Sunday, December 04, 2005

West - Ward Ho

Thanks to Blog Ally Michael of GayOrbit, I was reminded that this is the week in which the voters of Spokane, Washington decide whether or not to toss Mayor Jim West out on his ear.

West's various transgressions have been well-detailed elsewhere, so I won't go into excessives here -- a good reference point is the Spokane Spokesman-Review's coverage. However, the point to be made is that West, who is apologizing and begging voters for a second chance, seems to think that this is the problem:

West, a former Boy Scout executive and sheriff's deputy, denies the pedophilia allegations. He said he no longer engages in gay sex and has stopped visiting Internet chat rooms.

"I don't do that stuff anymore and probably shouldn't have done it in the first place," West, 54, told The Associated Press. "It's an unusual episode in my life. I wish there was a rewind button. Basically, that's what I'm asking the public for: a second chance."

What West is doing actually has some degree of plausibility; Spokane, like the majority of Washington State away from the Seattle-Olympia area, is heavily-conservative and Republican. For someone whose viewpoint is "gay = bad", or at least thinks the viewpoint of others is "gay = bad" because of their political and social views, this is a reasonable scenario. Simply put, West is doing what he thinks won him his previous elections -- gaybashing.

However, what the voters of Spokane are thinking is significantly more complicated.

In coffee shops, workplaces, homes and letters to the editor, similar questions have come up repeatedly since May. Is Spokane Mayor Jim West the victim of his own misbehavior and indiscretions, or the victim of a crusading newspaper's witch hunt? And even if the stories are fair, how much is enough?

A new poll, paid for by the newspaper and KREM 2 News, suggests that many readers are just as ambivalent as Woodbury. Out of more than 1,100 Spokane residents asked, 41 percent said they approve of the paper's coverage of West, while 48 percent said the opposite. Women and people over age 45 tended to approve; men and younger people tended not to.

"He's fair game, but it's maybe a little too much overplayed," said Spokane's Marc Buckley, 33, working downtown on a recent Thursday. "It's been overdone, like the Monica Lewinsky thing. It reminds you of a tabloid."

"The coverage was necessary, valuable, and I'm glad they did it," said Paul Lindholdt, an Eastern Washington University English professor. "But as it continues, it gets to be overbearing. It's like they're beating a drum – or using a club."

In my opinion, this shows one thing....West's repentance of and the media's emphasis on "the gay angle" is born of the same ignorance -- namely, the belief that it's really what the voters care about. Former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey's statement was West in reverse -- the thinking that, because he "came out", that voters would support him despite clear evidence of abusing his position.

In short, it seems that voters don't care what you do as long as it doesn't interfere with your job -- and when it does, no amount of pandering is going to change the issue.

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