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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
January 13, 2006

DOMA backer is set to be Ohio House Democratic leader

Columbus--Democrats in the Ohio House are set to make a �defense of marriage act� supporter their leader and primary spokesperson, causing concern in the gay and lesbian Stonewall Democrats.

�Todd Book�s prospective election as House minority leader is a painful reminder that our LGBT community must recruit and elect fair-minded candidates across the state of Ohio,� said Cleveland Stonewall Democrats president Patrick Shepherd.

At press time, Book, of Portsmouth, was considered the favorite in the race to replace current minority leader Chris Redfern of Catawba Island, who is giving up the post to become the chair of the Ohio Democratic Party.

The House Democratic caucus was set to vote on the evening of January 11.

In addition to Book, those seeking the top spot are Assistant Minority Leader Joyce Beatty of Columbus and Mike Skindell of Lakewood. Both have longstanding relationships with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender constituencies, and actively fought to oppose the DOMA legislation ultimately passed by the House in December, 2003.

Beatty was also the lead sponsor of bills to add sexual orientation as a protected class to Ohio�s existing ethnic intimidation law.

Redfern actively opposed the DOMA legislation.

Book has had little interest in the concerns of the LGBT community other than his House floor vote for the anti-gay DOMA.

While DOMA was in the Civil and Commercial Law Committee, he seconded a motion to remove a provision banning recognition of �statutory benefits of marriage� for all unmarried couples.

That amendment, offered by Democrat Sandra Harwood of Warren, was defeated by Republicans. Book and Harwood then joined ten other Democrats and all House Republicans except one in voting for the bill, which ultimately became law.

A year ago, House Democrats elevated another DOMA supporter, Steve Driehaus of Cincinnati, to a leadership post.

Driehaus filled the minority whip position vacated by Dale Miller of Cleveland, who led the floor fight against DOMA and introduced Ohio�s first LGBT civil rights bill. Miller is seeking a seat in the Ohio Senate.

Shepherd said that putting Driehaus in that leadership position caused his Stonewall chapter to stop financially supporting the House Democratic caucus. Instead, they are contributing more to the Senate caucus, which has been unanimous in its LGBT support, and to individual House members who have been supportive.

�Since the House caucus has not [unanimously] supported our community, we have been forced to select [individual] candidates who stand with us for equality,� said Shepherd.

�This situation demonstrates the crucial need to elect an out LGBT legislator to the Ohio General Assembly,� he added.

According to a caucus insider who asked not to be identified, Book is favored to win because he was the caucus� top fund-raiser next to Redfern, and because of an underlying concern among some members that Beatty, a black woman, will not be able to help pick up seats in Ohio�s rural areas as well as Book, who is a white man.

�We have a rare opportunity in Ohio in 2006,� said the source. �We have to pick up seats in those areas to take control of the Ohio House so we can start to do something to help [the LGBT] community.�

There is also concern, said the source, that a deal struck between Beatty and Skindell would be problematic in the conservative areas of the state. That deal, reportedly, would combine the pair�s votes for the top spot in exchange for Beatty becoming the majority leader and Skindell becoming the assistant minority leader.

The concern is that the pair are �way too liberal� to win in Ohio, and their vocal DOMA opposition was given as a specific reason.

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