Home Politics John Aronno: On Politics Anchorage Mayoral Race Spotlights Views on Equal Rights for LGBT Alaskans

Anchorage Mayoral Race Spotlights Views on Equal Rights for LGBT Alaskans



Anchorage Mayoral Race Spotlights Views on Equal Rights for LGBT Alaskans-cover

A new advertisement supporting Anchorage mayoral candidate Amy Demboski seeks to distinguish the Eagle River assemblywoman from a crowded field. Paid for by the Alaska Republican Assembly Political Action Committee (ARAPAC), the ad spotlights Demboski as “Fiscal & Social Conservative Family Oriented,” also pledging on her behalf that “She WILL VETO ANY Homosexual Ordinance!”

Equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Alaskans in the municipality have endured a sordid legislative history. The Anchorage Assembly has passed four anti-discrimination ordinances. The first two attempts came between 1975-1976. Both were promptly vetoed by Mayor George Sullivan and used as a campaign issue to rout equal rights proponents from local government.

In 1993, the assembly passed a scaled back version which also was greeted by the veto pen, this time by Mayor Tom Fink. The assembly overrode that veto, but a new assembly repealed it the following May. It would take 16 years to come back before the body.

In 2009, acting-Mayor Matt Claman sponsored another proposal, Ordinance 64. The debate over AO-64 took place over an entire summer (nicknamed the “Summer of Hate” by supporters), occupying over 20 hours of often contentious public testimony. The measure was ultimately passed 7-4. Mayor Dan Sullivan (George’s son) vetoed it, and the necessary eighth vote to override it could not be found.

A ballot initiative with the same goal failed by 14 points in 2012, in an election plagued with issues ranging from ballot shortages to voter fraud. Statewide efforts have appeared in the last several legislative sessions, but have amounted to a grand total of one hearing and no movement.

In October, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess struck down the state’s constitutional ban on marriage equality. The administration of Gov. Sean Parnell (R-Alaska) appealed, but Gov. Bill Walker’s (I-Alaska) Attorney General, Craig Richards, has stayed that appeal until after the U.S. Supreme Court weighs in. Thus, currently, the right of LGBT Alaskans to marry is recognized, but they can still be fired or evicted on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Quite a dubious double standard.

One, however, which Demboski appears to believe is the right standard to uphold.

Demboski and Co.

Cale Green, Demboski’s campaign manager, emphasized that there had been no coordination or communication with the PAC advocating on her behalf. “As far as Amy’s stance on Prop 5 goes — Amy has been vocal with her opposition to Prop 5,” he told me via email, “and if a similar bill appeared before her as Mayor — she would veto it.”

ARAPAC Chair Daniel Hamm, who is in charge of the group behind the advertisement, told me that members of the PAC spoke with Demboski about what he described as the “unintended consequences” of anti-discrimination laws in other states. In an email, he linked to a couple of stories published by Fox News. The first spotlighted an instance in Houston, Texas, where pastors’ sermons were subpoenaed to see if they violated campaign laws. The five pastors were involved in signature gathering for a repeal of the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance. The subpoenas were later withdrawn after public outcry that turning over sermons violated free speech and religious freedom.

The second article featured two Christian ministers of the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, who claimed they were told they must perform same-sex marriages or face jail time and fines. City officials, however, pointed out that religious corporations are exempt from Coeur d’Alene’s anti-discrimination ordinance and the ministers faced no such penalties.

Based out of Palmer, ARAPAC’s stated purpose is to “promote conservative values and candidates.” The group’s registration specifies it will campaign for municipal candidates in Wasilla. Hamm described the Facebook advertisement advocating on behalf of the Demboski campaign as “a work in progress done by one of our volunteers,” and explained that the group had not spent any money but would likely do so soon. He added:

Assemblywomen Demboski indicated to us that she supported traditional marriage and family as well as free religious expression and would be against such an ordinance that could be used by government to try to force people into adopting alternative lifestyles and simultaneously suppress free speech in churches.

Hamm said that the advertisement was in reference to 2009’s Ordinance 64 and 2012’s Prop 5 (both of which included identical religious exemptions).

Where Demboski’s Opponents Stand.

“We are ‘One Anchorage.’ That’s who we are,” Republican mayoral candidate Andrew Halcro told me over the phone on Monday. Halcro has served as president of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce since 2012 and has made outreach to the LGBT community in Alaska a priority. in 2013, the Anchorage Chamber hosted Justin Nelson, president of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, a non-profit advocacy group dedicated to expanding economic opportunities and advancements of the LGBT business community. Earlier this year, the Chamber, in partnership with the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation (AEDC), dedicated a “Make it Monday Forum” to the topic of workplace diversity, which highlighted the negative economic impacts discrimination against LGBT Alaskans creates.

“The best suited cities in the future are going to be based on three things,” Halcro said. “Talent, tolerance, and
technology. And that’s where Anchorage needs to be.”

He added that if elected he would not stand in the way of marriage equality. “I’m supportive of gay marriage. I think two people that love each other ought to be able to get married.”

