Put Up Your Dukes

Posted July 8, 2003 at 6:44pm

The office of Rep. Duke Cunningham (Calif.) proactively called HOH to denounce — and deny — a story in The Washington Blade newspaper suggesting that the conservative Republican is a closeted homosexual.

“The recent article in The Washington Blade is simply untruthful and irresponsible,” Cunningham told HOH in a prepared statement. “I am a heterosexual — always have been, always will be.”

He added that the story, which was sparked by statements made by Human Rights Campaign Executive

Director Elizabeth Birch in a recent speech, is “gutter politics, pure and simple.”

“The only lessons learned from this article are that Ms. Birch and the Washington Blade have zero credibility and will go to any level of personal destruction to further their cause,” fumed Cunningham. “I thought ‘human rights’ represented fairness. The Washington Blade has proven that they will never be a reputable news organization. They continue to maintain their status as a tabloid rag.”

The story was sparked by a rambling speech delivered last month by Birch, outgoing chief of HRC, at a town hall meeting held during a series of Gay Pride events in Washington. The Blade obtained a videotape of the meeting, which started with Birch saying she had “nothing” to lose by telling a provocative anecdote on the way out the door.

Birch claimed to the crowd of 200 people that she and another HRC official had a private meeting in 1995 with a conservative GOP Member who had “railed against gay people, calling us homos and went on and on, saying we’ve got to get those homos out of the military” on the House floor. Cunningham delivered just such a speech in 1995 and later apologized.

By way of explaining to the crowd how the organization tries to reach across the political aisle, Birch said she and HRC’s then-political director, Daniel Zingale, sat down with the unnamed Congressman and his staff for a productive meeting about their differences. And then it got interesting.

Birch charged that the Member let his staff leave, shut the door and asked the HRC officials to stay. She noted that the lawmaker in question had “three tours in Vietnam and there were a lot of guns on the wall. Whips and stuff like that.” Cunningham served two tours of duty in the Vietnam War but sharply denies having guns, whips or such on his walls.

Then the Member allegedly asked, “How do you know if you’re that way?”

The HRC officials then proceeded to explain what it’s like to grow up and figure out you’re gay. “You become well-adjusted and stronger and stronger,” Birch told him. “And you know you’re gay.”

Birch added: “And finally he said, ‘Because I’ve loved men.’ And I said, ‘Was that in a military setting?’ He said yes. He said, ‘yes, indeed, on the field of battle. But I’ve also loved men.’”

She closed by saying, “Since then, he has voted almost always wrong. But he’s still, I’m sure, still living in his own personal hell. But there was a moment when we touched each other.”

A Republican lobbyist, who is gay, called HOH to say he was outraged that Birch would deliver those remarks. “I think it’s appalling,” he said. “I think it tears down their credibility. I talked to a couple of [HRC] staffers [Monday] and they’re furious” with Birch.

The lobbyist added that it was an “abomination” for Birch to essentially “out” a Congressman.

But HRC spokesman David Smith insisted to HOH that Birch did no such thing. “She did not out him,” he said. “She did not name that Congressman. She did not imply that he was gay. The implication of the story was that he was curious, did not understand what it meant, and was curious.”

Cunningham insists that the “alleged meeting” never took place and he finds it curious Birch told the Blade that “more than one person” in Congress expressed curiosity about being gay. “I scrambled the facts,” she told The Blade of the anecdote she related to the crowd. “I created a composite.”

Smith told HOH, “I don’t know what she meant by that.” He added that the story is true “to my knowledge, yes.”

The Blade’s executive editor, Chris Crain, told HOH, “It’s clear that Congressman Cunningham doesn’t consider his sexual orientation a private fact because he says he’s heterosexual. We had the leader of the top human rights organization saying the Congressman had questions about his sexuality. All we did was report the facts.”

Arrested on the Fourth of July. Independence Day weekend turned out to be treacherous for several Members and former lawmakers, not the least being Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

While behind the wheel of an antique fire truck in a July Fourth parade in his district, Hastert had to dodge a water balloon thrown by 33-year-old John Allen, who was promptly arrested on a felony battery charge.

Hastert didn’t cry over a little spilled water, which merely left him a little wet. Allen swore that he had no idea that the Speaker was in the driver’s seat, but the judge in the case gently reminded him to be a bit more careful when tossing an object that might slam into someone who’s in the line of presidential succession.

“It’s going to take more than a pot-smoking water balloon thrower to stop Denny Hastert from delivering prescription drug reform to the American people,” Hastert spokesman John Feehery told HOH.

That incident paled in comparison to the injuries that could have been suffered by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor when part of the stage crashed to the floor at the opening of the National Constitutional Center in Philadelphia on Friday. “We could all have been killed there,” said O’Connor, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

An aide told HOH that Specter got a “pretty big bruise” on his right elbow, but is now doing fine.

Then there was ex-Rep. Dick Chrysler (R-Mich.), who woke up Tuesday morning to a horrific fire that gutted his Brighton Township, Mich., home. He escaped unhurt while his wife had minor injuries, according to The Associated Press.

Thune’s French Connection. As he gears up for another Senate bid, ex-Rep. John Thune (R-S.D.) has joked that Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle’s (D-S.D.) anti-Bush comments are more “south of France” than South Dakota.

So you can imagine HOH’s surprise to hear that Thune was spotted attending last month’s Dixie Chicks concert at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C.

Since the band has been accused of being unpatriotic after slamming President Bush’s push for war in Iraq, one can only imagine the kind of crack that Thune would have delivered if Daschle turned out for such a concert — inside the Beltway no less.

Thune, however, turned out to be less than loquacious about his appearance at the concert. He did not return several calls seeking comment on the performance of lead singer Natalie Maines, who declared earlier this year that she was “ashamed” that Bush hails from her home state of Texas.

Arnie’s Congressional Army. Golf legend Arnold Palmer is coming to the Capitol today to meet up with a slew of admiring lawmakers at the Congressional breakfast for the First Tee charity.

The breakfast, organized by ex-Rep. Tillie Fowler (R-Fla.), will feature some of the Hill’s true golf nuts: Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), House Education and the Workforce Chairman John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.).

The Wizard of Oz. Baseball star Ozzie Smith and former House Minority Whip David Bonior (D-Mich.) will be among the luminaries coming out for Thursday night’s 42nd Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game.

The Baseball Hall of Fame has become actively involved in the game between Democrats and Republicans for the first time. As the most recent inductee to be enshrined in Cooperstown, Smith has agreed to throw out the first pitch at Prince George’s Stadium in Bowie, Md., at 7 p.m. He will also be playing catch with some of the youngsters who show up for pre-game warmups.

Bonior is planning to be at the game as well for his own induction into the even more exclusive Roll Call Congressional Baseball Hall of Fame, honoring individuals who have been critical to the game, which was started by Roll Call founder Sid Yudain.

Bonior served as second baseman of the Democratic squad for many years in the highly competitive game, which raises tens of thousands of dollars for local charities each year.

Republicans suffered a blow over the break when freshman Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), who was expected to be one of Rep. Mike Oxley’s (R-Ohio) first options out of the bullpen, had to pull out because of an injury.

Smith, meanwhile, will be heading over to the White House on Thursday morning for a tour of the West Wing, followed by lunch in the House with the two baseball coaches — Oxley and Martin Sabo (D-Minn.).

Before heading off to the diamond, Smith will get a Capitol tour from Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.).

“As every sports fan knows, Ozzie Smith is famous for his flying somersaults,” Bond told HOH. “So I hope that when I am showing him the Senate, he can teach me some of those moves that I will probably need to get the federal highway bill through the Senate.”