DUI arrest brings scrutiny to personal life of state senator
by Dan Aiello
The latest high-profile arrest for driving under the influence has brought allegations of hypocrisy to a state senator's voting record.
Senator Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield) was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence at around 2 a.m. March 3. He and a male companion were in a state-owned vehicle at 13th and L streets in downtown Sacramento next to Capitol Park and within yards of the Capitol building. Ashburn was booked into Sacramento County jail and released later that morning.
The unidentified male passenger was not detained.
Sources have told media outlets that Ashburn was leaving the gay bar Faces.
Officer Jarrod Lassila, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol's Capitol Division, would not release the man's name, "because he was not arrested."
Lassila said Ashburn's vehicle was stopped after an officer observed it weaving down city streets.
Lassila told the Bay Area Reporter that the man traveling with Ashburn did not drive the vehicle home and the vehicle "was parked at the location."
Ashburn issued a written apology later on Wednesday.
"I am deeply sorry for my actions and offer no excuse for my poor judgment," Ashburn said. "I accept complete responsibility for my conduct and am prepared to accept the consequences for what I did. I am also truly sorry for the impact this incident will have on those who support and trust me – my family, my constituents, my friends, and my colleagues in the Senate."
According to the senator's biography on his Web site, he has four daughters and two grandchildren.
But his arrest Wednesday within blocks of the city's gay bars have brought to the surface Capitol rumors that Ashburn is gay, and his arrest has raised sharp criticism and cries of hypocrisy from the gay and lesbian community, at odds with Ashburn over equal rights legislation.
According to Outword, the Sacramento LGBT newspaper, KOVR CBS 13 in Sacramento reported that sources have told the station that Ashburn was seen in the gay bar Faces before he was arrested. However, Terry Sidie, the owner of Faces, said that he was in his club until about 1:30 in the morning that night and that he did not see Ashburn in the club, nor did his manager Laurie Bonifield or other Faces employees.
Tanner Reive, a 28-year-old bartender working Tuesday night at the Depot, a popular gay watering hole near Faces, said, "He looks familiar, but that may be because he's a senator. I can't say definitively that he was here Tuesday night."
The number of establishments opened late in Sacramento's somnolent downtown core is limited, but not entirely to gay establishments.
A March 4 article on the Bakersfield Californian Web site (www.Bakersfield.com) looked back at years of rumors and avoidance of any direct answer by Ashburn before questioning the relevance of Ashburn's orientation to his voting record.
"Why would that be anyone's business?" Ashburn responded last summer when a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian asked him if he was gay. "I think there are certain subjects that are simply not relevant and this is one of them. It has no bearing on the job I do."
In fact, Ashburn's closeted status may have a profound affect on his voting record.
According to Equality California spokeswoman Vaishalee Raja, Ashburn's voting record over the last three years has been "basically at zero percent" on the equal rights organization's legislative scorecard.
And one openly gay local official was ready to out the conservative Republican legislator.
"To live a secret life and at the same time be attacking the people who you're one of but are too ashamed to admit, that's hypocrisy," said West Sacramento's openly gay Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, in an interview with KOVR.
Cabaldon told the reporter he had seen Ashburn at gay spots around town on previous occasions.
Ashburn voted against a number of bills on various social issues, and consistently voted against any LGBT equal rights legislation, including last year's Senate Resolution 9, authored by out lesbian state Senator Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego), calling for the repeal of the military's anti-gay "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and openly gay state Senator Mark Leno's (D-San Francisco) bill establishing a day of recognition for slain civil rights leader Harvey Milk.
Ashburn also is an opponent of marriage equality for same-sex couples, and supported Proposition 8.
Video of Ashburn at a Prop 8 rally in 2008 shows him saying, "And we must not go there."
EQCA Executive Director Geoff Kors issued a statement Friday calling out Ashburn for his hypocrisy.
"It is extremely hypocritical for Senator Ashburn, by patronizing a gay club, to be enjoying the fundamental rights and freedoms of association that others have fought so hard for but that he himself has repeatedly voted against," Kors said.
Calls to Ashburn's spokesman, Noel Libeng, were not immediately returned.