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

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.

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Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/12/2009 - 04:47 pm.

    I don’t know Paul, and I’m not privy to the inside baseball, so speaking for myself, Paul’s sexual preferences have nothing to do with why I couldn’t support him for Governor.

    His sex life shouldn’t have any bearing on his job…if he agreed with that principle, I’d certainly be willing to listen to what he had to say.

    Unfortunately, Paul’s decision to publicly celebrate his sexual preferences tell me that he’d likely make them a basis from which he made his decisions. I’d prefer someone with a bit more serious agenda.

  2. Submitted by Tom Holton on 08/12/2009 - 05:23 pm.

    This is really a shame. I’ve been thinking about how Barney Frank is the first openly gay congressman, and I thought it would be possible to get the 1st gay republican congressman from Minnesota. As this is a more liberal state, I’d think this type of thing would even be a good sales pitch here.

    Perhaps in a national election, where the gay GOP candidate has won the primary such a thing would be possible, but its really strange to see that there is no support for Koering. I tend to think that MN finds him too conservative, but if its only for the gay issue, its a real shame…

    I’m for Pat Anderson now.

  3. Submitted by Wes Davey on 08/13/2009 - 08:38 am.

    “Paul’s sexual preferences have nothing to do with why I couldn’t support him for Governor.” Well, yeah, it’s exactly the reason why he wouldn’t vote for Paul Koering, and the rest of that post brings out the writer’s prejudices against gays.

    It is incredulous to say Paul’s decision to truthfully answer questions from reporters about his sexuality was a “celebration”, or that because of his truthful answers Paul doesn’t have a serious agenda.

    Would that same writer also say that a straight politician who promotes the Republican notion of “family values” (wife, kids, house in the ‘burbs, membership in an evangelical mega-church) doesn’t have a serious agenda? Of course not…because that’s all “normal” American life, and being gay, well, it just isn’t normal – at least not in the eyes of those other self-proclaimed, Republican paragons of virtue…Mark Sanford, John Ensign, David Vitter, Mark Foley, Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, etc.

  4. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 08/13/2009 - 08:46 am.


    I’d like to think you’re kidding but sadly I guess you’re not. In what way has he “celebrated” it? He kept it to himself until he was well into his 30s, and through several years as a state senator. He only admitted it when pressed. And now he’s simply making the obvious point: his homophobic party won’t support him despite that he’s their guy in every other way.

    I don’t agree with Paul about much, but he’s a nice guy and a well-intentioned public servant. If the Republicans nominated him, they’d at least earn a little respect in my eyes. By turning him down, there’s really just nothing left.

  5. Submitted by Ryan Stai on 08/13/2009 - 09:18 am.

    Of course, I get to “publicly celebrate my sexual preferences.” I had a public wedding to my wife, I publicly wear my wedding band, my sexual preference is publicly announced every time my wife and I are introduced to people, and my wife and I publicly display our sexual preferences by walking while holding hands.

    It’s beyond hypocrisy that it’s okay for me to publicly celebrate my sexual preferences whle no one thinks twice, yet Sen. Koering is chastised and ridiculed for doing the same.

  6. Submitted by Dean Carlson on 08/13/2009 - 10:22 am.

    Let’s face it, most Republicans are smart enough to know they can’t state their biases baldly in public. Therefore they talk in euphemisms. Can’t say you don’t want a black man as your president? Question his legitimacy by calling him a Muslim or his origin of birth.

    Same goes with gays. The writer above knows that in a public forum he is suppose to have no issue with Koering’s sexual orientation, even though in reality he does. Therefore the writer has to accuse Koering of violating some sort of made up criteria such as “celebrating his homosexuality,” even though in fact Koering has done no such thing. But it doesn’t matter, the writer can take the high ground and state that Koering’s sexual orientation has nothing to do with his opposition.

    The mental gymnastics needed to continue these little con games get more difficult as time goes on and is one reason why Republicans will be hard pressed to present an alternative to the Democrats anytime in the near future.

  7. Submitted by Randi Reitan on 08/13/2009 - 12:01 pm.

    Really sad to read the comment by Thomas Swift.

    “Unfortunately, Paul’s decision to publicly celebrate his sexual preferences tell me that he’d likely make them a basis from which he made his decisions. I’d prefer someone with a bit more serious agenda.”

    Thomas Swift, it is not a “preference” … it is an orientation. It has nothing to do with choice … it is Paul’s sexual orientation … simply who is was created to be.

    I am guessing your sexual orientation is heterosexual. There wasn’t a day when you decided to be heterosexual … you just were.

    I celebrate who I am every day I write my name … which is the name I took on my wedding day… I celebrate who I am when I look at my hand and see my wedding band … or when I walk hand and hand with my husband. My sexual orientation is known to all as you walk into our home as see photos of us.

