TAMPA, Fla. — Former Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), who’s gay, offered his “qualified endorsement” of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Tuesday, saying the candidate’s business background makes him a good choice for president. Kolbe noted that Romney needs to come along further on LGBT issues.
“I think based on the economic issues, yeah, I think my endorsement would be a qualified endorsement,” Kolbe said in an interview with the Washington Blade. “I think he’s clearly the better of the two candidates, but we have a long ways to go to bring him around on this [LGBT rights] issue.”
Kolbe, 70, spoke with the Blade following remarks he delivered at the “Republicans Out to Win” event co-hosted by the Log Cabin Republicans and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund at the Oystercatchers bar at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay. Other speakers included R. Clarke Cooper, Log Cabin’s national director, and Jeff Spitko, senior vice president for external affairs at the Victory Fund.
The former lawmaker, who served in the U.S. House from 1985 to 2007, said he wishes Romney were “further along in the development of his thinking” on LGBT rights, but added it’s one of many issues and said Romney “has a much better background in business and economics” than President Obama.
“I think he’s much more likely to turn the country in the right direction on fiscal matters,” Kolbe said. “To me, that is the existential issue that we face today, and for that reason, I support Mitt Romney.”
Romney has built up a significant anti-LGBT record over the course of his campaign. The candidate has signed an agreement with the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage pledging to back a Federal Marriage Amendment and defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court. Romney’s last stated position on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is that he opposes the legislation, although he once said he’d co-sponsor the bill as a U.S. Senate candidate in 1994.
Kolbe emphasized that a bi-partisan approach to LGBT rights is necessary and he expects the Republican Party to change on the issue over time because “it’s clearly, clearly a generational issue” and younger members of the GOP are more progressive.
“I can honestly say I haven’t talked to a young person under the age of 30 that cares a whit about this issue, who thinks gay marriage is bad and should banished, abolished or denied,” Kolbe said. “There may be some that aren’t endorsing it, but none of them are actively opposed to it. It’s just totally generational.”
Asked if he wants Log Cabin to follow suit and endorse Romney, Kolbe replied he’d like to see the organization throw its support behind the candidate, but isn’t a member of the national board and doesn’t know what action the organization will take. Log Cabin is expected to announce whether or not it’ll endorse Romney prior to its national dinner in D.C. on Sept. 20.
Kolbe, a trade expert who’s a fellow at the German Marshall Fund think tank, said he’s spoken with the Romney campaign’s foreign policy team on trade and development issues, but hasn’t had any discussions with the Romney campaign on LGBT rights.
Even though Kolbe said he thinks Romney is better than Obama on economic issues, the former congressman said the election will be “very close” and said Romney needs to articulate his economic vision more clearly to win.
“He’s got to use this convention as his launching pad for a vision of what he would do that’s different than Obama,” Kolbe said. “And I think what he hasn’t done yet is articulate a different economic vision. We know it’s different, but we don’t know exactly what it is.”
The former lawmaker also responded to the anti-gay language in the draft version of the Republican Party platform. In addition to endorsing a Federal Marriage Amendment, the platform criticizes the Obama administration for dropping defense of DOMA in court and judges for “re-defining marriage” in favor of gay couples.
Kolbe predicted the 2012 Republican platform will be the last one to include such language.
“That’ll be the last time that will be in the Republican Party platform,” Kolbe said. “It won’t be there four years from now. It’s got its last gasp. I don’t believe it’ll be there four years from now; I wish it weren’t there now, but I don’t believe it will be four years from now.”
The Romney campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Kolbe’s “qualified endorsement” of the candidate.