“In the end,” GOP Senate candidate Mike McGavick said last summer to a crowd of voters during a campaign stump speech at a picnic ground in Grant County, “the cornerstone of the American experience is our families—the ability of families to take care of one another.”
It was a pour-and-stir GOP moment: Family. “Values” couldn’t be far behind.
“The laws of this nation must make it easier for families to pass on the values that they think are important,” McGAvick continued. From there, he went on to riff about God (McGavick doesn’t want God to be taken out the Pledge of Allegiance) and the flag (he supports an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would ban flag burning). Family. Values. God. Flag. And then, families again: “Those are a couple of examples,” he concluded, “of where your government is fighting with us in what we’re trying to push forward in our families.”
Given that McGavick was so hot on families, I asked him, after the speech, what he thought about gay marriage. Unsurprisingly, McGavick sees gay marriage as a threat to the family. “If Massachusetts does not correct itself, or if other states do this, I will support a constitutional amendment [banning gay marriage],” he told me. “[A constitutional amendment] that would prevent the courts from overruling the states on the definition of marriage. And I believe marriage is between a man and a woman.”
It’s precisely because Republican politicians like McGavick trade in this sort of self-righteous family stuff that I have a question for McGavick today: How has the family thing worked out for him? McGavick has been married—twice. Since I’m not sure I want to take his word for how his first marriage ended, my question is: Will he open his closed divorce file? (McGavick divorced his wife Kim in 1991.)
This question is particularly relevant because two weeks ago, McGavick mined the family theme once again. On his campaign blog McGavick cited his divorce as one of his two greatest personal regrets in his life. “Most important, my first marriage ended in divorce, and as a result my eldest son grew up with me as a ‘part-time’ dad,” McGavick wrote on August 28. It was a way of turning a potential minus for a Republican family man, a divorce, into a plus. By calling attention to his divorce this way, McGavick hoped to transform the failure of his first marriage into an homage to the very idea of family. And by owning up to his failure as a husband and father, McGavick showed candor. The press loved it. In a column titled “McGavick Candor to His Credit,” Seattle P-I columnist Robert Jamieson wrote: “He displayed courage… such refreshing candor comes to a world of politics where players prefer to keep the masks on.”
It was a classic GOP move: McGavick framed the issue of his divorce before anyone else could.
Or had he? In the same blog entry, McGavick identified his other big personal regret: “…cutting a yellow light too close” and “getting cited” for drunken driving. Turns out, when the Everett Herald got hold of the police report, McGavick didn’t cut a yellow light too close. He drove through a red. And he wasn’t “cited,” he was arrested, hauled down to the station, handcuffed to a desk, and compelled to take an alcohol-awareness course. The discrepancies were comical and odd (he didn’t remember being arrested?). And so, his points for candor quickly evaporated and his brief love fest in the press ended. (Jamieson would later recant this column when it became clear that McGavick had been “loose with the factsâ€ť as Jamieson put it.)
This brings me back to McGavick’s divorce. McGavick’s mea culpa about his drunken driving arrest was dishonest in its omissions. So should the press let his mea culpa about his divorce stand without any additional scrutiny? Having listened to McGavick wax on about “family values” and “families taking care of one another” on the stump, to say nothing of his calls to “protectâ€ť marriage from same-sex couples, shouldn’t the press look into his own history with the marriage and family?
To get his divorce file, I contacted the Bucks County Court in Pennsylvania where McGavick’s divorce papers are filed. I was told by the clerk, Deborah Schiesser, that I could send her $9.50—which I did—to get a copy of McGavick’s divorce decree. Later, Schiesser told me I couldn’t see the decree and the rest of the file (including the divorce complaint) unless I got a signed authorization from one of the parties (I have a call into McGavick’s campaign about that) or a subpoena. The subpoena, Schiesser told me, was a simple matter—no court orders involved—of sending another $3.25 and filling out a form. (That’s cool. Because originally, I had been talking to the Stranger’s lawyers about suing for the closed file.)
A precedent was set in 2004, when the Chicago Tribune and WLS-TV sued to have Illinois GOP Senate candidate Jack Ryan’s sealed divorce file opened. They won, according to Judge Robert Schnider, on the grounds of “the public’s right to know, including a compelling public interest stemming from Ryan’s candidacy…â€ť
Based on McGavick’s positions and the conduct of his campaign, the public (and me as a reporter) has an interest in his divorce file. I hope we will have it shortly.