Ken Mehlman works as the head of the Global Public Affairs team at KKR, and he used his position of authority wisely when speaking with the American Federation of Teachers this past week.

When KKR found out that the AFT had included the company on a list of money managers that the union says solicit investment business from pension plans while also supporting think tanks and advocacy groups that seek to undermine pensions, they were not too happy. “Over the past several years, we have worked, in partnership with legislators, policy makers and organized labor leaders, to advocate the importance of defined benefit plans as an option for public sector workers.” Ken Mehlman said in a letter to teachers’ union president Randi Weingarten. Mehlman also noted that he has worked with Service Employees International Union president Andy Stern, “to ensure that policy makers have the facts…on the importance of a defined benefit option for public sector workers.”

After receiving this letter on Wednesday, Weingarten stated that, “Your firm has taken an important step in declaring its support for defined benefit plans and retirement security.” Weingarten also said that the union would take KKR’s name off of their list.

On April 22, 2013 Ken Mehlman published an op-ed on USA Today about the future of the Republican Party. With the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center this week, he states an important reminder, “We can win the votes of non-whites, but only if we try. President George W. Bush won an historic share of Hispanic voters and grew African- and Asian-American support by acknowledging the different and often difficult experiences of many minorities, while pursuing policies that recognized the universal appeal of freedom and opportunity. “ He believes that Republicans need to take this approach again.

 

Ken Mehlman explains that President Bush’s growth in non-white support was good for public policy and he understood that “family values doesn’t stop at the Rio Grande,” while promoting a new immigration policy. While President Bush was in office, the nation helped the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which again shows the compassion he had for non-white communities who are in suffering. President Bush also increased funding for programs that supported the recovery of more than 200,000 substance abuse addicts, helped transition 50,000 homeless people into a place to live, and provided over 100,000 children with parents in jail with supportive mentors. This is another example of how he worked to strengthen civil society.

 

Ken Mehlman ended his piece explain that, “While there are many strategies our party must deploy as we work to appeal to a changing American electorate, it all comes down to the advice of the late Jack Kemp, the modern father of ‘compassionate conservatism’: people don’t care that you know unless they know that you care. As Republicans look towards the future, policies that speak to the common dreams that unite Americans from all background are worth remembers and in many cases emulating.”

Ken Mehlman recently talked to the Huffington Post about the GOP evolution on gay marriage acceptance. “I think that most of the signers of the [amicus curiae] brief, like other Americans who have increasingly embraced the freedom to marry, are most impacted by what they see in their own lives,” Ken Mehlman stated. “That’s how change so often occurs — people reflecting on their core values and also their experiences. And as people consider the importance of marriage to their own lives, they recognize how fundamental this right is. As they come to fully know their gay friends and relatives and neighbors and teammates, they don’t think it’s fair or consistent with conservative values to deny them this basic right.”

 

The former RNC Chairman has been very outspoken about his views on same-sex marriage and continues to work with his organization, Project Right Side, to get more conservative support for gay marriage. “Conservatives don’t need to change core convictions to embrace the growing support for equal rights for gay Americans,” Ken Mehlman wrote in a 2012 Wall Street Journal op-ed. “It is sufficient to recognize the inherent conservatism in citizens’ desire to marry, to be judged on their work, and not to be singled out for higher taxes or bullying at school. These objectives can be achieved while also protecting religious liberty, as demonstrated by states enacting civil marriage with exemptions for religious institutions.”

Out Magazine announced it’s 7th annual Power List, ranking the top 50 gay men and women  “whose power and prestige is instrumental in influencing the way Americans think about, and engage with, the world.”

This year, number 32 was Ken Mehlman. As Out Magazine puts it, “As well as being on the board of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the group behind the brief, he has deployed his skills to help win victories for marriage equality in New York, Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota, and his influence can only grow as Republicans continue to play catch-up with public opinion on gay rights.”

Other notable people who made the list were Chad Griffin, head of the Washington DC based Human Rights Campaign, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis, Reps. Mark Takano, D-Calif.,David Cicilline, D-R.I., and Jared Polis, D-Colo.

 

 

Kenneth Mehlman was interviewed last week by Thomas Roberts on MSNBC and discussed the marriage equality cases pending at the Supreme Court.  He discussed his own experience at the hearings, his experience on the board of AFER, and the cautiousness of the justices on the Supreme Court.  Ken Mehlman pulled on his own experience as a lawyer to answer questions about how the legal case is being presented and what might happen in the next couple weeks.

