Missing in Action

Why there's no more Knight in the Knight Initiative

My favorite Pete anecdote is how he passed around a "poem" to his fellow lawmakers in 1993 mocking Latinos -- the very people his TV ads now court -- with racist slurs. "We have a hobby, it's called breeding/ Welfare pay for baby feeding," the ditty went, in part. "We think America damn good place/ Too damn good for white man race." Confronted by reporters, Pete said he thought the poem, penned by one of his cave-dwelling constituents, was "interesting, clever, and funny." I can only guess that Pete, a retired Air Force colonel, hit his head on the cockpit one time too many during his test-pilot days at Edwards Air Force Base.

And let's not forget Pete's supporters, many of whom are almost as alarming as he is.

Eighty percent of the money to qualify the Knight initiative for the ballot -- $372,500 -- came from Ahmanson and Atsinger. Heir to the Home Savings of America fortune, Ahmanson has spent millions underwriting hard-right political candidates, ballot measures, and think tanks. Among the latter is the Chalcedon Foundation, whose president believes capital punishment is an appropriate sanction for adultery, blasphemy, sodomy, hitting or cursing a parent, and other "crimes against the family." Atsinger controls the Camarillo-based Salem Communications Corp., which runs the nation's largest string of Christian radio stations, broadcasting, among other things, syndicated talk shows by Oliver North and anti-abortion radical Randall Terry.

Pete Knight.
Wild Don Lewis
Pete Knight.

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Proposition 22 is strongly supported by the Mormon and Catholic churches, which have exhorted their members across the state to contribute cash and otherwise assist the campaign. In thumbing through the latest Yes on 22 fund-raising report, I came across a $10,000 donation from Concerned Women for America, a Washington, D.C.-based outfit that describes its mission as "to protect and promote Biblical values among all citizens -- first through prayer, then education, and finally by influencing our society -- thereby reducing the decline in moral values in our nation."

Of course, keeping Pete Knight locked in the cellar as much as possible during the campaign is a very smart political move. With Knight in a marquee role, California voters -- many of whom have at least one gay or lesbian friend or relative and aren't particularly sympathetic to anti-gay demagogues -- would vote against his proposition in droves. And ironically, it was the No on 22 campaign that may have forced Knight to keep his head down.

Back in October, the No on Knight people helped engineer what seemed a clever PR maneuver, coaxing Knight's gay son, David, now a Baltimore cabinetmaker, to go public with his vehement criticism of his father's ballot measure. In a moving essay supplied exclusively to the L.A. Times, the state's biggest newspaper, David related that his dad had broken off their relationship after learning he was gay, and said how much he missed him. David also attacked Proposition 22 as "a blind, uncaring, uninformed, knee-jerk reaction to a subject about which [Pete] knows nothing and wants to know nothing, but which serves his political career."

The essay struck a major blow against Pete's already cheesy public image. But it may also have given the Yes on 22 crowd one more reason to keep him out of sight -- depriving the No on 22 folks of their best political target.

"Sure, if he would agree to go out and debate representatives of our campaign, as we've offered over and over and over again [to do], and he's refused, it would help us," says No on 22 campaign manager Mike Marshall, who helped persuade David to write his newspaper piece. "It would definitely help us."

But as far as I'm concerned, Knight's invisibility is just another indication of his campaign's hypocrisy. Despite the Orwellian doublespeak of its advocates, Proposition 22 isn't about tolerance, it's about intolerance. It isn't about letting people "live their life the way they choose," as Robert Glazier told me; it's about using government to control and restrict people's lives.

Listen closely to Glazier for a moment:

"We value the importance of diversity and tolerance," he says of the Yes on 22 campaign. "But tolerance is a two-way street, and we believe that we here in California have got to continue to respect one another with all of our great differences. And that includes people that believe the institution of marriage should remain between a man and a woman without taking away anyone else's rights and privileges which they deserve to have under law."

Translation: We'll be tolerant as hell as long as fags don't have the same rights that we have.

In the 1950s and '60s, George Wallace and other segregationists stood in the schoolhouse door, preventing blacks from attending Deep South high schools and colleges. Today, Pete Knight and his ilk stand in the doors of churches and temples, preventing gays and lesbians from enjoying one of society's sweetest, most profound rituals: binding yourself to the one you love in matrimony.

On Election Day, let's all go to the polls and push Knight out of the way.

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