Friday, July 25, 2008

The morality mob runs amok

I don't know if Anne Norlander is running for secretary of state in 2010, but I'm endorsing her anyway.

The Calhoun County clerk-register, an eminently reasonable Republican who's been on the job for 20 years, would provide a seamless transition from the affable administration of Terri Lynn Land. Norlander seems to be that rare public official who genuinely loves what she does.

But last month, she discovered the religious right is restless and needs new blood to feast on. That's what happens when your once-almighty power is on the wane.

Norlander happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, becoming ensnared in the hottest House race in the state.

The 62nd District seat currently occupied by term-limited state Rep. Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek, is the Democrats' best chance for a pickup. Everyone expected fireworks in the fall, but they came early in the GOP primary between County Commissioner Greg Moore and Battle Creek City Commissioner Susan Baldwin.

As Nofs' chief of staff, Moore was the GOP golden boy for the Lansing crowd, but Baldwin had her own following back in Cereal City. Like all candidates, they're both pro-business and want to slash government. But being a Republican primary, what this really comes down to is the social divide.

Moore led Christian soldiers onward first as a staffer for former U.S. Rep. Nick Smith, R-Addison, and then as a quiet but potent ally for current U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton. Baldwin is pro-choice. 'Nuf said.

Then Moore admitted to the media he didn't live in the district (a big no-no, as in a five-year felony for a false affidavit) so Baldwin asked Norlander to strip his name from the ballot.

When the clerk decided to do her due diligence and consult an attorney, her own name was promptly dragged through the slop before she'd even made her decision.

Out of the blue, the statewide media and Republican activists were blasted by a press release from the Campaign for Michigan Families, a production of Gary Glenn, whom one columnist aptly described as "eerily obsessed with gays." He just had a niggling question he wanted to share with thousands of his closest friends:

Does Anne Norlander support homosexual adoption?

Truly, that is the biggest question before any county clerk or secretary of state.

Indeed, it is the No. 1 issue of any campaign this year (or any year). So stop whining about your house being in foreclosure, losing your job and $4 gas, as Uncle Phil recently intoned. Gramm's only mistake was that he didn't say God was punishing us for the queers. Somehow, I know Jerry Falwell is tenderly whispering those words from heaven.

For the record, Norlander doesn't know if she's running for statewide office and doesn't back gay adoption. (Interestingly, John McCain, who rescued a disabled Bangladesh baby and raised her as his own, has been openly conflicted on the question).

Norlander has been dumbfounded by the scrutiny. "I'm just doing my job," she sighed. In the end, both she and Circuit Court Judge James Kingsley let Moore's name stand. The race remains a toss-up.

For his part, Glenn swears the Moore controversy had nothing to do with his e-mail blast. I'm sure Moore (if he'd return calls) would say the same (Gary who?). I might gently point out, dear reader, that Kingsley established in the court record that Moore lied in his affidavit, lecturing that he doesn't believe "the truth should be treated as a trifling thing."

Anyway, we've never seen the morality mob knife a moderate in these parts, right? Surely Tim Walberg, devoted man of God, would never crucify former U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz in evangelical churches from one corner of the 7th District to the other.

And I'm sure the zealots didn't yank Iowa U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley's voting privileges at the Republican National Convention this year because he's investigating televangelists. Seriously, what kind of a cynic would suspect that a dude named Creflo Dollar (who stopped by to save Battle Creekers' souls last year) might be in it for the money more than God's glory?

Nothing says more about the religious right running amok than the slapdown of Grassley, the conservative Christian conscience of Congress since before I was born.

It's time to stand up against this kind of heavy-handed bullying that has vaporized thousands of careers.

The Moral Majority and its ilk had their chance to transform the country during their dramatic ascent in the '80s and particularly under the tenure of born-again George W. Bush. Sorry, folks, you didn't make the sale with most of us. Hijacking national and state Republican parties has proved thoroughly self-destructive, yielding congressional minorities for the foreseeable future.

In Michigan, nominees for offices including SOS and attorney general are picked by party elders - good news for fans of cronyism and extremism. Backing a dedicated public servant like Norlander (who inadvertently got caught in the culture wars) would send a powerful message.

Let's take back the GOP from the Gary Glenns and restore it to the Party of Lincoln.

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