Racist, Anti-Gay Bigots? Sure, But C'mon... They Have a Private Jet

Kelly Steele

A little over a week ago, the Oregonian reported that Gordon Smith is one of Congress’s top serial abusers of a loophole that allows members to fly cheaply on private corporate jets. In the case of Smith, the list includes corporate special interests that have funneled tens of thousands of dollars to his political committees over the years. According to the report:

Companies paying for Smith's trips include Federal Express, Union Pacific, Verizon, J.R. Simplot and Coca-Cola.
Can't beat the real thing.

I decided to take a peek at the non-partisan PoliticalMoneyLine’s website (subs req'd) and the corresponding FEC records to see if there are any other interesting nuggets from their compilation.


The first corporation on their rundown:


For those not familiar with their work, Cracker Barrel is the corporate lightning rod for supporters of gay and lesbian equality. Beginning with their 1990s policies to explicitly require the firing of gay employees, Cracker Barrel has been described as “the poster boy for corporate antigay bigotry” in America.

(Cracker Barrel has also faced federal investigation and paid millions to settle lawsuits for alleged racism, in addition to their anti-gay activities.)

Those who remember Smith’s 2002 campaign need not be reminded of the prominent role played by gay rights activist Judy Shepard and HRC, both of whom endorsed Smith and were featured prominently in his communications strategy to paint himself an “independent” and “compassionate” Republican. Indeed, the Oregonian devoted about 25% of its relatively brief rationale for their 2002 endorsement of Smith to his focus on the issue:

But public service is also about principle and humanity. It seems especially significant to us that one of the people endorsing Smith's re-election is Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, the young gay man whose cruel death at the hands of bigots shocked the nation in 1998. Smith supports legislation to expand the coverage of hate-crimes laws and to ban employment discrimination against gays. Those bills offer real evidence Smith can rise above day-to-day politics to promote the greater moral principles of our society.
So at the same time Smith was kicking it with Terry Bean and the HRC crew –- and shooting TV ads that portrayed him as a friend of perhaps the highest-profile victim of anti-gay bigotry in American history –- he was also using the private jet of the highest-profile corporate anti-gay bigots in American history.


Shortly after the November 2002 elections, a decade-long-plus public pressure campaign by gay rights activists and allies finally forced changes to Cracker Barrel’s official employment policies. In yet another triumph for the vaunted invisible hand, the victory resulted from a shareholder vote, won over management's wishes.

And yet recent evidence suggests discrimination against gay employees continues. Gay rights advocates pretty much called their shot, saying Cracker Barrel's 2003 public about-face ought to be taken with a believe-it-when-we-see-it grain of salt:

Those efforts are still viewed with some skepticism in some quarters.

"Cracker Barrel has come a long way, but they still have a long way to go," said Daryl Herrschaft, a deputy director with the Human Rights Campaign, a gay and lesbian advocacy group.

Cracker Barrel was accused in the early 1990s of dismissing some gay workers. A leak of a Cracker Barrel executive's memo saying managers should fire employees who didn't "demonstrate normal heterosexual values" sparked protests from gay rights groups. The company eventually renounced the memo and adopted policies protecting gay employees.

"We're gratified they reversed course and added sexual orientation to their hiring and nondiscrimination policy," Herrschaft said. "It did take them almost 10 years to do so. I think there's a lot of gays who still cringe when they drive by that Cracker Barrel sign on the highway."

Perhaps I'm being too critical of Senator Smith, and the glaring hypocrisy surrounding his activities during the 2002 campaign -- a decent chunk of which are just now coming to light...

A few thousand bucks... some racism... and sure, a little anti-gay bigotry... Bottom line: Fire up the jet.

After all, the lobbyists and members of Congress that frequent private jets -- even those owned by the racist, anti-gay bigoted Cracker Barrel corporation -- well, they are God's children, too.

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