Voter, beware: Ratings by LAHR PAC are not what you think they are.
That’s become clear in the PAC’s unfair “negative” rating of Paul DeWeese, who is seeking the Democratic nomination in the race to represent Lansing in the state House of Representatives. DeWeese previously represented another House district as a Republican.
LAHR PAC is the political action committee of the Lansing Association for Human Rights, a gay rights organization. Each election going back decades, it asks candidates to fill out questionnaires on their views on issues important to the gay community. It’s a valuable service.
But the rating in DeWeese’s case shows serious flaws that LAHR PAC needs to correct.
One is that the candidates’ completed questionnaires are not made public.
Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope, who serves on the committee’s board, says they keep the answers secret in order to promote candor.
But if completed questionnaires are kept secret, people cannot judge candidates for themselves. The decision to rate DeWeese negative is a case in point.
It is hard to imagine more positive responses than DeWeese’s to LAHR PAC’s questions, which he shared with me. He supports the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage. He thinks the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act should be amended to include the term “sexual orientation and gender identity or expression,” a longtime goal of gay rights activists.
Moreover, he opposes legislative efforts to invalidate local pro-gay rights ordinances and promises to work to keep that from happening if he is elected. He favors restrooms of choice for transgender people. He agrees transgender people should be addressed by their chosen names and pronouns without having to resort to a legal name change. He supports amending hate crime laws to include crimes motivated by sexual orientation and gender identity or expression and would speak out in favor of that. He’s against discrimination against gay people when it comes to adoptions.
The questionnaire also asks his positions on two non-LGBT issues. One is the Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case that says corporations need not cover contraceptives under their health insurance because of religious beliefs. DeWeese disagrees.
The other is abortion. DeWeese supports a woman’s right to privacy. DeWeese, a devout Catholic, once backed Right to Life positions, but his views have evolved. Today he is prochoice except for partial birth abortions.
As I studied DeWeese’s questionnaire, I had to wonder why he was rated negative — the same as conservatives such as Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and just ahead of the “very negative” rating accorded Attorney Gen. Bill Schuette, both actively antigay candidates for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.
I suspected it was because DeWeese, who has strong name recognition, was perceived as posing a threat to the Democratic establishment’s favored candidate, Ingham County Commissioner Sarah Anthony. Throw into that DeWeese’s conversion from having been a Republican, which irks some Dems, even though DeWeese has been a Democrat for a decade now.
I was wrong, according to Penny Gardner, LAHR PAC’s president.
DeWeese’s negative rating resulted from something completely unrelated: His legal problems. DeWeese lost his medical license for overprescribing opioids. And he was convicted of insurance fraud stemming from his private practice.
In a word, he’s “sleazy,” said Gardner. Having written and edited stories about DeWeese’s legal troubles, I know they were more nuanced than that. But I see her point.
The problem is that unless you were privy to LAHR PAC’s internal reasoning, you’d assume DeWeese was rated negative for his views on gay issues. And that’s just unfair to him, and disingenuous of LAHR PAC.
After all, LAHR PAC strongly implies over and over that its ratings are based on questionnaires. “Our committee spent considerable time reviewing the responses,” says the letter to candidates. Its website refers to only the questionnaire as the basis for its ratings unless a candidate didn’t return it, in which case ratings are based on voting records and other public information.
DeWeese returned it. He and the public should have expected his rating was based on it.
LAHR PAC’s negative rating of DeWeese is not just unjust, it’s hurtful. DeWeese has two gay sons. He was the only candidate for the house seat to march in the Michigan Pride parade.
LAHR PAC owes DeWeese an apology and a revision of his rating.
Moreover, LAHR PAC needs to revisit its policy. At a minimum, it needs to become transparent. That means publishing candidate responses and clearly stating what its ratings are based on.
Otherwise, its ratings should be considered irrelevant, which would be a real loss to the community.