Red Letter Day

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Registration nation

Dave and I went to City Hall today to register for the domestic partnership. It was quite easy, just filling out a form online and paying $75.00 to the city via PayPal. It almost felt like buying something on eBay! The actual legal aspect of the registry wasn't the highlight today, rather it was the amazing atmosphere at City Hall. It was like a wonderful party...you know those videos of City Hall in San Francisco three years ago when their mayor started marrying same-sex couples, just the amount of joy and support and happiness in the room...that is what it was like here in Lawrence this morning, kind of a tiny bubble of San Francisco transferred to Kansas. The crowd cheered after each couple finished registering (there were computers set up there by the Kansas Equality Coalition for this purpose), and there were lots of cameras and media folks around taking pictures and interviewing people, as well as dozens of supporters mingling about in the Commission chambers. Among the supporters were two of our elected officials, Senator Marci Francisco, who brought heart-shaped candy tins to hand out to all the couples who registered, and Mayor Sue Hack, who talked wonderfully about how this made Lawrence a better place. Dave even got to do some impromptu tech support when the browser on one of the computers kept messing up! There's a ton of emotion and it was really a wonderful event. No matter what the future holds, Lawrence made Kansas history today and it was awesome to be a part of it.

Thanks to the City Commission, the City of Lawrence, Kansas Equality Coalition and so many other folks who made today happen. Stay tune to Diane Silver's blog, which promises to have a bunch of pictures and more coverage of today's festivities. And if you are reading this on Wednesday afternoon, check out the front page of the online Journal-World for a nice shot of the back of my head.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A lot of nothing means something

Tomorrow, the City of Lawrence will become the first public body in the state of Kansas to register domestic partnerships. The registry is notable for what it doesn't do -- much of anything. It provides no new rights or protections for couples, and to add insult to injury, the cost for registering is $75 - which is $25 more then the state charges for a marriage license (although domestic partners will get nice laminated wallet cards!). At best, the registry will provide folks proof of their relationship so that they can qualify for health insurance at some employers. This will obviously help people needing insurance, and will make for a more business-friendly environment in Lawrence and attract higher-paying jobs and smart people, which is good for all of us.

Still, please do not think I am complaining about the price or lack of concrete benefits! On the contrary, this registry is the most significant step forward in civil rights in Kansas in over 10 years, and is an important symbolic statement that Lawrence is different from the rest of Kansas. We are the city that voted overwhelmingly against the anti-gay marriage amendment two years ago, after all. The fact that this passed here in Lawrence means a lot, and whatever the future of the registry, the fact is, the City of Lawrence stood up for what is right. 130 years ago, they got burned down by Confederate terrorists for doing the same thing. At least we don't have to worry about that any more!

Dave and I will be at City Hall at 10 AM tomorrow. We might even be in the Kansas City Star (a photographer came by to take our picture today). So, stay tuned and I will blog tomorrow after the event.

UPDATE: The Kansas City Star story is online now.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Out of service

A good public transportation systems can be a thing of beauty. When I have travelled to cities like New York, Chicago, or San Francisco, it has always been great not to need a car, and to realize that pretty much any hour of the day or quite late into the evening, I can pretty much get anywhere in the city by hopping a bus or train, for a couple of bucks. At worst, maybe you have to wait 15 minutes or transfer somewhere, but it is very nice to basically be able to go anywhere you want at any time without needing too much planning.

Lawrence, the smallish college town where I live has a fledgling public transportation system. It suffers from some problems, notably that busses run only every half-hour and the system shuts down early in the evening. One of the major obstacles to growing the public transportation system is that it is just under the threshold of being useful the way systems in larger cities are -- the routes and times are infrequent and scattered enough that you really need to plan in advance your whole trip and time things; you can just walk a few blocks and hop the next bus that comes by. All of this is why it is sad to see that the city government of Lawrence essentially voted last night to kill the bus system in Lawrence for good, but cutting its hours so it stops running at 6:00 PM. This will make the system useless for anyone who used it to get to and from work. Ridership will decline further, and the system will lose more money.