    I am so tired of straight people treating the gay community with such uneducated comments and mean spiritedness.

    Let’s all celebrate humankind by treating one another as we would want to be treated ourselves.

  8. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/13/2009 - 12:32 pm.

    It’s tough to understand, I know, for people to whom ethnicity, race and gender are an important component (for some, the only component) by which they judge others, but one of the things I appreciate about the common sense, conservative philosophy is that it is not only ignorant to judge others by aspects over which a person has no control, it’s highly counterproductive.

    I didn’t vote against Barack Obama because of the color of his skin, I voted against him after examining his history, background and legislative record. That is to say, I judged him unfit for office by his past choices and behavior, and by what he has said.

    Likewise, I don’t support Eva Ng for mayor of Saint Paul because she is a woman or because she’s Asian. I support her because she is a highly educated, very successful engineering professional in a highly competitive business and because after hearing what she has to say I’m convinced she is a smart, capable, common sense conservative….and Saint Paul desperately needs a dose of common sense.

    What Paul Koering does in the privacy of his own home is none of my business, and I absolutely do not want to know anything about it.

    Paul’s legislative record is impressive and I agree with much of what he has to say.

    However there are those among us who wish to make their choice of sexual practices the public’s business, and unfortunately Paul sided with them on an important piece of legislation.

    I disagreed with his vote, but it was his decision to advise the press of the details of his private life after that vote, as well as subsequent statements he’s made regarding the subject render me incapable of lending him my support.

    “Yup, I’m gay” is an honest answer; so is “That’s none of your damn business.”

    The difference, for me, is that I can respect the latter. Paul allowed himself to be categorized by unnecessarily discussing his behavior.

    “The first black…the first woman…the first hispanic” Blah, blah, blah. Let go your bigotries and be free.

    When I gather with fellow conservatives, I don’t scan the room and count how many categories I can visually place people in; I see and hear smart, thoughtful, common sense Americans with whom I proud to stand.

  9. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/13/2009 - 01:05 pm.

    “There wasn’t a day when you decided to be heterosexual … you just were.”

    That is a demonstrably false statement. I decide to “be” heterosexual every single time I ever chose to engage in the act that it describes.

    I am as capable of choosing to “be” homosexual as any other human being, but I do not so choose.

    “Choice” is a word leftists use a lot, but are all too often ignorant of what it means. Judge behavior, not labels.

  10. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 08/13/2009 - 01:34 pm.

    Frankly I think the debate about “choice” or “not choice” is kind of silly because I think Americans shouldn’t be marginalized because of choices they make which don’t affect those around them – choices such as who to love.

    Having said that, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume the idea of being homosexual doesn’t interest Tom, and that if everyone else was similarly disinterested homosexuality simply wouldn’t exist. The fact that it does should lead him to conclude that there is something quite different about those who do find it appealing.

  11. Submitted by Bo Darville on 08/13/2009 - 01:56 pm.

    That’s too bad that he’s not running. I was planning on supporting him in the caucuses. I think it is time for an conservative outstate governor. Hopefully, he changes his mind.

  12. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 08/13/2009 - 02:19 pm.

    In a fascinating article about how countries sink into fascism, Sara Robinson describes how the U.S. is progressing down a five-stage process described by scholar Robert O. Paxton.

    (1) A “rural movement emerges” in which folks “come together to restore a broken social order, always drawing on themes of unity, order, and purity. Reason is rejected in favor of passionate emotion.” … “Fascism only grows in the disturbed soil of a nature democracy in crisis.”

    “[It’s] easy to trace how American proto-fascism offered redemption from the upheavals of the 1960s by promising to restore the innocence of a traditional, white, Christian, male-dominated America.” “At this late stage it’s [the Republican Party] blatantly racist, sexist, repressed, exclusionary, and permanently addicted to the politics of fear and rage.”

    (2) Such movements “take root, turn into real political parties, and seize their seat at the table of power.”

    (3) [T]he “transition to full-fledged government fascism begins.” Now, groups like FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, “with massive media help from FOX

  13. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 08/13/2009 - 02:28 pm.

    SORRY, I hit the Post It button too soon. Sorry this is so long, also.

    News.” “We see the Birther fracas (urban myth-making) “being openly ratified by Congressional Republicans. We’ve seen [Dick] Armey’s own professionally produced field manual that carefully instructs conservative goon squads in the fine art of disrupting the democratic governing process — and the film of public officials being terrorized and threatened to the point where some of them required armed escorts to leave the building. We’ve seen Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner applauding and promoting a video of the disruptions and looking forward to ‘a long, hot August for Democrats in Congress.’ ”

    Mr. Koering should feel honored to be rejected for endorsement by what the Republican Party has become.

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