Monday, December 20, 2010

Politics Not As Usual - Murkowski Votes To End Don't Ask Don't Tell

Sen. Lisa Murkowski was among eight Republicans to vote to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), staying consistent with comments she made a couple of weeks ago that she thought it was time to end the policy.   But this must have been a pretty hard decision for her, harder than probably any other of the Republicans who voted against their party position. 

Murkowski lost the Republican primary.  This vote on DADT  ensures that the rabid right of the Alaska Republican party will work hard to defeat her again in the 2016 primary.  While her write-in re-election (close to being settled now in the Alaska Supreme Court) required the support of lots of Democrats and Independents who believe she owes them votes on some critical issues, she didn't have to break ranks with most of the Republicans here.  Perhaps she believes that in six years gays in the military will be a non-issue.  A likely US Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of California's Prop. 7 is likely to keep GLBT issues hot for the 2012 Presidential election and possibly beyond.

Plus Alaska has not been friendly to GLBT issues.  Alaskan voters amended the State Constitution to make explicit that marriage means one man and one woman.  

Can Murkowski win her next Republican primary?  At this point, I would expect her to have some heavy opposition.  Would she run in the primary as an independent?  Six years is a long time in politics, but she must have been thinking about these things when she voted to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell. 

I don't see this as anything but a principled vote for what she believed was the best policy, in the face of her party's general opposition.

Looking at all eight Republicans who voted for repeal, on the surface there seem to be three key factors:

  • State support of same-sex marriage or civil unions
    • Collins and Snowe of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts
  • Gender 
    • The only woman of 17 in the Senate not voting for repeal was  Kay Baily Hutchinson (R TX.)  The other three Republican women - Collins, Snowe, and Murkowski - voted for repeal.
  • Age
    •  Of the male Republicans who voted for repeal all but one were among the 20 youngest Senators.  The exception, George Voinovich, is retiring. 

Here's a bit more on the:
  • other seven Republicans who voted to repeal DADT
  • three Republicans who were absent
  • one Democrat who was absent (no Democrats voted against it)

Republicans who voted for repeal

Scott Brown  (51) (R-Mass.)

Brown won the right to finish Ted Kennedy's term as US Senator, is up for reelection in the first US state to allow same-sex marriage.   

Richard M. Burr (55)  (R NC)

The National Review writes:
Burr said it was not a difficult vote to cast, despite his state’s being home to Camp Lejeune, the largest Marine Corps base on the East Coast. Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, had been one of the most high-profile opponents of repeal. “Hopefully we all think independently here and we listen; we don’t have to be lobbied or influenced,” he said.
Burr told reporters that he supported repeal because “this is a policy that generationally is right,” but said he “didn’t necessarily agree” with those who have characterized the issue as a civil-rights struggle.
“A majority of Americans have grown up at a time [when] they don’t think exclusion is the right thing for the United States to do,” Burr said. “It’s not the accepted practice anywhere else in our society, and it only makes sense.”
I don't know enough about North Carolina politics to know how his vote compares to Murkowski's.  He has the largest Marine Corps base in the US in his state and the Marines were the of branch of the military most strongly opposed to repealing DADT.  On the other hand he did well in the 2010 election according to Wikipedia:
Burr defeated North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall (D) on November 2nd, 2010 with 55% of the vote. He is the first Republican since Jesse Helms to be re-elected to the United States Senate from North Carolina and garnered the largest percentage of votes of any Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in North Carolina history.

Susan Collins (R-Maine) (58) and Olympia Snowe (63) (R-Maine)

Collins has been the leading Republican Senator in support of repealing DADT.  She was the only Republican Senator who voted in favor the Defense Bill that had DADT attached earlier in December.  Olympia Snowe joined her when DADT was a stand alone bill.  Both Maine's Representatives (both Democrats) in the House voted for the bill.  I haven't checked, but this is the only state I know of where the whole Congressional delegation voted for repeal.  Maine allows domestic partnerships.
Same-sex marriage in Maine was a divisive issue in 2009: a bill to allow same-sex marriages in Maine was signed into law on May 6, 2009, by Governor Baldacci following legislative approval, but opponents successfully petitioned for a referendum on the issue, putting the law on hold before it came into effect before going on to win the referendum by 300,848 to 267,828 on November 3, 2009. Maine's domestic partnership law remains in effect. [Wikipedia]

John Ensign (52) R Nevada

I'm stretching here, but Nevada seems a little looser on moral issues with long time legalized gambling and prostitution.  Liberace was an institution in Las Vegas.  

The National Review wrote: 
Before the vote, Ensign said the choice for him was a struggle between what he personally thought was the right thing to do, and the circumstantial concerns of various military chiefs.
That’s why, he explained, he had voted against taking up the measure.
But in the end, once the question on the table, it appeared personal conviction won out over political circumstance. “My personal feeling is that it should be repealed,” he’d said before the 65-to-31 vote.
Ensign left the Senate chamber quickly and quietly . . .

Mark Kirk (51) (R-Ill.)

Kirk, a Naval Reserve Officer, moved up to the Senate from the House in a special election to finish out Obama's Senate seat and start his own six year term in January.  In the House he voted "against   Constitutional marriage amendments, he supported ending job discrimination based on sexual orientation and received a favorable 75 percent rating from the Human Rights Campaign on gay rights issues."  [Huffington Post]

From The in Chicago
Is Sen. Kirk really in favor of allowing gays to serve openly in the military?  His past history suggests otherwise.  As a member of the House Armed Services Committee Kirk voted against a measure to repeal DADT as recently as last May.  One suspects that his slim margin of victory in November's senatorial contest may have sensitized Sen. Kirk to the realities of representing the entire state of Illinois, not just the 10th congressional district.  Once Governor Pat Quinn gets around to signing the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act already sitting on his desk, the state of Illinois will recognize civil unions. A "no" vote on DADT would have put Mark Kirk at odds with a very large bloc of Illinois voters.  It also would have provided potent ammunition for the next Democratic challenger for his senate seat.

George Voinovich (74) (R-Ohio)

Voinovich is retiring from the Senate.  

Republicans who didn't vote

Jim Bunning (79) (R KY)

Bunning, who barely won his last election in 2004, and was named by Time Magazine as one of the five worst Senators, is retiring at the end of this term.

Judd Gregg (63)  (R (NH)

Same sex marriage became legal in New Hampshire in January 2010.

Gregg is retiring at the end of this term.

Orrin G. Hatch (76) (R UT)

Polygamy has a history in Utah, but the Mormon church has been strongly opposed to same-sex marriage and Hatch is an institution in Utah who doesn't have to worry that his absence would harm him in any way. 

The Salt Lake City Tribune reports:
Sen. Orrin Hatch was absent for the vote but registered his dissent from afar. He said November’s election should have shown that voters want Congress to focus on the economy — not try to appeal to their liberal supporters.
“Rather than take part in this cynical exercise in political charades, I am honoring a long-standing commitment I made more than a year ago to attend my grandson’s graduation in Missouri,” Hatch said.

Democrat who didn't vote

Joe Manchin III (63) (D WV) 

It appears that Manchin, newly elected to fill the seat of Sen. Robert Byrd is trying to figure out which way the wind is blowing. He's up for election again in 2012. He skipped this vote and the vote on the Dream Act. He's the only Democrat who didn't vote for repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.


  1. I wanted McAdams to win, but am just relieved that Miller looks like he is loosing. Is it cheesy to send Lisa an email that says that We know it was hard for her but that we are glad that she stood up for what is right?

  2. How about that? Politics sometimes does surprise.


Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.