Is André Bauer gay?
The 40-year-old lieutenant governor is one Argentinian tango away from being South Carolina's top dog. But a post by notorious national closet monitor Michael Rogers, along with the help of a fiery, dim-bulbed state senator, has put a big pink target on Bauer's forehead.
After Gov. Mark Sanford's nearly week-long disappearance to spend time with his mistress in June, South Carolina political watchers took a new look at Bauer, the second-in-command many never expected to make it to the top. In an interview with The State soon after Sanford's affair was made public, it was Bauer who brought up the gay rumors, stating that the answer was one word, two letters: "No."
Rogers claims to have spoken with men who have slept with Bauer and another man who's been hit on by the alleged Lt. Luv Guv five times. After Rogers posted his report last week at his site, BlogActive.com, it was no surprise that gay sites and snarky political blogs picked up the "outing" story almost immediately.
But, proving we're in a new age of covering these stories, one mainstream media news source, WIS-TV in Columbia, ran a story addressing Rogers' claim, along with a comment from Bauer's spokesman Frank Adams, who said that the post was, "Rumors, gossip, lies, innuendo ... a bunch of scurrilous crap."
And that would have likely been it, if it weren't for state Sen. Jake Knotts (R-Lexington), a longtime friend of Bauer's and a frequent opponent of Sanford. Trying to score political points against the governor, Knotts wrote a letter to every member of the General Assembly stating his belief that Sanford orchestrated the outing. He called for Statehouse hearings to unravel the details of the gay rumor, which Knotts refered to as "character assassination."
It hadn't been a news story for mainstream media until Knott's gave them a hook. His claims of a Sanford connection headlined stories on the rumor at CNN, Politico, McClatchy, and other outlets. But they don't know Michael Rogers and his real reason for outing Bauer at all.
Rogers certainly has an ax to grind with the politicians he targets, but it isn't an effort to make room for another anti-gay Republican waiting in the wings. It's to keep the alleged gay politicians honest.
According to Rogers, the problem with Bauer is that he supports so-called family values candidates like Mike Huckabee, and, at the same time, allegedly sleeps with men.
"You can't do that," Rogers says. "Not in my book."
Instead of gay politicians hiding in the closet while publicly supporting anti-gay initiatives, Rogers would rather see them working out of the closet and in support of gay issues.
One example is Dan Gurley, who was in charge of sending out anti-gay material as the field director of the Republican National Committee. Rogers outed him in 2004, and Gurley now works with Equality North Carolina on GLBT causes.
"When this is done to people, they become better people," Rogers says in a City Paper interview.
BlogActive has been, well, active for five year now, mainly focusing on outing gay politicians in Rogers' primary stomping grounds: Washington, D.C. For a few years, he got little attention for his efforts, but all that changed in 2006, when former Florida Congressman Mark Foley got busted sending dirty messages to Congressional pages and again in 2007 when Sen. Larry Craig was arrested for soliciting sex in an airport bathroom. Both men had been outed by Rogers long before getting caught.
Rogers' work also played a prominent role in Outrage, a documentary about closeted gay politicians that made the rounds this summer, including a brief run in Charleston.
But he doesn't out everybody and he's not randomly pointing fingers at every politician rumored to be gay. For example, Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has been the subject of gay rumors regardless of his assurances that he's straight, does not get one mention on the site.
Rumors about Bauer started wafting Rogers' way more than a year ago, but he says the solid leads started coming in mid-July after the Sanford story broke.
"People come to me when these politicians are in the news," he says. "That happens a lot of the time."
From there, he started speaking with several different sources about alleged rendezvous and intimate details.
Rogers finally spoke with one of his longtime sources, who told him of several instances where Bauer had hit on him.
It may be proof to Michael Rogers, but, not surprisingly, there are some skeptics, particularly in South Carolina.
"Could there be some great orchestrated conspiracy to bullshit me? I guess," Rogers says. "But it would have to involve people I've known for a long time. The possibility is almost nonexistent."
Rogers has been floored by the media response to the story.
"I thought I'd put it up, and everybody would go, 'Well, there's another one we already knew about. Let's move on.'"
He says the mainstream media is using Knotts' indignation and conspiracy claims as an excuse to cover the outing.
"They wanted a reason to report the rumor," he says. "They've seen how effective I've become and how accurate I've been."
It's nothing new, Rogers says. "This is how 'old' media works. Now they have to act faster."
And there is certainly demand for these stories. Our 2007 feature on the rumors about Graham, which noted his denial, is still one of the most e-mailed story on our site.
"People are interested in watching train wrecks, whether they're real or not," says Truman Smith, leader of the South Carolina chapter of the gay Log Cabin Republicans.
To get his claims about Bauer to the right people, Rogers planned to have his BlogActive readers send e-mail blasts to state senators. But Jake Knotts' letter to every member of the General Assembly took care of that and brought more attention than Rogers could ever hope for.
"The stupidest guy in the whole thing is the guy who wrote that letter," Rogers claims. "Jake Knotts outed AndrÃ© Bauer for me."
Bauer's political opponents may not have orchestrated the alleged outing, but Rogers thinks the question of Bauer's sexuality is the reason that Sanford is still in office.
"Each state has to determine its ranking of horror stories," Rogers says. "In South Carolina, they'd rather see a corrupt governor than a gay governor."
And if this is "character assassination," as Knotts claims, then it's really not about AndrÃ© Bauer at all.
"If a gay person can't get elected, that's a greater indictment of the voters," Smith says, "not the candidate."