Online Extra: Political Notes: Signs won't bear anti-gay
CA lawmaker's name
by Matthew S. Bajko
An effort to post highway signs for a veterans' home named after a deceased homophobic California lawmaker has died in the state Assembly.
State Senator Steve Knight (R-Antelope Valley) had sought permission to post four directional signs to alert drivers on State Highway Route 14 of the exit for the William J. "Pete" Knight Veterans Home of California-Lancaster in Los Angeles County.
It is named after Steve Knight's father, who also served in the state Legislature, and is the only state-run veterans home to be dedicated in honor of an individual.
The elder Knight was a vocal opponent of LGBT rights in the late 1990s, when he was first elected to a state Assembly seat, through his death in 2004 while serving in the state Senate. He authored the infamous Proposition 22, the ballot measure adopted by voters in 2000 that defined marriage as between one man and one woman in the state's family code.
A legal fight over the homophobic measure led the state Supreme Court to rule it unconstitutional in 2008 and prompted the introduction of Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in the Golden State.
In June of this year the U.S. Supreme Court, ruling on a technicality, allowed a federal district court decision striking down Prop 8 to stand. Within days of its decision, same-sex marriages resumed in California.
Steve Knight shares his father's beliefs toward marriage and supported the passage of Prop 8. It was a stance that put him publicly at odds with his gay older brother, David Knight, although the siblings remained close and David Knight told the Bay Area Reporter back in 2008 that he supported Steve Knight's bid that year for a state Assembly seat.
Run by the California Department of Veterans Affairs, the 60-bed residential care facility for the elderly was completed in November 2009. According to the state agency's website, it was named "in honor and memory of" Pete Knight due to his being one of its "strongest and most vocal advocates when he served in the California State Senate."
The website notes that Knight was "a former United States Air Force colonel who spent 32 years in dedicated service to his country and flew more than 253 missions in Vietnam." Edwards Air Force Base is nearby the assisted living facility.
Steve Knight had introduced SCR 59, a Senate Concurrent Resolution, seeking to have the state Department of Transportation determine the cost to install four signs near the exit for West Avenue 'I' on SR 14 in Lancaster to indicate the location of the veterans' home named after his father. It also stated that after receiving the donated money "from non-state sources," the agency would be ordered to erect the signage.
The proposal met with some opposition in August during a committee hearing, with those opposed suggesting Knight's name not be on the signs.
"We had a very helpful bill in my opinion and very innocuous but it turned into a little bit of a problem. Some of the folks on the committee didn't think it was proper and just wanted signs for 'veterans home turn here,'" Knight said on his August 26 podcast. "They didn't want William J. 'Pete' Knight on there."
But, added Knight, "That is the official name of the veterans home, so the signs should say that."
The committee ended up approving the resolution, and the state Senate adopted the resolution Tuesday, September 10 on a 22-7 vote, with 11 abstentions. Among those voting against the measure were gay Senators Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens).
Joining Knight in voting for his measure were a number of Democrats, including Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) and Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton), an out lesbian who had voted against the measure when it came before the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee.
Thomas Lawson, Galgiani's deputy chief of staff, when reached last Friday, told the B.A.R. he was unsure what prompted his boss to change her stance.
Yee spokesman Dan Lieberman told the B.A.R. that since the veteran's home is already named for Knight the senator decided to support the signage request. He also said Yee's office had not "heard a thing" in terms of opposition to the proposal.
"Certainly, we do not support much of what Mr. Knight stood for," said Lieberman. "But the veterans home is already named after him and there are veterans living in it. We don't want to hold veterans responsible for being in a home named for someone like him."
Other Democrats who voted for the resolution were Jim Beall (D-Campbell); Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana); Mark DeSaulnier (D-Walnut Creek); Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo); Fran Pavley (D-Calabasas); Richard Roth (D-Riverside); Norma Torres (D-Montclair); Lois Wolk (D-Davis); and Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood).
The Assembly Transportation Committee had scheduled to hear the measure the day after it passed out of the state Senate. But it canceled the hearing at the request of Knight.
A source suggested to the B.A.R. that Knight pulled the resolution because he was facing "a bumpier road than he thought" in getting it through the lower chamber.
With this year's legislative session now over, the resolution is dead for the time being. In his podcast Knight said he hoped to see the signs installed by the fall of 2014.
Knight's spokeswoman, Alicia French, told the B.A.R. in an email Monday morning that the senator held the bill "because the committee was trying to force unnecessary and unacceptable amendments."
She added that his office is determining whether to move forward with the resolution or another bill next year.
"The negative reaction was simply members' misunderstanding of the intent to install directional signs on a highway indicating the location of a veterans home, using private not public funds," wrote French.
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