Former RNC chair comes out

Ken Mehlman

Ken Mehlman

Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman acknowledged publicly this week that he is gay.

Mehlman, who was a close colleague of President George W. Bush’s political architect Karl Rove, made the announcement in an interview with The Atlantic magazine, published online August 25.

The article says Mehlman “arrived at this conclusion about his identity fairly recently,” but it also quotes Mehlman as saying, “It’s taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life.” Mehlman turned 44 on August 21.

Log Cabin Republicans, the national gay Republican group, issued a statement saying it was appreciative of Mehlman’s coming out. The press release quoted former U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), who came out as gay in 1996.

“Everybody has their own path to travel, their own journey, and for me, over the past few months, I’ve told my family, friends, former colleagues, and current colleagues, and they’ve been wonderful and supportive,” Mehlman told the magazine. “The process has been something that’s made me a happier and better person. It’s something I wish I had done years ago.”

“I wish I was where I am today 20 years ago. The process of not being able to say who I am in public life was very difficult,” Mehlman told the magazine. “No one else knew this except me. My family didn’t know. My friends didn’t know. Anyone who watched me knew I was a guy who was clearly uncomfortable with the topic.”

There were rumors, and gay activist-blogger Mike Rogers notes that talk show host Bill Maher told talk show host Larry King that Mehlman was gay during King’s interview of Maher in 2006, but Rogers said the comment was edited out before broadcast.

“Ken Mehlman is horridly homophobic and no matter how orchestrated his coming out is, our community should hold him accountable for his past,” said Rogers, in his blog Wednesday, reporting that The Atlantic article was about to be published.

“The three people most responsible for the anti-gay actions of the Bush reelection campaign are Mehlman, Karl Rove and Bush,” wrote Rogers, at

The Atlantic interview was conducted by Marc Ambinder, the magazine’s politics editor and chief political consultant to CBS News.

Ambinder wrote that Mehlman had privately expressed to him “over the years” support for civil unions and said he had opposed efforts by “senior Republicans” to attack same-sex marriage.

But Ambinder notes that Mehlman was himself a senior Republican “at a time when the party was stepping up its anti-gay activities…” “Mehlman said at the time that he could not, as an individual Republican, go against the party consensus,” wrote Ambinder. “He was aware that Karl Rove, President Bush’s chief strategic adviser, had been working with Republicans to make sure that anti-gay initiatives and referenda would appear on November ballots in 2004 and 2006 to help Republicans.”

And Mehlman acknowledged, wrote Ambinder, “that if he had publicly declared his sexuality sooner, he might have played a role in keeping the party from pushing an anti-gay agenda.”

“He insisted, too,” wrote Ambinder, “that President Bush ‘was no homophobe.’ He often wondered why gay voters never formed common cause with Republican opponents of Islamic jihad, which he called ‘the greatest anti-gay force in the world right now.’

Ambinder said Mehlman decided to make his being gay public now because he wants to become an advocate for gay marriage and help the American Foundation for Equal Rights in its efforts to overturn California’s same-sex marriage ban through its lawsuit. The AFER lawsuit is being helmed by conservative attorney Ted Olson.

Mehlman was chairman of Bush’s 2004 election campaign, and then served as RNC chairman from 2005-2007. He is currently head of global public affairs for the investment firm of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. in New York.

In his personal memoir, Courage and Consequence, Rove recalled that he recommended Mehlman to be Bush’s campaign manager in 2004, and that Mehlman was someone who loved karaoke and working out.

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