Wednesday, April 3, 2013 1:00 AM
Former Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove writes in a recent post on the liberal blog "The Huffington Post" that he has changed his position on whether a state should allow a homosexual couple to adopt a child.
As Governor in 2000, he signed legislation to prohibit such adoptions. Musgrove says, "I believed at the time this was a principled position based on my faith. But, I no longer believe it was right. And as I have gotten older, I came to understand, that a person's sexual orientation has absolutely nothing to do with their ability to be a good parent."
Musgrove believes "that fear of homosexuality was leading our governments - including the one I ran as Governor of Mississippi - to deny the equal rights to an entire segment of our population that are afforded all of us under the Constitution."
In reflecting on his actions Musgrove says, "What is sad to me is that my understanding of this issue did not come until after I had left office and no longer had the power to right this wrong. This reality weighs heavily on me to this day. Had I vetoed the law denying LGBT adoption, the Legislature had more than enough votes to override my veto. Nonetheless, this decision that all of us made together has made it harder for an untold number of children to grow up in happy, healthy homes in Mississippi-and that breaks my heart."
Musgrove dwells on his support of that adoption law he signed in 2000 and regrets he was unable to "right this wrong" after he left public office. But this change of heart did not evolve over the past decade. When he says he has "gotten older" he must mean in the past four years since he used his support of that "wrong" legislation as campaign fodder in a 2008 election.
In the 2008 special U.S. Senate election he lost against Senator Roger Wicker, the Musgrove campaign took umbrage at a Wicker television ad and issued a statement, "The ad claims that Musgrove has taken money from liberal sources such as Friends of Hillary Clinton, gay rights groups, and abortion groups and then implies that he will support that agenda. The fact is that Musgrove has taken NO money from these sources and has a solid conservative record. Ronnie Musgrove is pro-life, pro-gun, and supported one of the strictest gay adoption bans in the country."
Musgrove's campaign denied receiving funds from a gay rights group, trumpeted his support of the ban on adoption by same-sex couples and reminded voters that "Musgrove opposes gay marriage and believes that marriage is between one man and one woman."
Musgrove said of himself in 2008, "I'm very conservative. I am pro-life, anti-gay marriage."
But that was 2008, and back then even Senator Barack Obama campaigned for President opposing gay marriage.
Most of us go through life and change our minds occasionally on what we want to buy at the grocery store, to issues of life and death and eternal values. When we change our minds, we are not criticized by our friends and neighbors for being a flip-flopper.
You don't hear: "Johnny left the Baptist church and is Methodist now, what is his real motivation?" or "you can't trust Suzy, she used to hate chicken and now she eats it all the time." Politicians lack the luxury of reflection and revision regular folks enjoy.
If a politician loses an election or opportunity as a result of a heart change, we usually give them a pass. Like proving a suspect is not a witch by drowning them, this does little to encourage ambitious elected officials.
If making a change results in good political fortune, we often look at the conversion with skepticism. For example, Mitt Romney changed his position on abortion while Governor of Massachusetts. Had he sought further office in that state, that issue would have been used against him likely to his defeat. But as a result, pro-lifers would call him "principled." Instead, Romney's changed belief benefited him in a Republican Presidential primary. So rather than "principled," some pro-lifers viewed him as an opportunist.
Had Musgrove been elected to the U.S. Senate in Mississippi opposing gay rights, and then sought to be reelected supporting gay rights, he would have been - following his concession speech - recognized by all the talking heads and editorialists as a courageous and principled candidate. However, if in coming months Musgrove gets a plum appointment in the Obama Administration, cynics will suggest this heart change was simply an attempt to bolster his liberal credentials for a job opportunity.
Whether you're speaking of Romney or Musgrove, the value change is no more or less real for the man announcing the change. But when you're talking about politicians, motivations are frequently questioned.
Brian Perry is a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.