The city should either increase the bus system by running more routes at longer times, in order to make it something that people can rely on and actually use, or they should be honest and shut it down entirely, because a vestigial, weak, worthless bus system is actually more harmful then none at all.

Ironically, two obvious solutions to Lawrence's transit problems are off the table. First would be a small increase in property taxes; amounting to about $50 per year for the average $300,000 house. That would cover bus improvements and a lot of other city budget problems we're having. The other solution would be a merger of the city system with the university's bus system, which would benefit everyone, but the university and city have gotten into a pissing contest and this probably won't happen either.

Oh well.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Domestic partner registry in Lawrence passed, 4-1

The proposed domesitc partner registry passed its major hurdle tonight, passing on a 4-1 vote of the City Commission here in Lawrence. The vote was not technically a final vote on the ordinance; rather it was a vote by the Commission in favor of moving forward, having the city staff do some minor tweaking to the proposed ordinance which would then be sent back to the Commission for final approval at two consecutive meetings in June. The likely date for couples to actually register would be late summer.

Even though this wasn't the final adoption of the ordinance, it was the biggest hurdle for several reasons, among them this is the first time that two newly-elected commissioners, Mike Dever and Rob Chestnut could weigh in on the issue. There was also an extended period of public comment, with the vast majority speaking in favor, and only a couple folks opposed. Although all the legal issues with the registry have been addressed by the city attorney and state Attorney General, I wouldn't be surprised if right-wingers threaten a lawsuit to stop the registry.

Still, that is a worry for another day. For now, I want to thank our city commissioners for voting in favor of a law that will help make Lawrence a better place to live for its citizens and a better place to do business for its businesses.

If you have a minute, drop a quick line and thank Commissioners Sue Hack, Mike Dever, Rob Chestnut and Boog Highberger for supporting the ordinance.

Commissioner Mike Amyx was the only negative vote. I am disappointed in his vote, but I am hopeful that as he sees in the months and years ahead how this ordinance benefits his fellow Lawrencians that he will change his mind.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Domestic partnership registry discussion set

Two weeks from now, according to the paper. Expect a long meeting; the commission could do any one of several things; approve the registry, reject it, or take no action. They could also send it back to the city staff for more tweaking.

The responses of the commissioners to citizens' emails and letters has been very mixed. Boog Highberger gets extra credit for personally sending individual responses to several peoples' emails. Mike Amyx and Sue Hack have not replied to anyone's letters that I know. Mike Dever has been replying to emails, but he said he was too busy to meet Dave and I to talk about the issue in person, and Rob Chestnut has been sending everyone who writes him a form letter.

If you have read this and haven't yet emailed or called the city commissioners, please do so. Just click here and send an email. Public officials, even if they don't respond, do understand the volume of citizen contact, so if you care about the issue, drop a line.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Domestic bliss

Good news out of the Kansas Attorney General's office this afternoon, as his review of Lawrence's proposed domestic partnership registry was completed and the AG found nothing in the proposal that would not pass constitutional muster, although he did suggest to be 100% sure, Lawrence may want to restrict the registry to city residents.

You can read the complete memo if you want.

At this point, I feel a bit of annoyance that the AG couldn't have been a bit more punctual, since the outgoing City Commission would have passed this thing in a heartbeat. The incoming Commission, with two new members, is less certain, although I think that with the AG's imprimatur on the registry, there shouldn't be too much opposition and it will hopefully pass soon. If I had to predict, I would say the new Commission will direct city staff to add a section limiting the registry to city residents, and this will take a couple weeks. Figuring in a couple additional weeks for the new Commission to get settled in, I predict the registry will become law by mid to late May.

