Far Right Elects Another Lesbian Candidate

Candidate on Ruzicka: 'Get A Leash on Her'

Patty Henetz, The Salt Lake Tribune
November 4, 1998 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blogger Tumblr

Bryan Irving has few illusions that he might have won his race for House District 30. But he is angry that Gayle Ruzicka injected herself into the campaign, and called on the Republican Party to repudiate her tactics.

"With people like Gayle Ruzicka involved, it almost makes me want to be a Democrat," Irving said Wednesday. "I don't think I would have won. But she cost me about 10 points. Somehow the party has got to get a leash on her."

Democrat Jackie Biskupski on Tuesday defeated Irving, a Republican, by a 2-1 margin, becoming Utah's first openly gay legislator.

Ruzicka, who lives in Utah County and heads the extreme right-wing Utah Eagle Forum, in September announced she would work to defeat Biskupski on moral grounds.

Irving said he tried to make it clear he wanted no help from Ruzicka, who he said never even paid him the courtesy of a phone call. She did, however, raise $3,000 to pay for a homophobic flier mailed over the weekend to 6,000 District 30 residents.

The flier claimed that homosexuals subvert fidelity in marriage, lure young people, scorn traditional morals and openly break the laws they find irrelevant.

As a tactic it backfired, said district resident Doug Duncan. "It sickened me," said Duncan, a registered Republican who voted for Biskupski. "You want to say, 'Oh, just shut up.' "

Irving said he took heat for the letter. "Everybody thinks it was me," he said. "I don't need that... It's not the legacy I want to leave."

Joe Hatch, Salt Lake County Democratic Party chairman, said the mailing only cemented Biskupski's likely victory in the solidly Democratic district that includes Sugar House, part of South Salt Lake and portions of Murray and unincorporated Salt Lake County. "I knew she was going to win. It was just nice it was a landslide," Hatch said.

Utah Republican Party Executive Director Spencer Stokes said "there is no doubt [the flier] may have hurt" Irving.

"I'm sure Jackie will represent the constituents of her district well," Stokes added. "The concern we have and others have is that she will be pressured by special-interest groups."

Throughout her campaign, Biskupski has steadily maintained she has no such agenda. But fighting perception is part of being a gay candidate, said Kathleen DeBold, spokeswoman for the Victory Fund, a national gay political organization.

"Someone like Jackie has two campaigns: one against the opponent and one against the stereotype," DeBold said. "It was the race against the stereotype that was harder for her to fight."

Anti-gay tactics were employed in campaigns around the country, said Rebecca Isaacs, political director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Of the 50 candidates endorsed by the Victory Fund, 36 won despite anti- gay campaigning. In Wisconsin, Democrat Tammy Baldwin became the first non- incumbent openly gay person to win a seat in Congress.

Isaacs said political gay-baiting started over the summer, when a spate of newspaper ads and stories appeared featuring people who claimed to have returned to heterosexuality after being gay.

Biskupski saw parallels between the anti-gay tactics and the Republicans' $10 million anti-Clinton campaign widely credited with helping Democrats in national races.

"People in general are tired of hatred, tired of people trying to divide the communities rather than unite them and make them strong," she said.

Biskupski and Irving acknowledge there is work to be done to heal division in District 30 brought on by a campaign neither of them wanted. "It's a sunny day out and I'm doing fine," Irving said. "If Jackie needs my help, I'm glad to give it."