His Democratic opponent couldn’t agree more. I spoke with Ethan Berkowitz Monday evening and asked, if elected, whether or not he would support an anti-discrimination ordinance should the assembly land one on his desk. “It would have been proposed by me,” he answered, adding that discrimination is not part of his vision or values. “I would like to be the first [Anchorage] mayor to officiate a gay wedding.”

“The first year that I was in the legislature, that’s when they put the ban on gay marriage up and I opposed it then,” he told me. He said he also did pro bono work, as a member of Strategies 360, during the Prop 5 campaign. The campaign manager of the group that supported the 2012 ballot initiative, Amy Coffman, is currently doing field work for Berkowitz’s mayoral bid.

In response to the pro-Demboski advertisement, Berkowitz chuckled and asked: “What’s a homosexual ordinance?”

Dan Coffey, also in the race, voted against Ordinance 64 when it was before the Assembly. He said he’d prefer calling for a task force to analyze whether discrimination against the LGBT community exists in Anchorage. Coffey represented midtown from 2004 to 2010. He was the only member of the body to forgo remarks before he cast his vote.

At a forum last week, Coffey said of himself: “My politics is fiscal conservatism. On social issues, what you do and how you do it is your own business. It’s not a concern of the government.”

Coffey declined to comment.

John Aronno is a co-founder, managing editor, and award winning political writer at Alaska Commons. Aronno has had his work featured in the Huffington Post, the Anchorage Press, the Alaska Dispatch, and the Rachel Maddow Show, and is listed among the state’s top reporters on the Washington Post’s “The Fix.” He writes the weekly column “On Politics” for Alaska Commons. Aronno lives in Anchorage, Alaska with his wife, Heather Aronno, and a lot of pets.


  1. Amy Is clearly living in some weird vortex. I’m pretty sure that campaign will land her in fourth place. Andrews done the most money where his mouth is, taking real action for the LGBT community. As Pride chair, I’ve seen it first hand. Trust Halcro!

  2. So Mr. Coffey wants to duck the issue by handing it over to another government committee . . . yet he says “what you do and how you do it is your own business. It’s not a concern of the government.” Which is it, Mr. Coffey?
    At least Halcro and Berkowitz are willing to put themselves out there and take a position.

  3. It’s not equal rights, it’s special rights. They want special rights for themselves, and to squash the rights of those with religious beliefs. It’s called intolerance, and is what the left is famous for.

    • Rights for some are not rights for all. Hate will not be tolerated even if under the guise of freedom of religion. One cannot step on someone else’s rights to grant their own in the process. You cannot vote on rights nor should we be allowed to do so. That’s why they are called rights. What is so special about them getting the same rights? If you think you have a right to discriminate, then you are unbelievably ignorant nor posses the facts of the left. You spew the same old nonsensical rhetoric that the right always has. It’s the same argument for racial discrimination. If you remember, the right lost that one and will lose this one two. If not in the legislature, then in the courts. If you mean intolerant of hate and allowing it to spread, then guilty as charged.

  4. When will we finally understand that it is our differences that make us strong as a city, a state, a country, a species? Also, when will we finally throw out these carved in stone beliefs like the best way to cope with our differences is by “tolerating”? Toleration leaves us all weak, draws a line in the sand, creates wars and makes cooperation, innovation and compromise impossible. How about the idea of “appreciating” differences? We can “appreciate” but not agree. Appreciation gives us a place to begin conversations, and respects differences as opportunities to learn from each other rather than just fear each other.

  5. So that’s that mean she will discriminat againuts gay and lesbian soldiers that serve and fight for our country

  6. So, is a homosexual ordinance an ordinance that will only go on dates with other ordinances? Not with statutes or initiatives? (sorry, had to share, I read it on Twitter this morning)

    My questions about this candidate are many, such as why is she being supported by a group from the MatSu? And if she’s so popular there why doesn’t she live there and run for public office there?

    And if she doesn’t like equal rights why does she live in the US? There are so many other countries to choose from: Russia, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq…plenty of places she could find happiness, because in the US and in Alaska, equal rights are the law. Really.

    And does she have any other opinions we should know about? Is she pro- or anti-union? Does she support equal pay for equal work? What does she think about Sullivan’s idea to sell SWS? I hope to hear a lot more about this candidate; thank you John Aronno, for your usual high quality reporting!

  7. Except for about one percent of the population, who cares? I’m not a homophobe and I don’t hate or even dislike people in the so called lgbt community. I also don’t appreciate any group of people trying to force persons of faith, Christians, Muslims, religious jews, etc. to rent their private property to persons who act opposite of their faith values, who have to hire persons who live an open lifestyle that runs counter to their very being, their faith, etc. And no, it is not the same as race, ethnicity, religion or gender. You see, you don’t take what you consider your “rights” at the expense of the most basic of rights, the right to live the values of your relationship with your God. Goodness people, we’re not talking about the branch davidian’s death camp, we’re talking about freedom of religion, freedom of relationship (in my case freedom to live according to the rules set down by my God, Jesus (yes, it’s in the New Testament at Romans 1:26, 27). Let’s make a deal. I stay out of your bedroom and you stay out of my relationship with Jesus. That’s fair. Yeah, I support Amy.

What do you think?