Missing in Action

Why there's no more Knight in the Knight Initiative

Where's Pete?

Where's the sour, dour, career gay-basher from Palmdale who cooked up Proposition 22? With the March 7 election less than a month away, promoters of Republican state Sen. Pete Knight's ballot initiative to ban recognition of gay marriage in California are wisely keeping the beetle-browed old troglodyte under wraps.

Pete is what's known in the spin-control trade as a big damn problem. He's estranged from his gay son, an Air Force Academy graduate and Gulf War fighter pilot. The senator admitted to me last year that he didn't bother to attend the funeral of his "peculiar" gay brother, who died of AIDS. He's disgusted by gays and lesbians and doesn't hesitate to say so in public.

Pete Knight.
Wild Don Lewis
Pete Knight.

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Unfortunately for the people trying to peddle his poisonous initiative to voters, hatred, bigotry, and a dysfunctional family aren't very good selling points. So Knight, who worked closely with wealthy Bible-thumpers to get Proposition 22 on the ballot, has suddenly disappeared from his own campaign.

He didn't sign the pro-22 arguments in the official state voters' guide. He doesn't appear in the Yes on 22 commercial that began running on Spanish-language TV stations last month. And he's been involved in few, if any, public debates on the measure, including a recent California Capitol Week forum that was aired on public television stations across the state.

Indeed, the Yes on 22 people have sanitized their campaign to the point that it's hard to tell it's about trashing gays at all.

Under state family law, any legally valid marriage performed in another state must be recognized in California. That means if another state were to approve same-sex marriages, those unions would be legally binding here -- unless Proposition 22 passes and closes that "loophole." Gays recently lost court battles over the right to marry in Hawaii and Vermont (where the state Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a right to the same legal benefits and protections as married couples but not to an all-important marriage license). Eventually, though, they'll win, as soon as some group of high-ranking judges works up the nerve to acknowledge the obvious: Denying gays the fundamental civil and human right to wed -- a right straights take for granted -- is indefensible discrimination, plain and simple.

But you'd never know any of this from watching the first Yes on 22 TV commercial, which features a large Mexican-American family celebrating the 50th wedding anniversary of its patriarch and matriarch. Throughout the 30-second spot, people smile, mariachi music plays, and happiness oozes. "We always salute our grandparents, where our tradition began," says the voice-over. Then comes the tag line: "Marriage and Family -- that's what Proposition 22 is all about." There's no hint that gays and lesbians are getting screwed out of a basic right, no mention of the rich right-wingers like savings-and-loan heir Howard Ahmanson and Christian radio magnate Ed Atsinger who bankrolled the initiative. Remember the syrupy "Morning in America" TV ads that helped keep Ronald Reagan in the White House in 1984? The Proposition 22 people are using the same happy-face formula.

"This is a very tolerant campaign," says Robert Glazier, the head flack for Yes on 22. "This campaign has never been mean-spirited or anti-gay or derogatory in any way, shape, or form toward any group of people or their behaviors or their lifestyles."

Glazier says Pete Knight hasn't been involved much in the campaign because "he's focusing on legislative and constituent responsibilities." Although Knight was heavily involved in qualifying his initiative for the ballot, says Glazier, the Yes on 22 campaign has mushroomed to the point that the senator has "not had to play the type of role for the passage stage that he did have to play for the qualification stage."

Uh huh.

In fact, Knight is very much involved in the campaign, but in a behind-the-scenes role as a fund-raiser. In a Jan. 1 letter, Knight exhorted his fellow gay-haters to shell out big time for Proposition 22, warning apocalyptically that "it is not an exaggeration to say that the future of marriage as an institution may well depend on your response to this letter."

"Gay activists headquartered in San Francisco are in full roar against Prop. 22, actively raising more than $10 million to defeat us," the letter shrieked. "A defeat for Prop. 22 in California would open the floodgates for 'same-sex marriages' not only here but all across our country." Knight also complained that his three previous efforts to keep gay marriage out of California were all thwarted by the "gay lobby's stranglehold on the [state] Senate."

Now that'sthe Sen. Homophobe we know and loathe. And it's also the reason you won't see much of him on TV or on the stump during this campaign. He's a far-right crank who would repel most California voters if they were familiar with his record, and scare the bejesus out of the rest.

Just for fun, let's review some of Pete's, um, accomplishments.

In 1993, he tried to abolish the California Commission on the Status of Women. In 1996, he tried to kill a state Senate amendment to grant gays the right to visit sick or injured lovers in the hospital. The California League of Conservation Voters gave him a legislative rating of zero in 1998. Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California gave him a zero rating in both 1997 and 1998. He voted against organized labor in each of 25 legislative floor votes monitored by the California Labor Federation in 1998.

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