Montana gay hairdresser flap

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Thu Oct 10 17:47:10 PDT 2002

Billings (Montana) Gazette - October 10, 2002

Taylor quits Senate race in Montana

By JIM GRANSBERY of The Billings Gazette staff and Associated Press

State Sen. Mike Taylor, Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, will withdraw from the race this afternoon, saying a Montana Democratic Party television ad has destroyed his campaign.

Taylor said at a press conference in Helena that the ad, which he said insinuated that he was a gay hairdresser, had pushed his poll numbers through the floor.

Although the ad was placed by the Democratic Party, Taylor blamed Sen. Max Baucus for it.

"We have zero left to fight with," Alan Mikkelsen, Taylor's campaign manager, said Thursday morning. "The ad has destroyed the campaign. We have no money left and we don't want to stoop to the same level."

Taylor, a state senator from Proctor, was the GOP candidate opposing Baucus, D-Mont., who is running for a fifth term in the Senate. A recent poll by the Lee Newspapers of Montana showed Baucus with a commanding lead of 54 percent to Taylor's 35. Green party candidate Robert Kelleher of Butte had 1 percent and Libertarian Stan Jones of Bozeman had none. Ten percent were undecided. The poll had a margin of error of plus/minus 4 percentage points.

Ken Miller, chairman of the state Republican Party, said former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, currently the Republican National Committee chairman, had been approached about running in Taylor's place, but declined.

A senior Republican close to Racicot, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the RNC chairman will not seek the Senate seat.

The official said Republicans in Washington hope to replace Taylor on the ballot. Republicans objected less than two weeks ago when Democratic Sen. Torricelli ended his re-election bid amid falling poll numbers and Democratic Party leaders went to court to put a new candidate on the ballot.

Dan Allen, press secretary for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said, "I'm not aware of anyone reaching out to any candidate to get them into the race."

He doubted anyone would be interested, given the timing and the tone of the race. "The negative atmosphere created by the Democrats doesn't make it appealing for someone else to get into the campaign."

Montana law requires Taylor's name remain on the ballot and does not allow Republicans to name a replacement. Write-in candidates have until Oct. 21 to file.

Earlier this week, Taylor took strong umbrage with the ad funded by the Montana Democratic Party, which he described as "character assassination." The ad began running last Friday on Montana television stations.

"What bothers me," Taylor said, "is they are using a picture to assassinate my character. Why use that picture? Are they saying someone from my field in not qualified to be senator?"

What incensed Taylor was the film clip accompanying the ad. Taylor had a twice weekly segment in the early 1980s on a Denver television station. The clip shows Taylor applying lotions to the face of a man siting in the barber chair and discussing techniques. The ad shows Taylor, then slender, sporting a full beard. He is wearing a tight-fitting, three piece suit, with a big-collared open shirt ala John Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever." Taylor's top two or three shirt buttons are unbuttoned, exposing some bare chest and a number of gold chains.

"I cannot believe they would stoop to that level," Taylor said.

State Sen. Ken Toole, D-Helena, and program director for the Montana Human Rights Network, said Thursday morning the ad "is an overt and obvious appeal to the homophobic (voter) that is playing to that stereotypic imagery."

Toole, who has fought for homosexual rights for years in the Montana Legislature, said he had complained to the state Democratic Party.

Toole said the Democratic response was that the image was not intended to imply that Taylor was gay.

"It is hard to believe their advertising firm did not see it," Toole said. "Bottom line is it is obvious and it ought to be pulled.

"Once you play these cards, inject this crap into a campaign - race, gay - nobody controls it," Toole said.

Dan DuBray, a former Montana television journalist who did campaign ads for former U.S. Rep. Ron Marlenee, R-Mont., said Thursday the ad was as subtle as "a 2x4 across the forehead. The video was clearly designed to send a subliminal message about Mike Taylor's sexuality."

"It is bizarre," DuBray said. "I can't believe the senator would embrace this type of ad. The process is out of control. This is far below the floor of any TV ads in the past."

The Democratic Party's $100,000 television ad campaign accused Taylor of abusing student loan programs. Taylor signed settlements with the U.S. Department of Education and the Colorado Student Loan Program and paid $27,250 to cover audit allegations. Both sides agreed that the settlement was not an admission of wrongdoing by either party. The audit and settlement involved a hair design school in Colorado.