Watch the entire piece, and read the first part of the interview below.


Video transcript:

Thomas Roberts: And our special guest at the top of the hour, former RNC Chairman Ken, Mehlman, Richard Socarides former president of Equality Matters, and openly gay Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline. Gentlemen, great to have you hear, but I want to start with our exclusive interview with Ken Mehlman, former RNC Chair, former campaign manager for George W. Bush’s ’04 campaign. And Ken you publically came out in 2010.

Ken Mehlman: I did.

Thomas Roberts: It’s been written about you, that you are the highest profile gay republican in American history. It just crossed the wires from Reuters saying that, the US Supreme court, who is hearing the oral arguments right now, it’s saying that conservatives justices are troubled by the Obama Administration’s refusal to defend the marriage law. As a lawyer, how do you interpret whats coming out of the court right now?

Ken Mehlman: Well I was actually in the hearings yesterday, in the oral arguments, I’m on the board of AFER. Which is the organization that brought the proposition law suit with Ted Olsen and David Boies. What I saw yesterday were justices that were taking a very serious issue very seriously. They were asking a lot of very touch questions to all three of the council that were appearing before them. They recognized the enormity of what they were dealing with. What was interesting to me though, was that you heard from all sides two things that I think are really important. One was how important the issue of marriage is, how central it is to an individual, as a person to their freedom, to their essence. As Ted Olsen said it is the single most important relationship you have. And the second thing was the fundamental nature of that right, which in my judgment and in our judgment, the constitution ought to protect.

Ken Mehlman is responsible, according to NPR, for the one hundred and thirty-one prominent Republicans who have signed a pro-same-sex marriage Amicus Curie brief to the Supreme Court in light of the recent marriage equality cases.  According to NPR, Kenneth Mehlman is now “arguably the most high-profile openly gay Republican in the country.”

In order to accomplish this, Ken Mehlman has been making what he calls “the conservative case” for gay marriage.  As NPR puts it, “Mehlman compares the right to marry to other fundamental rights conservatives embrace — for example, the right to bear arms and the right of corporate free speech embodied in the Supreme Court’s controversial 2010 decision striking down the ban on corporate spending in candidate elections.”

Mehlman is himself a lawyer, and was involved in some of the confirmations of the current justices.  But getting the signatures of all of these Republicans was not an easy task.  It was the product of hundreds of long conversations and some rejections as well.  But for Mehlman, it’s all part of his coming out process.

“You can’t change the past,” Ken Mehlman says, “but you can try to, as much as you can going forward, be helpful and be constructive.”

Read the entire piece on their site here.

 

Kenneth Mehlman was interviewed by Michelangelo Signorile at the Huffington Post.  Signorile discussed this interview, and an interview that Mehlman participated with a year ago, in a piece that posted today.  In it, Kenneth Mehlman discussed the process of coming out, as well as Mehlman’s actions towards equality as part of the board for the American Foundation for Equal Rights.

The American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) is the organization that took Prop. 8 to the Federal Court and, both as a board member for AFER and as a private citizen, Mehlman has been active in the cause of equality.  As Signorile puts it, “Mehlman has raised millions of dollars for the cause of marriage equality and used his considerable influence in several states to help sway Republicans to vote for gay marriage.”

Of course, one of the most recent things that Kenneth Melhman has done for the cause of marriage equality is his recent discussion surrounding marriage equality in the GOP.  Mehlman has been active in making the case for why marriage equality is a GOP issue, and even wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal explaining his argument. 

And, as Signorile brings up in his piece, Mehlman recently gathered over 100 Republicans to sign an Amicus Curie brief to the Supreme Court.  He also supports the Employment Non-Discrimination act as well, and is committed to doing more civil rights work in the future.  He hopes that there will be more movement on this issue.

“So my hope is that, as we go forward,” explained Kenneth Mehlman, “lots of people will look at this and say, ‘You know what? As I think about this more, maybe it does make sense to say everyone in America should have access to civil marriage.’”

 

On Monday, Kenneth Mehlman was featured in the New York Times. Ken, along with dozens of Republicans and two members of Congress signed a legal brief arguing for marriage equality. The document will be submitted this week to the Supreme Court, in hopes to strike down Proposition 8.

