Drew Sweatte is running for City Council of Palm Springs, California. He is gay and just 22 years old. During the day, he works at the BodyFactory, selling health, fitness and nutrition products. He has a strong presence on Facebook, that networking tabernacle of the new millennium, where he belongs to an eclectic collection of groups, including "Palm Springs Life," "Los Angeles Gay Flag Football League" "Addicted to the GYM," and "Gay Marketing."
Drew Sweatte is also a Republican, and the first member of the Log Cabin Republicans to run for City Council in Democrat-heavy Palm Springs. He recently approached me on Facebook, asking if I would support his candidacy. "If you are ever in the desert I would love to have you at an event."
Upon reading about his platform, I was immediately impressed. And if the GOP is really serious about rebranding and redefining its decidedly buttoned-up and out-of-touch image, it would be wise to give Drew a call.
Mr. Sweatte, who was in diapers when his political role model Ronald Reagan was in the White House, has a tall order in Palm Springs. He's running against Ginny Foat, the former California chapter president of the National Organization of Women, a liberal activist group that, among other questionable actions, refused to support Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey and Juanita Broaddrick when they accused Bill Clinton of sexual harrassment. Of course they actively sought the resignation of Republican politicians who were accused of similar offenses.
The thrice-married Foat, who would reveal later that she was a lesbian, helped lead a boycott against Proposition 8 where she implored protesters to boycott various businesses she believed to be detrimental to the cause. She has been on the Palm Springs City Council since 2003.
But Drew's platform should give Palm Springs a real reason to unseat Foat. And not because he is running as a "gay candidate." He's running as a pro-business candidate in a town (and state) that is feeling the economic crisis harder than others.
His top three objectives are to redevelop downtown, full of empty, deteriorating buildings, reform the opaque and oversightless Community Redevelopment Agency, and restore tourism. "Currently Palm Springs is marketed as America's Gay Oasis. This one-size-fits-all attitude is wrong," he says. "Our city is made up of less than 20% gay citizens. We need to reach out to traditional families, international travelers and others to bring a diverse group of people to our city so we can generate more revenue for our businesses."
This pragmatic commitment to fiscal responsibility and transparency and his appreciation for the needs of all Palm Springs citizens, and not just a few, reflects just the kind of sober accountability and grown-up world view that Republicans and Democrats should embrace right now. The fact that Drew is gay has very little to do with what makes him an appealing candidate.
But as a gay Republican, he has the distinct advantage of relaying a new message to the GOP, one that it has thus far been reluctant to hear. Gay rights and conservative politics are, in fact, natural allies.
A number of Republicans seem to realize this. The Log Cabin Republicans count thousands among their members. Chris Shays, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Wayne Gilchrest, Deb Price, Gordon Smith, Olympia Snowe and Arlen Specter are all Republican politicians who are said to consistently support pro-gay legislation.
I interviewed Patrick Sammon, the head of the Log Cabin Republicans, a couple years ago for a chapter in my book that countered the well-worn trope that Republicans are homophobic. As he rightly asserted, "Being a gay conservative is not an oxymoron."
And in outlining the reasons why he is a conservative, he also makes a case for gays and lesbians to join him. "I don't believe that government is the answer to every problem. I believe in less regulation, maximizing individual liberty, a strong national defense, and less government intrusion into people's families and private lives. This desire for less government intrusion is really consistent with the desire to live our own lives, both gay and straight, as we see fit."
Not every Republican -- or conservative -- agrees with Sammon of course. But after the trouncing we took in 2006 and 2008, the GOP would do well start listening to folks like Sammon and Sweatte with fervent interest and enthusiasm. Conservatives like me, who don't support gay marriage but do believe in civil unions, and affording gays the same rights as heterosexual couples, will appreciate Sweatte's message. "As a member of Log Cabin Republicans, I feel, as members of the club do, that we should be judged on what we accomplish, rather than on our sexual orientation. Being a city council candidate at the age of 22, and being gay, presents a great opportunity to break down barriers and stereotypes for others in my generation as well as members of the LGBT community."
Last week, Miss California Carrie Prejean was lambasted by the gay community and liberal taste arbiters for her opposition to gay marriage. The hypocrisy of tolerance-seeking groups excoriating a woman for her views is palpable. To that end, Drew asked a poignant question. "Where is N.O.W.? They should be coming to Carrie's defense. Carrie was honest and I respect her opinion. It is very hypocritical to demand rights, and then punish someone else for exercising theirs. This makes just as much sense as a Palm Springs city council member calling for boycotts against businesses in Palm Springs during a recession."
The graying, tie-strangled leaders in the GOP could learn a thing or two from someone who is obviously wise beyond his years.
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