Taylor owned and operated a chain of hair care salons and beauty products sales that he has since sold.

Text of Taylor's comments

Perhaps foolishly, I believed that a God fearing common person that worked hard and honest could be anything he wanted to be in America. I ran for the U.S. Senate because I wanted to help Montana families, America and our president. I believed in the American dream.

Now I knew that this was a tough hill to climb - especially since my opponent raised more money from out of state special interests than any other U.S. senator in history. But we kept hoping that with the White House, and the RNC under Marc Racicot, we could take that steep hill.

I understood and accepted the fact that politics in Montana is a contact sport. I actually welcomed the rough and tumble . . . the clashing of ideas and visions for the future.

I'd seen the ads where Nancy Keenan and Denny Rehberg exchanged shots about each other's voting record. I'd seen the ads where Conrad Burns and Brian Schweitzer traded jabs over prescription drug ideas. And sure, they were all hard hitting.

But not lies. And never personal slanders of the vilest kind.

I simply never thought that my opponent would run televisions ads that lied, assassinated my character and mislead the people of Montana.

And not in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that a sitting U.S. senator of 28 years would sanction the use of 20-year-old pictures of me for the most despicable of insinuations about my character.

My opponent has blanketed the airwaves with loathsome distortions of the truth and called it a campaign. I talked - always - about votes, about plans for the future and about ideas. I thought it would be enough. I was wrong.

With his millions of out-of-state special interest money, he has turned me into a lightning rod, drawing criticism not just to me, but to my party and even my beloved state. The lies about me made national news on Tuesday - he has smeared my good name so badly that regrettably I draw unfavorable reviews of Montana.

All of this over a picture of me that's untrue - the furthest thing from the truth.

Perhaps I may be able to repair the damage my opponent has inflicted upon my good name and that of my family, but at what price? I would have to blanket the airwaves with slime more thoroughly than he. I will not.

I will not.

If that's what it takes to win, it is a victory not worth the winning. I think I would make a good senator. But I know I'd make a bad liar. I will not be like him.

And so today I stand before you today prepared to set aside my dream of serving Montanans in the United States Senate, for someone of impeccable character and integrity . . . someone yet un-poisoned by my opponent's venom . . . someone with the stature to enter this race as a write-in candidate who could win and put an end to my opponent's vicious, self-serving ways once and for all.

I am willing to step down in favor of a man or woman who will have a better chance than I to return decency to our seat in the United States Senate.

I am willing to do this, not because my ideas have been tried and found wanting, but because they've been shouted down with slander and left untried.

I've thought about little else, day and night. And I've talked to my wife at great length, because I know how she loves me and how forceful she gets when our family's reputation is unjustly impugned.

I am willing to suspend my campaign because my opponent's lies about me are hurting my wife, my family, my friends, my party and most of all Montanans from all walks of life. Were it just me, and there was no one else in a better position to win, I would stay and absorb the blows. I would stand and let him hit me believing that sooner or later the truth would prevail. But there is so much more at stake. Montanans young and old are suffering and so too is our national image.

I cannot let this go on, without giving Montanans an option . . . a reason to hope that there is a candidate out there who - with their massive outpouring of support - could overcome this sea of sleaze from my opponent. The notion that Montana deserves a U.S. senator who will always put Montana first rather than just in election years deserves a fair hearing, not a mud bath.

I know that my departure would only temporarily dash the hopes of many generous, giving donors . . . hardworking, dedicated volunteers . . people who lent me their good names and reputations.

To them I say: Please understand that we must offer this option for the sake of all Montanans. Your efforts are exemplary - beyond compare. No candidate has ever had better allies. Your friendship and support will be the shining memory that I take from this race, which my opponent's lies can never sully.

To Rick Allen in Kalispell, Mary Jolley and Brent Stanghelle in Great Falls, John Rush in Helena, Jim and Jan Helgason in Billings, to all the women in Gallatin County, and a hundred others I could name if you'd give me enough airtime, I say more than just thank you. I say that the state of Montana owes you a debt for your diligent efforts to keep this race on a high note.

To all of you who helped, I will always be in your debt. Now let's look to the horizon and prepare to embrace the candidate who's out there who we pray will rise to the occasion and make history of which all Montanans will be proud for generations to come.

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