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As a gay candidate for governor, Paul Koering says he has no party support

State Sen. Paul Koering, a Republican, had a lot that should have created interest within the GOP’s conservative base in his run for governor.

One of the crowded field of mostly unknown Republican candidates for governor ended his quiet quest a few days ago.

On the surface, Sen. Paul Koering of Fort Ripley had a lot that should have created interest within the party’s conservative base. He’s scored 100 per cent with Minnesota Citizens For Life. He’s a 100 per center with the National Rifle Association. The Minnesota Taxpayer’s League scores the two-term legislator as one of the top 10 anti-tax people at the capitol.

But, after exploring his chances for getting support from the party activists, Koering and a handful of his allies learned he’s got one insurmountable issue.

“The reading from potential delegates is that they could not get past the fact I’m gay,” Koering said in an interview Wednesday. “That’s very sad, but it’s true.”

In fact, Koering expects that even getting endorsement from his party to run for a third Senate term will be a battle because of his sexual orientation, not because of his political ideas. He made it clear Wednesday that he is not going to pledge to abide by endorsement, fearing the homophobic attitudes of a handful of delegates may be too much to overcome.

“I am not going to let 100 people make the decision,” said Koering, who defeated a Republican opponent in the 2006 primary by 4,000 votes and clobbered his DFL vote by nearly 20,000 votes in the general election. “I’d be honored to get the endorsement, but I’m just not got to let a few people decide my future.”

Out of step with DFL
Few people in the Legislature are so conflicted as the former dairy farmer who now runs a small business in the Brainerd area. He’s rejected by many activists in his own party, yet philosophically his totally out of step with DFLers.

“I couldn’t be in the DFL; I’m way too conservative,” said Koering. “I align with conservatives on almost everything. If I were straight man with a wife and eight children these same people would want me to run for president.”

State Sen. Paul Koering
State Sen. Paul Koering

When he was first elected in 2002, Koering’s sexual identity was unknown by all but his family and closest friends.

It wasn’t until late in the session in 2005 that Koering announced his sexuality to all. The catalyst behind that decision was, ironically, Michele Bachmann, who was a state senator at the time.

On an April day set aside to celebrate gay and lesbian rights, Koering said, Bachmann came forward with a technical bill in support of an amendment to ban gay marriage in Minnesota. Already in an emotional state of mind because it was the second anniversary of his mother’s death, Koering was distraught by the Bachmann move.

“She could have done it on the day before or the day after, but she had to pick a day of celebration,” he said. “I voted ‘no’ on her bill and some reporters came to me and said, ‘Paul, we’ve been respectful of your private life. But you voted ‘no’ on this. We have to ask questions.”’

He answered, announcing to the media that he is gay.

Quick reaction
The reaction of some of his backers was immediate.

“I went to people and ask, ‘can you still support me,’ and they’d look at me and say, ‘nope,”’ said Koering.

Still, he stays with the party, in part because he believes that better days for gay Republicans are coming.

“What’s happening is that a younger generation of people are coming out right away,” said Koering. “They’re telling Mom and Dad when they’re 15, 16, 17 or 18 and then Mom and Dad have a choice. ‘Do I accept this or do I reject this child I love?’ More and more people now are getting to know someone who is gay and more and more people are deciding it doesn’t matter.”

But it matters to a crucial group within his party. So Koering’s stepped out of the race.