in a television ad that urged voters to reject the measure. The referendum's sponsors decried his activism, but King's clear stand was a factor in the referendum's defeat.
©Copyright 1997 Guy Gannett Communications
Two years later, Maine again faces a prospective referendum, this time to overturn gay-rights legislation approved last spring. King, who signed the gay-rights bill into law, already has criticized the referendum as divisive.
But with King seeking re-election in 1998, will he dare speak out loudly against the referendum, knowing it may cost him the votes of referendum supporters?
Yes, says Dennis Bailey, the governor's spokesman. ''He says, 'If I'm needed, I'll be willing to do what's needed.' But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. We haven't sat down and thought about it,'' Bailey said.
The Christian Civic League of Maine and the Christian Coalition of Maine organized a petition drive last summer calling for a referendum. On Oct. 20, Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky verified that the two groups had collected enough signatures to hold a ''people's veto,'' as the referendum is known.
But on Monday, referendum opponents challenged Gwadosky's decision with a legal appeal that contends the petitions had too many flawed signatures to force an election. A court hearing is expected this week or next.
Karen Geraghty, the campaign manager for the referendum opposition coalition Maine Won't Discriminate, said her group hasn't talked yet about campaign advertising and the governor's potential role.
''We're going to do whatever we have to do to get our message out,'' Geraghty said. ''That may include TV, and if we choose that medium, there's no question we'd be looking for him to participate in any way he was able.''
Michael S. Heath, executive director of the Christian Civic League, said he believes any governor should stay on the sidelines once an issue is headed to a referendum. Heath in 1995 criticized King's active opposition to the anti-gay- rights referendum that year.
This year, ''I wouldn't predict what he will end up doing,'' Heath said of King. ''At this point, he's sending signals he's going to be very vocal in support of the 'No' vote on the people's veto.''
King so far seems to be in excellent position for a re-election campaign. According to Market Decisions, which surveys public opinion, King received a 79 percent ''favorable'' rating from Mainers polled in September.
A self-made millionaire, King also can rely on his own funds for a campaign. But a strong public stand by King for gay rights wouldn't necessarily irk contributors who supported his 1994 gubernatorial run.
Indeed, P.D. Merrill, who owns a marine terminal in Portland Harbor and who gave King the maximum legal contribution of $1,000 in 1994, said he expects King to stand up again for gay rights.
''He doesn't blow in the breeze, he doesn't check the polls before he speaks,'' Merrill said of King. ''I think the governor is nothing if he isn't a man of consistent views.''
Sam Zaitlin, a 20-year friend of King, agreed with Merrill. Zaitlin is president of I. Zaitlin & Sons Inc., a Biddeford-based waste recycler, and gave $1,000 to King's 1994 campaign.
''I don't think for a moment he's going to base his stand on this referendum on how it's going to fly'' with voters, Zaitlin said of King. ''It's about doing the right thing, and I expect Angus as chief executive officer of the state to play and take a strong role.''
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