Former PA Gov Tom Ridge Addresses Log Cabin Republicans

BuzzFeed reports that former PA Gov Tom Ridge, who signed the state’s Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996 and has since changed his view, spoke last night at the group’s Spirit of Lincoln Dinner.

By Chris Geidner

“Sometimes we just come across as too damned self-righteous, and I’m sorry, that’s just not the 21st century political party GOP that I think we need to govern America,” Ridge says.

As the federal government continues to face fallout from the shutdown that came to an end last week, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, the first Homeland Security secretary, is pointing the Republican Party in a different direction on Wednesday night.

Speaking to the LGBT group, Log Cabin Republicans, at the group’s Spirit of Lincoln Dinner, Ridge told BuzzFeed he is bringing a message not just of inclusion on the group’s issues but that he plans to give a more broad address, urging the party to take a path that could be fairly characterized as the anti-Tea Party approach.

Former PA Gov. and the first Homeland Security head Tom Ridge, who filed an Amicus Brief against DOMA. In 1996, Ridge signed the state's DOMA but has since changed his view.

Former PA Gov. and the first Homeland Security head Tom Ridge, who filed an Amicus Brief against DOMA. In 1996, Ridge signed the state’s DOMA but has since changed his view.

“I truly believe Americans are more conservative than liberal, but I also think they may be conservative, but they are far more practical than ideological and I know, particularly among young people, they are far more tolerant than judgmental,” Ridge told BuzzFeed hours before his planned address. “And I think if we’re going to change the party, we should accept those simple notions and build a positive agenda rather than just saying no around them.”

On gay issues, Ridge acknowledges, he has traversed quite a path to get to that place of tolerance, saying, “Life, politics and government is a journey, and your positions on issues as you go along that journey may become more fully embedded or, because of circumstances or other changes, they can change. As you know, when I was governor, I signed the Defense of Marriage Act [in Pennsylvania]. Since that time, frankly, my point of view has evolved.”

So far, in fact, that Ridge was one of the most prominent co-signers of the amicus brief organized by out gay former Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman urging the Supreme Court to find California’s Proposition 8 marriage ban unconstitutional.

That changed view led Log Cabin to seek Ridge’s presence at Wednesday’s event.

“When a couple of people from the Log Cabin group came in to speak to me about speaking at the event tonight, I said I would do so, and quite candidly, I said under one condition: You might be a gay and lesbian group, that’s fine, but I’m coming to talk to you about being Republicans, who happen to be gay and lesbian,” he said.

“I thought it was an opportunity for me, one, I’m on the amicus brief, so everybody knows my position, but also to speak to a group of Republicans — on a variety of issues and on a philosophy that I hope most of them embrace as I talk about what we need to start winning national elections and, frankly, be a more positive and compelling force for change in the 21st Century. You can’t change government unless you win elections. Our roots are conservative, but we should be far less — not even far less — we oughtta quit being judgmental.”

Asked how that looks, in practice, Ridge laughs, saying, “I haven’t read the platform. There’s a lot of angst at the national conventions about the platform and no one reads it, and the last couple of years, I plead guilty [to not having read it].”

Then, getting down to it, he admits, “Some of it has to be in the actual policies of the party. Some of it has to do with the rhetoric and approach we take toward issues. Reagan was as pro-life as you can be, but it was certainly not the centerpiece of his — for him, it wasn’t why he became president of the United States. … I think at the end of the day, you change the party by changing some people’s hearts and perhaps by changing their rhetoric if not their hearts.”

To members of his party, he said, “You may not agree with me on some of these social issues, but I want you to respect them and don’t make them the centerpiece of your political agenda. They shouldn’t be there, in my judgment.”

Going broad, again, he said, “There is a mission for government, and there is a mission for the church. And, from time to time, I do think we forget about separation of church and state in the desire of some people to promote strongly held views on some of these social issues, which may be consistent with what a church may propose but should not necessarily be at the epicenter of governing.”

Asked about Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to withdraw his appeal of the challenge to the New Jersey marriage law, Ridge demurred — mostly.

“I am not going to comment on his rationale for doing it,” Ridge said. For him, he said, “I did not have an epiphany, it was a slowly evolving change of head and heart based on experiences with some friends, interaction with other people in my community, and so I’m not going to render a judgment on why he did it.”

“My hope is this: There are Republicans out there who will be forever pro-life. Unfortunately, there will be some who still, for whatever reason, object to, dissent to, are uncomfortable with, the gay and lesbian community, but I think it’s about that time that they recognize that there are good, honest, God-fearing people in those two groups whose views should be respected and if not respected at least tolerated. And if we’re willing to be nonjudgmental about those views … you can be an advocate in a private way for those points of view, but in my judgment, that’s not to be at the epicenter of your political agenda and certainly shouldn’t be at the heart — such a critical issue for the GOP nationally. In my judgment, it doesn’t belong,” he said.

“Sometimes we just come across as too damned self-righteous, and I’m sorry, that’s just not the 21st century political party GOP that I think we need to govern America.”

Closer to home, Ridge commented on Gov. Tom Corbett’s defense of the marriage law that Ridge signed and that the state’s Democratic attorney general, Kathleen Kane, has refused to defend because of her view — similar to the view urged by Ridge at the Supreme Court — that it is unconstitutional to ban same-sex couples from marriage.

“Until the law is changed by the legislature or until the judge makes a decision, I respect Gov. Corbett, he’s a friend of mine — he’s just doing his job, and I think we just leave it at that,” Ridge said. “I think, in Pennsylvania and probably in many other states in the months and years ahead, you will continue to see an honest, rational — hopefully, rational — public debate and discussion about this issue. And I think it is worthy of public discussion.”

Summing up where he sees things going, both on for marriage equality and, he hopes, for the Republican Party, he said, “Obviously my own evolution over the years led me to the conclusions that I have drawn. And in time, I think others will draw the same conclusion. But, beyond what individual states do, I’m thinking in terms of individual voters and what the party does: And that is, we’re conservative, we’re not ideological. We’re tolerant, we’re not judgmental.”


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