 

Theodore B. Olson, the former solicitor general under Mr. Bush filed a brief that argues that same-sex marriage promotes family values by allowing children of gay couple to grow up in two-parent homes. It also states that it advances conservative values of “limited government and maximizing individual freedom.”

 

“We are trying to say to the court that we are judicial and political conservatives, and it is consistent with our values and philosophy for you to overturn Proposition 8,” Ken Mehlman stated.

 

Public opinion on gay marriage has changed dramatically in the past ten years. The latest New York Times survey found that one third of Republicans favor gay marriage. Recent polls show that around 70 percent of voters under 30 favor same-sex marriage. This is because there are still very big regional and generational divisions that have kept the party from fully supporting marriage equality.

 

Ken Mehlman was featured today in the New Yorker, as the organizer of a recent amicus brief to the Supreme Court regarding the Proposition 8 case.  This brief featured dozens of leading Republicans including Jon Huntsman, Meg Whitman, Ken Duberstein, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and others, all stating that they supported a Constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

This landmark brief comes two days before the Obama Administration must decide if it is going to file a similar brief, and in one of the most high-profile Supreme Court cases of the year has drawn quite a bit of attention.  The New Yorker went on to explain just how important it was that Ken Mehlman was the one who helped to organize it.

“It’s not just that Ken Mehlman is a prominent Republican, which makes him an important asset to—and, now, organizer in—the gay-rights movement; it’s that he is one of the smartest political operatives anywhere in the country right now, and that he understands better than perhaps anyone how moderate and persuadable Republicans think. These are the very people the gay-rights movement is now trying to speak to. As Mehlman told the Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg, “We are trying to say to the Court that we are judicial and political conservatives, and it is consistent with our values and philosophy for you to overturn Proposition 8.”

Richard Socarides, author of the New Yorker piece, also discussed his personal experiences with Kenneth Mehlman.  The summer that he came out, he met with Mehlman and discussed what steps he would be taking.  Socarides remembers that “he told me that while he wanted to be an advocate and work for change and greater acceptance, he thought that he should first spend some time listening and learning.”

Socarides also detailed some of the work that Mehlman has done since that period of listening and learning, including being on the board of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, working with the New York based Freedom to Marry, and his advocacy in working for marriage equality in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington State.

Read the full piece, Ken Mehlman’s Gay Marriage Mission, at the New Yorker. 

 

Robert Draper published a piece on Thursday that is a hard-hitting look at the Republican Party and the efforts that they are taking to try to become more relevant to the voters, especially younger voters.  He spent time interviewing several young Republicans including Bret Jacobson and Ian Spencer, part of the five-man company Red Edge that is a digital advocacy group for conservative causes, Kristin Soltis Anderson, a 28-year-old G.O.P. pollster, S.E. Cupp, a New York Daily News columnist and co-host of “The Cycle” on MSNBC, and Patrick Ruffini, a 34-year-old leader of the young Republican digitial movement.

Draper also interviewed Ken Mehlman, President Bush’s campaign manager and current Global Head of Public Affairs for private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR)- mentioning how Mehlman has become a vigorous supporter of the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York and beyond.  Ken Mehlman explained to Draper how the demographics of the nation have changed, and how a typical voting couple would be different from what it was in 1970.

“There’s an important book by Ben Wattenberg and Richard Scammon called ‘The Real Majority,’ published in 1970,” Mehlman explained to Draper. “The book explains in part how the Republican Party would go on to win five out of six presidential elections through the eyes of the ‘typical’ voter — a working-class couple in Dayton, Ohio. They’re white, worried about crime, feel burdened by taxes and feel like too many Democrats don’t understand these concerns.”

However, today’s voter is a little different. “Here’s the difference,” Mehlman went on to explain. “They worry about economic mobility — can their kids get ahead or even keep up. Their next-door neighbors are Latino whose mom gets concerned when she hears talk about self-deportation or no driver’s licenses. And that couple has a gay niece and an African-American brother-in-law. And too many folks like the couple in Dayton today wonder if some of the G.O.P. understands their lives anymore.”

Ken Mehlman, according to Draper, feels that the biggest issue for modern Republican candidates is not finding a new Reagan, but finding someone who understands that modern voter.  Someone who knows the demography and how the new voters react and change, and who can adapt to their concerns.

Others he interviewed think that the solution might be even simpler.  As Jacobson explained, “I think the answer for a vibrant Republican Party is to make our North Star empowering every individual in this country to follow their own dream, free of legislative excesses.”