As a side note, given the new Commission's business-friendly makeup, I think strategically, it is very important to point out that the registry is not just a good idea out of fairness and human decency, but it will also be very good for the bottom line. There's a reason domestic partner benefits originally appeared in the high tech industry in Silicon Valley -- because those companies wanted to attract the kind of workers that made that region of America into the engine that has driven America's economy for the past 20 years. Enabling more businesses to provide these benefits would help Lawrence attract the kind of forward-looking and valuable companies and jobs that would help Lawrence's bottom line...making this city a better place to work and live.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Second verse, same as the first

The Lawrence City Commission general electrion saw the same top three finishers as the primary last month, in the exact same order. This means the of the three candidates I supported, only Boog made the cut. These results are good news for those who think Lawrence needs a couple additional Wal Marts and a few more empty apartment complexes and strip malls. I can almost feel those price rollbacks!

On a more serious note, this places the future of the domestic partner registry in the air. The city is still waiting for an opinion (due later this month) from the attorney general on whether such a registry would be legal in Kansas. At this point, I would say -- if I were a betting man -- that whichever way the AG comes down will be how the domestic regsitry will go. If he gives a thumbs up, I expect the registry to pass by at least a 3-2 vote; if the AG says the registry would be unconstitutional, I don't think it will even come up for a vote and as such would die. I guess we will have to wait and see what the attorney general says; hopefully he will help put some wind on the back of the DP registry and Lawrence will see this thing come to light.

Then, of course, registered same-sex couples can happily shop at the new Wal-Mart!

UPDATE: A good discussion with Diane over on her blog about strategy with the new city commission

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Vote tomorrow

If you live in Lawrence, your vote tomorrow can determine what kind of town we live in...do we want to be a suburb of Kansas City with a dying downtown, overbuilt bix box retail, and a few extra Wal-Mart's for good measure...or do we want to keep Lawrence looking and feeling like, well, Lawrence, with a lively downtown, good neighborhoods, and justice for gay and lesbian couples via a domestic partner registry?

I am voting for three candidates who have shown a dedication to keeping Lawrence as the livable place it is today:

Carey Maynard-Moody

David Schauner

Dennis "Boog" Highberger

As a side note, a fourth candidate, James Bush, has come out in favor of the DP registry; however, I am choosing not to vote for him since has has been endorsed by the Lawrence Board of Realtors, a group which makes money on cancer-like growth and suburban sprawl. However, Bush is certainly preferable to the final two candidates, Dever and Chestnut, both of whom have never seen an empty lot upon which a Wal Mart wouldn't look good.

For Lawrence school board, it looks like the candidates to support are (based on an NEA questionnaire which asked about providing domestic partner benefits to school staff):

Marlene Merrill
Rich Minder
Micael Pomes

Candidates Mary Loveland and Michael Machell said they were open to DP benefits, but both of them qualified their answers a bit; still, you can probably vote safely for them if you have other reasons for not voting for my three choices above.

Victor Sisk, the final candidate, said he did not know if he would support DP benefits.

UPDATE: Another reason to make sure to NOT vote for Dever and Chestnut...they both use intrusive and annoying telemarketing push polling in their campaigns.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Eh, there's no gay Jews anyway

The University of Kansas gay student group, Queers and Allies does some wonderful work in Lawrence and on the KU campus. Much of their programming is directed, obviously, at the student population they serve, but every spring traditionally they hold their annual Pride Week, which usually involves community-wide events such as nationally-known speakers and lectures, entertainment, and a parade. This year's schedule looks superb, highlighted by a visit from well-known sex/political writer Dan Savage.

As great is all these events sound, Pride Week will likely be as friendly to Jews as a Hezbollah homecoming parade given Queers and Allies' inexplicable decision to schedule Pride Week in conflict with the Jewish holiday of Passover. Passover (especially the first two nights) is basically the Jewish cultural equivalent of Thanksgiving -- celebrated by even very secular Jews with a special festive meal with family and friends. The holiday is listed on pretty much every cleandar ever printed, including the KU academic and event calendars.

