At last week's Progressive Dane-sponsored mayoral candidate debate, the candidates were asked what they would do to protect "same-sex domestic partner benefits" for city employees. Contender Ray Allen drew applause with his reply: "The same action I took on the school board, to provide coverage."
Sitting in the audience, school board member Carol Carstensen gasped, "No, he didn't!"
Carstensen, grilled afterward, spilled her guts. By her account, Allen stated during a closed-session discussion in December 1997 that he would be voting against a new two-year teachers contract expressly because it included, for the first time, domestic partner benefits.
Ten days later, on Dec. 15, 1997, Allen was one of two board members to vote no on the contract. The other was Mary Jan Rosenak, whose public opposition to these benefits prompted Joann Elder to mount a successful challenge against her in the April 1998 election.
Allen, who voted for three subsequent contracts that contained domestic partner coverage, flatly denies his nay vote had anything to do with this benefit. "That's a lie," he says. "I did not say that in the closed session. [My opposition to the contract] didn't have anything to do with partner coverage. I've been consistent all along in supporting civil rights."
Rosenak backs him up: "My recollection is that I was the only one who was opposed to the domestic partner benefits" - because of its uncertain cost, she stresses. She thinks Allen opposed the contract for other reasons.
Others then on the board give varying accounts. Juan Jose Lopez doesn't remember Allen speaking against the benefits but is sure, if he did, it was over cost: "Ray was always a social moderate and a fiscal conservative." Debra Lawton says there was surprisingly little board opposition, and doesn't recall any of it coming from Allen.
Ruth Robarts notes that, at Allen's insistence, the benefit was extended to opposite- as well as same-sex domestic partners. Afterward, she thinks it had his support, but isn't sure: "Whatever his so-called social liberalism was as a person, he would nonetheless [lean] Republican when the votes came down."
Minutes from the closed session on Dec. 5, 1997, taken by longtime board secretary Barb Lehman, say this: "We have a few people who have some basic differences. Mr. Allen and Ms. Rosenak say yes to the salary but no to any Domestic Family Partner insurance proposals...."
Elder, who ousted Rosenak over this issue, remembers that Allen was also opposed. On this point, though, she cuts him some slack: "He's grown a lot on this subject. He's now very supportive of gay rights. I like Ray a lot."