By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
FARMINGTON HILLS – One of Congress’ most anti-gay, pro-Bush U.S. Representatives may be in for a surprise this November. Or even this August. At least, that’s what his opponents and at least one gay human rights organization hope will happen to Joe Knollenberg during this election cycle. Knollenberg is the Republican incumbent in the 9th District, which covers much of Oakland County including Auburn Hills, Berkley, Royal Oak, Farmington Hills, and Waterford.
Knollenberg will face former Michigan House Representative Pan Godchaux in the Republican primary. The winner will go on to face progressive talk radio host and Democratic candidate Nancy Skinner in November.
“Knollenberg is completely out of touch with his district,” said Pride PAC elections committee member Sean Kosofsky. “It’s a district that is pro-choice, pro gay rights and pro environment, and Knollenberg has consistently voted against fairness, conservation, and I believe acted unethically in Congress.”
Pride PAC held a fundraiser in June for Godchaux and has endorsed her for the August primary.
Knollenberg’s opponents for the seat agree with Kosofsky’s assessment.
“I don’t think he represents the district with his votes and I’ve had quite a few people in the 9th district encourage me to do it,” said Godchaux of her decision to run. “The numbers we’re checking at this point indicate that this is a much more moderate district than the way he votes.”
Godchaux’s campaign has certainly generated interest. According to a June 23 email “Postcard from Pan’s Campaign,” the effort had already enjoyed the support of 200 volunteers.
That support could be coming as much from people who are afraid of losing a Republican seat due to Knollenber’s unpopularity as from people who are enthused about Godchaux.
Citing a poll she said she received from former opponent John Ashcraft (who has dropped out of the race and endorsed her), Skinner said, “only 43 percent of registered voters planned to vote for Knollenberg over an unnamed Democratic opponent.”
“That’s a terrible number for a 14-year incumbent,” she added.
Knollenberg’s anti-gay rights views may be one indicator of his differences with his constituents. According to voting figures provided to BTL by Triangle Foundation, constituents in 11 of the 22 cities and townships in Knollenberg’s district voted against the anti-gay family Proposal 2 in 2004.
Knollenberg, on the other hand, received 22 percent out of a possible 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard in 2004. In 2005, Knollenberg voted against the HRC’s position on five key bills, including bills that would allow religious organizations receiving federal funds to discriminate against LGBTs. In past years, according to Project Vote Smart, Knollenberg has supported the positions of anti-gay family groups like the American Family Association, the Family Research Council and the Christian Coalition between 75 and 100 percent of the time.
“If a state is going to create a special category for people who are married, I don’t believe a state can do that and discriminate about what marriage is. I think the religious right has confused the legal part of what marriage is with the spiritual part,” said Godchaux about the struggle for equal marriage rights.
Skinner expressed her opposition to the so-called federal Marriage Protection Amendment and said that providing employment non-discrimination protection to LGBT workers “should be a bi-partisan no-brainer,” in a June 2 interview with BTL.
And while Godchaux and her supporters are saying that “Fifty-five or 60 percent of this district won’t vote for a Democrat,” as Godchaux claimed in a story published by the Observer/Eccentric on Jan. 26, Skinner disputes that claim.
According to Skinner’s Web site, “The Ninth District has been steadily trending Democratic, Kerry got 49 percent of the vote, Senator Levin carried the district in 2002 and Governor Granholm also got 50 percent of the vote.”
Skinner said that Knollenberg is vulnerable to a Democrat for several reasons. Knollenberg “voted with Bush 98 percent of the time,” Skinner said. “He is so far right on not only gay issues but women’s issues, he has an awful record on the environment. … It’s funny that he’s out there talking about the cost of the Hoffa investigation [because] he voted for every Bush spending increase along the way.”
In addition, the candidates cited Knollenberg’s close ties to lobbyists. In December and January, the New York Times and the Detroit Free Press published reports of Knollenberg’s attempt to force Amtrak to do business with a company owned by one of his campaign contributors and about his trip to Hawaii sponsored by a transportation lobbying group.
Godchaux cited a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,” mentality she wanted to change in Washington as one reason for her candidacy, while Skinner said, “This is the kind of corruption that’s registering nationally.”
According to a recent Gallup poll, 71 percent of respondents disapprove of the Republican-led Congress. When asked specifically about Democratic or Republican members of Congress, 46 percent approved of the Democrats and 40 percent approved of the Republicans.