Given that Pride Week is scheduled many, many months in advance, it is inexcusable that a student organization dedicated to fighting against the marginalization of one minority would schedule its keynote event of the year in such a way that they in turn marginalize a different minority. The further irony, of course, is that Passover is the original celebration of freedom over oppression...perhaps this is the reason that Passover resonates heavily with many gay and lesbian Jews; there are numerous gay and lesbian Seders (festive Passover meals) and inclusive Haggadot (Passover liturgies).

I have no ill-will towards KU's queer student group, and I wish them a successful week. I just wish they would have avoided marginalizing Jews -- both gays Jews and straight Jews who support the struggle for equal rights. It would be nice to see Queers and Allies apologize and promise that in the future they will consult a calendar before scheduling Pride Week. I would hope that organization's student leaders and faculty advisors take this to heart. At the end of every Passover meal, it is traditional to say "next year in Jerusalem" as a sign of hope for a better future, so in that vein, may I say regarding Pride Week, "next year in Lawrence!" for all Jews, non-Jews, gay folks, and straight folks alike.

April 2 followup: Apparently many other people complained as well. Queers and Allies (the KU student group) has posted an apology and promised to consult a calendar in the future. This has hopefully been a good learning experience for them.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Fourth City Commission candidate comes out in favor of domestic partnerships

Former Southern Baptist minister James Bush is much more progressive then I gave him credit for. I had thought he was a stealth candidate for the radical right -- I was wrong.

I have read the report the City Commission received from the city staff as well as reviewed the comments made by citizens of Lawrence and members of the City Commission. If I am elected to the City Commission, I would vote in favor of adopting the domestic registry. I support the registry because it affirms the relationship of domestic partners and it can provide employers an avenue to provide health insurance to employees who participate in the domestic registry. I think the big question now concerns how the Kansas Attorney Generalís office will rule on the proposal. - James Bush

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The domestic partner registry: The Candidates speak

Below you will find the official pubic-stated opinions of all six Lawrence City Commission candidates on the proposed domestic partner registry for Lawrence. I am pretty sure that this is the first time all of these have been in one place for comparison. Click on each candidate's name to be linked to the complete interview from which the domestic registry opinion was excerpted.

A couple notable trends stand out:

1. The three "progressive" candidates are the only ones who forthrightly said "yes" they will support the registry.
2. None of the "developer" candidates gave an outright "no" answer, but none said "yes" either. All of them seemed to weasel out of giving any kind of straight answer (pun intended). Judging from the answers Dever and Chestnut gave, I think it may be possible to educate these folks on the need and desirability of a domestic partnership ordinance.

Even though the Kansas Equality PAC has officially endorsed the three progressive candidates (Maynard-Moody, Schauner, and Highberger), an endorsement I agree with, we should try to educate the other candidates as well about why the domestic partner ordinance is both good for business and good for the town as a whole. Both Dever and Chestnut I think could be brough around to this point of view, although I doubt Bush (as a Southern Baptist minister) would.

Anyway, here are the views of the six candidates:

Carey Maynard-Moody: I'm very supportive of it. Human rights should not distinguish between race, religion, gender, sexual orientation... We all benefit from protecting human rights.

David Schauner: Thanks for your inquiry about this important issue. I voted to support creation of the registry and believe that it will offer a valuable benefit to all unmarried couples without regard to sexual orientation if their employers choose to make those benefits available.

Boog Highberger: I support creation of a local domestic partnership registry. I share the view of former Attorney Phill Kline (as reported in the Journal World) that a domestic partnership registry would not conflict with the recently passed Marriage Amendment. A domestic partnership registry could help give a lot of Lawrence citizens access to health care benefits that they are not eligible for now.

Mike Dever: I am against discrimination of any kind. I believe that we as a community must be prepared to defend the rights of our citizens. I need to become more informed on this issue to be able to make a sound decision as a commissioner if I am elected.

Rob Chestnut: I would like to ensure that we are not going to have any legal entanglements going forward in considering the domestic partner registry. Secondly, I need to understand more about the potential benefits that it offers citizens of Lawrence. I am not aware of those employers that offer benefits to domestic partners, so I would like to make an informed decision on the impact of the ordinance. Finally, I would like to know what the cost is to the city. This would allow me to make an informed decision.

