Run to the right in Florida gubernatorial primary

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Rick Scott

Rick Scott

Bill McCollum

Bill McCollum

As Republican candidates for governor raced toward primary day in Florida, they took to the far-right lane in an effort to pick up points with the Sunshine State’s conservative bloc.

On Aug. 24, Republican voters nominated businessman Rick Scott as their candidate for governor. Scott defeated Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum by a 46 percent to 43 percent vote and will face Democrat Alex Sink, the state treasurer, in November. Gov. Charlie Crist decided not to seek a second term and is waging an independent campaign for the U.S. Senate.

In the final months of their primary battle, Scott and McCollum courted conservative voters, touting right-wing positions on flashpoint issues such as marriage equality, adoption rights and immigration reform.

Scott, late in the primary game, took the first antigay offensive run. His campaign disseminated a press memo promoting Scott as a conservative and denouncing McCollum as “more liberal than you think on life issues.” The memo referred to McCollum’s support of Rudy Giuliani, who supported LGBT civil rights measures, in the 2008 presidential primary.

The Scott campaign also reminded the press that McCollum once endorsed federal hate crimes reform, which became a factor in his unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign against Mel Martinez in 2006. A Martinez campaign flyer called McCollum the “new darling of the homosexual extremists.”

But that’s not what LGBT civil rights advocates in Florida call the attorney general, who has defended Florida’s long-standing ban against gays adopting foster children.

“I don’t believe that the people who do this should be raising our children,” McCollum recently told the press.

He also has come out against gays serving as foster parents.

McCollum’s name appeared widespread in LGBT news sources earlier this year, when one of his witnesses at the November 2009 trial on the adoption law, Baptist minister George Alan Rekers, returned home from a European vacation with a male hooker.

Rekers is a co-founder of the Family Research Council and a member of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality board. This spring, he was seen at Miami International Airport with another man, whom he said he hired to help him lift luggage during his trip abroad, but who had advertised his services and qualifications on Rentboy.com – a “smooth, sweet, tight ass” that is “up for anything.”

McCollum had paid Rekers $120,000 to serve as an expert witness in the attorney general’s courtroom defense of Florida’s adoption ban. Rekers testified that gays are unfit parents because they are at higher risk for sexually-transmitted disease, because children are best served by being raised with a submissive mother and a head-of-household father and because homosexuality is an illness to be cured.

Equality Florida, Florida’s leading LGBT political group, said it was “disgraceful” for McCollum to use “taxpayer dollars to compensate this discredited bigot-for-hire. It shows just how low they have to scrape to find anyone even willing to defend this awful ban that denies children permanent loving homes.”

At an August campaign event at a Baptist church in Brandon, McCollum told a reporter, “I think same-sex marriages are wrong. I think same-sex adoptions are wrong. That’s my view.”

His position on gay parenting and other issues earned him a mid-summer endorsement from social conservative leader Gary Bauer, who is now with the Campaign for Working Families PAC and American Values.

“Now more than ever, we need men and women who understand the proper, limited role of government,” Bauer said. “Bill McCollum’s leadership in support of pro-family, pro-life and pro-free enterprise policies is greatly valued by the Campaign for Working Families and all of our members. I’m proud to stand with him in the fight for family, faith and freedom.”

McCollum accepted the endorsement, saying, “It gives me great pleasure to have Gary supporting my campaign. As a strong Christian and national leader on family issues, Gary has been a leading voice in the social conservative movement. As governor, I will continue to stand up for the rights of the unborn, fight for family values, and advance initiatives that will strengthen Florida’s businesses and families.”

But McCollum’s right swing wasn’t enough to best Scott, who has, to date, funded his campaign with $50 million of his own money and steeped it in Tea Party values.

In the general election, Scott faces a candidate who advocates civil unions over same-sex marriage, but supports lifting the ban against gays and lesbians adopting foster children in the state.

Meanwhile, the adoption ban remains in place, pending an appeal that is likely to reach the Florida Supreme Court. The case, decided in favor of a gay couple at the circuit court level, is before the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami.

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