Prop 8 Supporter Running for Office… in Oakland?
Posted by Roobs on July 2, 2010
Proposition 8 – California’s constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage – passed in California back in November of 2008 reversing a previous court ruling. While Prop 8 did pass in the state, it is important to recognize that Prop 8 met a thunderous defeat in Alameda County 62-38%. In Oakland alone, Prop 8 went down hard.
Melanie Shelby, a candidate for Oakland City Council, District 4 is well known, both in and out of political circles, for her support of Proposition 8 back in 2008. The fact that she is a Prop 8 supporter, though disappointing, is not the main issue per se. The big issue is that she is running for a city council position in a city that heavily voted down the gay marriage ban. So the question that comes up early in this race is this: Is Melanie Shelby really the right person to represent her district?
To help answer this question, i sent an email to Shelby on Monday, June 28th asking for comment on her past support on Prop 8 and current position on same-sex marriage. To date, i have received no reply. This is unfortunate as i now must begin the task of speculating based on my conversations with other political observers.
(Melanie Shelby has an open invitation to respond to either my email or this blog)
My Understanding of Shelby’s View on Prop 8
Melanie Shelby did not truly understand Prop 8 leading to the November election and was encouraged and convinced to vote “Yes” on Prop 8 by her pastor. Following the passage of Prop 8, LGBT friends of hers went through a personal ordeal that revealed to Shelby the inequalities separating straight and gay couples. After witnessing this incident, she went through a personal re-examination of her stance and believed she was wrong in supporting Prop 8. She now, supposedly, is an advocate for same-sex marriage and is working on some unnamed project with Equality California.
Now again, i admit that this is officially conjecture as Shelby did not reply to my email. However, i will point out that this is a relatively shared view of Shelby’s stance on this particular issue from observers I’ve talked to who have spoken to her directly. And i trust these sources.
Is Melanie Shelby really the right person to represent District 4 in Oakland?
I have several issues with Shelby’s story. First, Shelby claims to not have an established position of her own on Prop 8, thus allowing her to be persuaded by her pastor. But i find this tough to believe because all of Shelby’s experiences do not point to the suggestion that she could have such a lapse in judgment on this important issue.
Shelby has a degree in Sociology from UCLA. I bring this up because I too have a Bachelors degree in Sociology (from UC Berkeley). I can tell you that anyone going through a UC sociology program would have understood the social implications of Prop 8. Even if all you understood was the very basics of Prop 8, which was described as the removal of the right of same-sex couples to marry, you could understand that you are taking away the right of a historically at-risk group in society. Whether or not you are OK with that is a different question. But to claim that, as a sociology graduate from UCLA, you do not understand what the social impact of Prop 8 will be? As a fellow student of sociology, i’m disappointed.
Further, Shelby worked as Manager of Campaign Finance Operations for the 9th Assembly District and worked as Manager of Federal Government Relations for PG&E in DC in 1999. Don’t get me wrong, i don’t have a natural hate of lobbyists as many people do, but all of these positions require you to learn the valuable skill of researching and learning issues so you can comment on them, especially if you’re a lobbyist.
Also, in 2004 Shelby ran for the At-Large Oakland City Council seat. When you run for office, one of your first tasks is to know the issues. Yes, Prop 8 happened in 2008 but are you going to tell me that as a previous office-seeker, Shelby did not stop to form an opinion on one of the most highly covered and contentious social referendums in our state’s history? That would be like if you asked her “What is your opinion on the current state of the city budget?” and her reply was “I haven’t formed an opinion yet.”
What does this mean?
At least, this shows that even the biggest issue can’t prompt Melanie Shelby to go out of her way to learn an issue to make an informed judgment. At most, this shows how her personal views are not only out of touch with her constituency but also shows how she can allow her personal views to affect her policy positions. Either way, this is not the kind of representative we want affecting policy for a district or a city.
Some would argue that this is but one issue out of many that face the City of Oakland. What she voted for two years ago, regardless of her opinions now, are less important and we should look at Shelby through a different, more critical lens on her stance on these other issues. And if this was on any other issue, i would normally agree. However, Prop 8 is not just some “other issue”. Prop 8 was and still is a fundamental question on how to treat those who live in our community. It is a matter of equality and fairness in our society. When you apply this type of scrutiny to any figure running for representative office, everything becomes suspect.
Melanie Shelby, rightfully so, is framing her campaign around Oakland’s fiscal crisis and jobs. But she also includes the staples in Oakland politics, such as safety. For example: on Shelby’s website, she includes as her goals: focus on safety and blight, improving schools and education, and protecting neighborhood services. But what does this mean to the LGBT community?
Shelby wants to focus on safety in Oakland. But what about young LGBT kids? Are they included in this focus on safety? Will she work for specific protections for members of the LGBT community? Would she support the creation of an LGBT task force in law enforcement, either in the attorney’s office or police department or would that be an expendable resource?
She wants to improve schools. Well, that kind of goes back to safety: will she work to improve the conditions of LGBT youth in schools who are bullied? And what about protecting neighborhood services? Will she work with a future LGBT community center for Oakland? Would she be willing to give them funds or would she view it as an unimportant or expendable service?
Shelby also highlights her time with the Oakland Housing Authority and claims that she helped ensure funds for some of Oakland “most vulnerable families”. But did that include LGBT families? Oakland has the third-highest LGBT community in the country, only behind San Francisco and Seattle and its a mistake to assume that all LGBT are the affluent couples you see on TV. LGBT suffer in tough economic times just like everyone else and many live below poverty levels. This being the case, does Shelby include them in that 14,000 number figure she touts as Oakland’s most vulnerable?
These are obviously all hypothetical questions. How Melanie Shelby would address these issues should she actually be elected as Councilwoman to District 4 is not set in stone. Maybe she has changed. Nevertheless, these are legitimate questions that do exist and Shelby should address. And you can and should ask her.
You can email Melanie Shelby at email@example.com and ask her to clarify her position on LGBT issues and Prop 8.
Full Disclosure: I support Libby Schaaf for Oakland City Council District 4 in the upcoming election. I began this post after i was asked to consider supporting Shelby. This post is not about why you or I should support Libby but instead, why I cannot support Melanie Shelby.