James Bush: Thank you for asking this question that so many in the community are pondering during this election season. I haven't seen the actual wording of the proposed ordinance so I may be at a disadvantage to address specific language but, I do have an opinion. First, I am opposed to discrimination in any form. I do know the city has an ordinance that addresses discrimination in hiring practices. The questions I have in regard to this registry is what the economic impacts are from such a registry and have these consequences been fully considered.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Primary colors

Lawrence's City Commission primary election is on Tuesday. The election will narrow down the current field of nine candidates to six. These six will then compete in the April general election for three seats on the Commission.

It has been quite a while since there has been such a clear stratification amongst all the candidates in a city election. The candidates are grouped into three groups of three...it's almost like a tic-tac-toe board.

Three "progressive" candidates:

Dennis 'Boog' Highberger
David Schauner
Carey Maynard-Moody

Three "Real Estate/Chamber of Commerce" candidates

James Bush
Rob Chestnut
Mike Dever

And three long-shot/vanity candidates:

Jake Davis
Sam Fields
Michael Limburg

For background info, the Lawrence Journal World has a decent section including a quiz where you can match your political opinion against the candidates to find out who to vote for.

The main issue in my opinion is the perennial issue of how to manage growth. The fact is, Lawrence is a very desirable place to live, and we have a lot of people who want to move here, and a lot of businesses, especially national chains who want to expand further into Lawrence. In spite of the simplistic tendency of some to divide the camps into "pro-growth" and "anti-growth" groupings, all the candidates, "progressive" and "chamber" alike favor allowing Lawrence to grow. The difference comes in how this growth is managed. In my opinion, the "chamber" candidates tend to be much more in favor of rampant and poorly-planned growth, including the approval of large national chains without considering quality of life and infrastructure/planning issues. The progressive candidates tend to favor more deliberative attitudes towards growth, taking into account the needs of established neighborhoods and better planning for traffic and infrastructure issues.

While I certainly do not feel everything the current progressive-dominated commission has done is perfect (their botching of negotiations over a second Wal-Mart will come back to haunt Lawrence), I trust them much more on making sure Lawrence remains a desirable place to live then the so-called business or chamber candidates. I do not think Lawrence needs to bend over backwards to encourage sprawl or national chain growth, and I want a commission which will take neighborhood desires and quality of life into consideration when making decisions.

For this reason, I am going to vote for the "progressive" three candidates:

Dennis 'Boog' Highberger
David Schauner
Carey Maynard-Moody

You should vote for them as well.

It is likely that these three, along with the three chamber folks will win the six spots on the general election ballot, setting up a clear contest in April. The other three folks have huge pocketbooks (they have been endorsed by the Board of Realtors, who view growth much the same way cancer cells do) and the three progressive folks need all the support and help they can get.

A brief side note on the domestic partner registry is worth mentioning. The three progressive candidates support it; the three chamber candidates have refused to take any position, pro or con. If you believe in equal rights, this is another reason to vote for Highberger, Schauner and Maynard-Moody.

And a last note...
One of the three "chamber" candidates is a man by the name of James Bush. He is a minister at the First Southern Baptist Church in Lawrence, a denomination known for its extremely intolerant views on the human rights of gays and lesbians. It strikes me as very odd that a minister from such a church is running for office. I can't believe he was driven to stand for office by strong opinions on zoning and sewer planning. I suspect he is a "stealth candidate" for the radical right. He has consistently refused to say anything about his social beliefs during the campaign, for obvious reasons, given that Lawrence is a very liberal city and his views on issues like the domestic partner registry and other social issues would not go over well.

And, it gets better. My husband's business group pays rent each week to meet at the church. Mr. Bush asked the group to pass out literature, speak to the group, and for them to endorse him...all on church grounds, which violates IRS regulations. But that's just man's law, not God's law, right?

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