One of the most damaging aspects of America’s deeply polarized politics, with so many jurisdictions automatically voting for one party no matter the candidate, is that it cracks the door open to candidates most people would never let near elective office. It’s easier for an unacceptable candidate to finagle a win in a primary than in the bigger pond of a general election — but in the deep-red Bootheel region, as in deep-blue St. Louis, the primary effectively is the general election.
In places like these, if a truly repugnant candidate of the dominant party doesn’t get stopped in the primary, he’s not getting stopped.
This is the distressing, likely outcome in the race for Missouri’s state House District 152, in which an unreconstructed anti-gay bigot sits unopposed for an open seat in the Aug. 7 Republican primary. We know that to ask voters in a region Donald Trump won by four out of five ballots to consider opposing a Republican legislative nominee this November is like asking that the rules of gravity be suspended. Given the hatred and ignorance at issue, we’re asking anyway.
Hardy Billington is an active GOP organizer with a long paper trail of anti-gay intolerance. His book “The Election by Faith in ’04” was written as a response to the “outrage” of burgeoning same-sex marriage rights. He has spread the ridiculous claim that “homosexual lifestyle” is more dangerous than smoking. In 2012 he bought a newspaper ad advocating passage of a “Don’t Say Gay” legislative measure to ban classroom mention of sexual orientation outside of scientific contexts.
People change. Billington, according to his own spokesman, hasn’t. “He’s not afraid to let anybody know that that’s his position, his personal conviction,” campaign treasurer Thomas W. Graham Jr. told the Post-Dispatch’s Jack Suntrup.
Billington himself didn’t respond to Suntrup’s multiple requests for an interview. But, Graham insisted, Billington’s anti-gay crusading over the years “doesn’t mean that he has any animosity towards somebody that doesn’t hold that conviction.”
How big of him. The fact remains that Billington is seeking an office in which he would represent tens of thousands of his fellow Missourians, including some percentage whose sexual orientation he views as a moral failing worthy of government action. This man doesn’t belong in elective office today, almost two decades into the 21st century.
Billington’s is the only name on the GOP ballot; he is going to be the Republican nominee. His Democratic opponent in November will be former Circuit Judge Robert L. Smith, who says he took that political suicide mission because he didn’t want Billington’s positions to go unchallenged. “I don’t think it’s right to discriminate against people because of who they are,” Smith said.
If a political miracle can happen, those words are as good as any to summon it.