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June 5, 2009


Groups help keep registry foe out of Statehouse

Cleveland--A domestic partner registry foe’s bid to swap seats with a state representative was scuttled last week, and LGBT political groups had a hand in it.

Former Ward 10 councilor Roosevelt Coats said he was “philosophically uncomfortable” with the city’s domestic partner registry when he voted against it in December. He also read Bible passages into the record of an earlier hearing to explain his discomfort with the measure, which he was unaware also included opposite-sex couples.

The registry passed, and took effect last month.

Coates, who had represented the South Collinwood neighborhood since 1987, surprised Clevelanders on April 16 by announcing his resignation from council. Former council majority leader Sabra Pierce Scott, also a registry opponent, resigned the same day.

Coats intended to swap seats with State Rep. Eugene Miller, whose 10th District includes Coats’ ward and downtown Cleveland. Coates said publicly that he wanted to spend more time with his family and his 17-year-old son, and called the state legislature “a different mindset” and less responsibility.

Cleveland City Council pays more than a state representative’s seat, and is not burdened by term limits. Miller is 34 and was serving his third term. Coats is 60.

Miller was approved by council in early May and now represents Ward 10.

But Coats’ intentions were thwarted, when, despite endorsements from city council and Mayor Frank Jackson, the Ohio House Democratic caucus named assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor Robin Belcher to Miller’s seat.

Opposition to Coats came from the Plain Dealer which, in multiple editorials, described Coats’ tenure on council as underwhelming and not always engaged in the business at hand.

But strong resistance also came from the LGBT community, which may have created the tipping point away from Coats.

On May 20, former Equality Ohio staffer Bo Shuff, who publishes the blog, began the campaign by cajoling the group to raise objections with House Democrats and to make the matter a statewide LGBT issue.

“Everything that can be done to prevent this man from be elevated to the Ohio House of Representatives should be done,” Shuff wrote. “Everyone in Ohio that has a Democratic House member should be calling and writing in opposition.”

“Any organization that has a file of supporters in that district should be working the emails and phones to the leadership of the Democratic House Caucus,” he continued. “Any PAC that maxed out to the Democratic House Caucus in the last cycle should be on the phone with leadership demanding that this person who doesn’t represent the values of Ohio should not be allowed to vote on the laws of Ohio.”

The next day, Shuff wrote about his conversation with Equality Ohio deputy director Peter Caborn.

“Equality Ohio has delivered the testimony of Mr. Coats during the City Council hearing to the House Democratic Caucus. There have been additional conversations with House leadership, and an update will be going out to the Cuyahoga County members of Equality Ohio. In addition, conversations have been started, I believe with the Ohio Democratic Party.”

“The entire House Democratic Caucus will make a recommendation to Speaker [Armond] Budish. He needs to hear from the members of the caucus, all of them, that reading Bible verses into the record as justification for discrimination is wrong and has no part in the Statehouse,” Shuff continued.

Over the next few days, LGBT groups began mobilizing.

Equality Ohio, the Cleveland LGBT Center, and the Ohio LGBT Democratic Caucus took up the cause.

Belcher was appointed to the seat on May 27.

“Mr. Coats, your 15 minutes? They are over,” Shuff concluded.




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