Capitol & State

Gay Idaho gubernatorial candidate backs same-sex marriage, opposes Add the Words

Constitution Party gubernatorial nominee Steve Pankey is calling on Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to drop an appeal of U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale's decision to strike down Idaho's gay marriage ban.

In a May 20 letter to Wasden that Pankey provided to the Statesman, he writes:

"As a gay candidate for governor, I support same sex marriage in Idaho. I oppose special treatment for gays. I believe most Idahoans oppose both discrimination and special treatment in general. Special treatment causes resentment and hate."

Pankey, 62, is a former Republican, who won 14 percent of the vote in the 2010 GOP primary against Lt. Gov. Brad Little.

"I haven't felt welcome in the Republican Party," said Pankey, of Shoshone. "They're polite but not real welcoming. I think they want a candidate for governor that has a first lady."

Judge Dale's decision is on hold pending Idaho's appeal before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has scheduled oral argument in September.

Pankey, however, opposes the "Add the Words" campaign to add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to expand civil rights protections to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people. He was sharply critical of protests at the Capitol during the 2014 legislative session, which urged a hearing on expanding the Idaho Human Rights Act.

"Personally, I think that was horrible," Pankey said in an interview Thursday. "I think it worked against them. It's certainly not a way to win friends and influence people."

He added, "I find that most people, if you treat them right, they treat you right. I'm not into the gay agenda as it is. I'm not for being in your face."

A property manager, Pankey said he moved to Shoshone on a whim in 1989, passing through after visiting Ernest Hemingway's grave in Ketchum. He and his then-wife decided to buy a house they figured was a bargain at $15,000.

Pankey was married from 1979-2001 and said he's currently celibate. "I did my best to be straight," he said. "But I can't think that way. I am a Christian, but I am gay."

Pankey ran for Lincoln County sheriff in 2008, winning 12 percent of the vote in a three-way race as the Constitution Party nominee. He's back with the Constitution Party and will be on the Nov. 4 ballot with GOP Gov. Butch Otter, Democrat A.J. Balukoff, Libertarian John Bujak and independents Jill Humble and Pro-Life (formerly Marvin Richardson).

Pankey met Bujak — the former Canyon County prosecutor whose Houdini moves have spared him conviction in five trials — at a candidate forum in McCall.

"Personally, I think he would make a good attorney general with me as governor," Pankey said. "He's a true gentleman and a nice guy."

Pankey condemned Gov. Butch Otter's record on education, calling Idaho schools "the worst in the nation" and arguing to boost K-12 spending from the current $1.3 billion to "around $3 billion." He also said, "Pakistan has better roads than Idaho does," and he favors "incremental increases" in fuel taxes.

But he celebrates Otter's insistence that all candidates on the ballot be invited to debates and looks forward to matching up with Otter in the fall.

But Pankey said he's not in the race just to get the sort of attention accorded fringe gubernatorial candidates Harley Brown and Walt Bayes.

"It's very much about winning," Pankey said, adding that he aims to emulate President Harry Truman's upset win in 1948.

He points to voter registration figures for May that showed about 436,000 voters "unaffiliated," with about 244,500 Republicans and 57,000 Democrats. "There's more independents than Republicans and Democrats put together," Pankey said.

Reminded that Truman was president of the United States when he staged his comeback marked by confounding flawed public opinion polling, Pankey said, "Absolutely, you are right."

Two other openly gay candidates will be on Idaho's Nov. 4 ballot, both in Ada County.

Democrat John McCrostie is vying for an open House seat in District 16, in Northwest Boise and Garden City, against Republican Rosann Wiltse.

Republican Domenico Gelsomino faces four-term Democratic Rep. Phylis King in District 18 representing Southeast Boise.

The only openly gay candidate ever elected in Idaho was former state Sen. Nicole LeFavour, who served in both houses, from 2004-12. LeFavour was the Democratic nominee for 2nd District Congress in 2012. LeFavour is now a leader of the Add the Words campaign.