Thursday, June 11, 2009

Lee Fisher's Gay Marriage Flip Sends Me to the Wayback Machine.

I've been asked offline who I'm supporting in the Senate primary. Frankly the contest is between two people about whom I have a hard time caring one way or another. I'll get to why Jennifer Brunner gives me the blahs at a later date. As to Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher's, look no further than his sort-of maybe flip-flop on gay marriage. I've seen this movie before and know how it ends.

In 1994 I was a volunteer in the Summit County office of the Tom Sawyer/Joel Hyatt/Lee Fisher combined campaign. I was a drone, but nonetheless we heard things, and of course we were paying attention to the race. Fisher was defending his Attorney General seat against Betty Montgomery in a bad year for Democrats -- between Clinton backlash (the less virulent pre-Lewinsky strain, but still), the House check-kiting scandal, and Republicans who generally felt energized and optimistic, everyone was running scared.

Montgomery's main attack on Fisher was that she was a career prosecutor and he wasn't. "Lee Fisher has never even tried a criminal case" she cawed in her commercials. A few weeks out from the election the Fisher campaign trotted out a counter-attack -- that Montgomery's office pled down a child sex case. Having litigated more than my share of such cases I can tell you that every responsible office has plead down child sex cases. They are hard to win and traumatic on the victim. If you can plead down to get 9 years out of a possible 25 and spare the victim having to testify, that's the smart play.

Montgomery's office was able to document why the case was pled down, the papers generally went against Fisher, the campaign backed down and his lead in the polls slipped. Then he did it. Again. We couldn't believe it. The exact same scenario all over again. And again his lead dwindled.

What it looked like was a politician with poor political instincts overreacting to campaign events and unable to say no to his staff. And that's what this looks like as well. In the party primary, Brunner is tacking left, having declared her support for marriage equality long before that looked like a winning issue. Despite being on a ticket that won Ohio with a yes on partnerships/no on marriage position, and despite watching Obama carry Ohio with an identical campaign platform, he is overrunning the volley from Brunner and saying "me too."

And while I agree with the (apparent) policy change, let's be real -- this isn't even good politics in the long run. Fisher's one good argument on this point is that his position is far less of a liability in the general election in a state that overwhelmingly voted for one of the most restrictive anti-equality amendments in the country a mere five years ago. He's not just pandering, he's pandering a hole in his foot.

Lee Fisher isn't the only candidate in the field who has run a statewide campaign before. But he is the only one who has lost one. Stuff like this right here is why.