To the surprise of no one, ex-congress member Lois Capps, joined by daughter Laura, formally endorsed Hal Conklin for mayor Sunday, citing a political history and family friendship that spans four decades.
What was surprising, however, was an effort by Lois Capps to portray Conklin as a champion of abortion rights - despite his refusal to be described as “pro-choice” and his national leadership post in a church that defines abortion as murder.
“It’s a personal matter for me,” said Lois Capps, who was introduced by Laura, a school board member, at Conklin’s campaign headquarters for an announcement made on Facebook Live.
Down memory lane. The 71-year old Conklin, who served on the city council from 1977-93 and served one year as mayor before resigning because of a legal challenge, was an early, high profile and influential supporter of the late Rep. Walter Capps.
The late Mr. Capps, the husband of Lois and father of Laura, lost his first race for Congress in 1994, while Conklin was mayor, but won two years later. He died suddenly just eight months into his term, and was succeeded by Lois, who represented Santa Barbara in the House from 1998-2017.
Lois recalled on Sunday that Conklin was “sitting at the kitchen table” with her family when Walter made the decision to run.
“Our family has known Hal, and our friendship goes back most of those 40 years,” Lois said. “We’ve been through thick and thin.”
Mother and daughter also said they are backing Conklin because of his long history of environmental advocacy and activism. Among other things, he was a co-founder of the Community Environmental Council; Laura Capps is now president of CEC’s board of directors.
It’s complicated. A crucial part of the political identity of the Capps family has been an unwavering commitment to an unalloyed pro-choice position on abortion rights.
Conklin, however, has been considerably more mushy on the issue, as Newsmakers previously reported:
Is he pro-choice or pro-life?
“Neither of those simplistic but highly-charged political terms describe me,” he said in an email.
“I would describe myself as a ‘democratic libertarian’ regarding public policy (keep the government out of legislating personal behavior; each person has to make a personal moral or ethical decision)…
…“And a ‘classical pacifist’ regarding my personal values (I would not personally choose to hurt any form of life including participating in war except for self-defense, prescribing the death penalty, hunting for sport, choosing abortion except for saving a mother's life…)” (Emphases his).
The formal doctrine of the Free Methodist Church, which Conklin serves as national board president, states that abortion “must be judged to be a violation of God’s command, ‘You shall not commit murder,’” except to save the life of a mother. Conklin says this would have no effect on his actions as mayor on any public issues that might arise affecting abortion rights.
He supports settled law on abortion, favors the aims of Planned Parenthood and worked at City Hall in the ‘90s to craft legislation to protect women seeking treatment at health facilities from pro-life demonstrators, he says.
In the mayor’s race, however, the Santa Barbara chapter of Planned Parenthood chose to assist council members, and Conklin rivals, Cathy Murillo and Bendy White, by contributing financially to their campaigns and publicly citing their 100 percent ratings from the organization.
In her endorsement, Lois Capps finessed this fact with tap dancing and indirect language, a bid to provide political cover for Conklin on the issue, which is determinative for some liberal voters.
“I’m really proud to support someone who knows the importance of supporting Planned Parenthood and the value of, I’m a nurse, in my profession before I went to work in our national government and it’s very important for me that women and men have access to a full range of health care.
“And we have a long history with Planned Parenthood in our community, and there was a time when the process (was) pretty awful and there needed to be, and this is a role the city council can play, to develop what’s called a ‘bubble ordinance’ that protects access so that people can safely enter to receive the services that they’re entitled to.”
So there’s that.
(Full disclosure: Laura Capps is a regular panelist on Newsmakers TV).
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Images: Laura and Lois Capps (Paul Wellman, SB Independent); Walter Capps (Walter H. Capps Center, UCSB); Hal Conklin; Bendy White, Cathy Murillo..