Karen in the Hot Seat

Gays are okay, except sometimes

When I arrive at her office at the Arizona House of Representatives, termed-out Republican Representative Karen Johnson is Scotch-taping the hem of her skirt, which has come unraveled and which she's rolled up into her lap for a quick repair. She laughs when I offer to help, and waves me away, saying, "Good luck finding a seat in here." The room is crowded with half-filled cardboard boxes, because Johnson -- who made a name for herself during her eight years in the House as an anti-porn advocate and a champion of gay discrimination -- is moving this week to the Senate, where Senate President Ken Bennett has seated her next to openly gay Democrat Ken Cheuvront, an irony that seems lost on no one but the lady herself.

Johnson has no time for irony. She's too busy packing; too consumed with spouting about how promiscuous homosexuals are "undermining the natural family," despite the fact that she's been married five times herself. But irony is hogwash; flapdoodle for unpatriotic people who believe in civil rights for everyone, not just those mentioned in the New Testament. Karen Johnson is a patriot; she is living proof that, when politicians aren't corrupt, they're often deeply ignorant. More than anything, she's a red-white-and-blue reminder that as long as we continue to give power to people whose clothing is held together with tape, whose political career fits into a dozen paper boxes, probably we deserve Karen Johnson.

Karen Johnson: Okay. I'm ready for my interview now. My hem is fixed.

New Times: You're the same hyper-conservative you were 10 years ago, but lately it seems the rest of the world -- politicians and your constituency, at least -- has caught up with you.

Johnson: But what's the definition of conservative now? George Bush calls himself a conservative, but he's not. He's spent more money in his first four years in office than Clinton spent in his whole eight years.

NT: Well, perhaps Bush isn't fiscally conservative, but --

Johnson: He's too compassionate. He's a neo-con.

NT: Right. Bush is too compassionate. Now, I understand you were given an "A plus" rating by the NRA.

Johnson: I love guns. They're the ultimate feminine protection! I have lots of them, and I have my permits.

NT: We wouldn't expect anything less of you. So, the new Senate seating chart has been released, and you're seated right next to Ken Cheuvront. How's that going to be -- sitting next to a homosexual all session?

Johnson: I have never had a problem with Ken. I don't have a problem with homosexuals. I really don't. Everybody, in my opinion, is entitled to choose the lifestyle they want to follow. I just don't choose personally to validate that. And I don't think the state should validate it, either.

NT: Did you see the article about you in the Republic --

Johnson: Oh, we don't take the Republic. We haven't for years.

NT: Now, there's something to like about you. So you didn't know you were sitting next to Ken until you came in to work on Monday.

Johnson: Right. And I had no trouble with it. I find Ken Cheuvront to be a very intelligent individual, especially good on business issues. I think we'll have some common ground to work together on. Ken is one of the folks that has that type of lifestyle but who isn't out there pushing it.

NT: Do you think Ken Bennett deliberately sat you next to a homo?

Johnson: No. I looked back at some of the older seating charts, and that's where Ken has always sat. And you never question the president, why he does the things he does.

NT: You're always so nice in person, but you hate homosexuals. That doesn't seem very nice.

Johnson: I don't hate homosexuals. I guess one of the things I've learned being in the Legislature is that just because I see things one way doesn't always make it right. I came in here thinking I was pretty right, and I've learned a lot. I've learned there are actually a lot of Democrats who have integrity, who strongly believe in where they're coming from. Then there are other people who have their own agendas, and that's all they're here about -- pushing those agendas.

NT: You've been very public in speaking out against the homosexual agenda. I wasn't aware we had an agenda. Where can I get a copy?

Johnson: Well, I think that most people would feel that the very strident homosexual activists have an agenda, and it's been pushed fairly successfully, all the way up to the issue of marriage. I think they've had a setback, with the 11 states that voted against validating marriage between same-sex couples. But probably the majority of your homosexuals just prefer to live a quiet life and want to be left alone. They don't want to bring attention to themselves.

NT: So you don't object so much to homosexuals as you do to homosexual activists.

Johnson: Right. Everybody has the right to push what they believe in, and I have the right to push back if I don't happen to believe in that. I mean, homosexuals criticize me, but it's very hard for them to accept criticism. They seem to take a lot of offense, and I get called a homophobe because I don't believe in it.

NT: Karen, whether you believe in homosexuality or not, it exists.

Johnson: Right. Fine. It's existed for ages. But I don't want to validate it as something good or something that children should go out and participate in, because I think there are a lot of adverse consequences to that choice.

NT: You really believe that homosexuality is a choice.

Johnson: Oh, absolutely it's a choice. There's no way that people were born that way.

NT: Really. So I guess recent findings by the scientific community about how the hypothalamus determines sexual orientation --

Johnson: I think all of those [findings] have pretty much been discredited.

NT: You often cite gays as wanting "special" rights when we campaign for marriage and the like. How are those special rights?

Johnson: (Laughing.) Gays have the choice to marry someone of the opposite sex, if they want to. If they choose to be together, they can be, but without the benefit of marriage.

NT: So let me get this right: It's okay for people to be gay, so long as we don't ask for the same rights that others are afforded, and so long as we don't talk about being gay.

Johnson: Well, it's okay to be gay, if you choose to do that, but there needs to be limits to it, because there are pretty detrimental consequences to choosing that lifestyle.

NT: Like what?

Johnson: Health, for one thing.

NT: Homosexuality does not necessarily lead to compromised health.

Johnson: I guess that's where we disagree. Not that promiscuity among heterosexuals doesn't also lead to some very bad health issues, too.

NT: How about the fact that not all homosexuals are promiscuous?

Johnson: Uh, you probably are correct about a small percentage of them.

NT: So most homosexuals are just plain slutty.

Johnson: I do believe that the homosexual lifestyle tends to be more promiscuous, yes. You're free to disagree with me.

NT: Thank you. I think I will. Like a lot of people who want to discriminate against gays, you often mention God in interviews and speeches. But the last time I checked, gays weren't asking God for equal rights. They were asking lawmakers.

Johnson: And they can do that, but I think that if we stick with our traditional family values, it won't happen. Society has moved an awfully long way away from [affording gay rights], although the time may come. But in other civilizations where that's happened, we've had very detrimental results.

NT: I think you don't have anything to worry about when it comes to homosexuals ever having equal rights during our lifetime. There are too many people like yourself in power for that to ever happen.

Johnson: That may be. I can only speak for myself. Anyway, they can marry in Canada, so I guess if [homosexuals] feel strongly about doing that, they could go to Canada.

NT: Except you have to be a Canadian citizen to get a gay marriage license there.

Johnson: Oh. You can't just go there and get married and then come back to the U.S.?

NT: No. If you could, we'd all be vacationing in Saskatchewan this spring.

Johnson: Well, the bottom line is I have to answer to my Lord, my God. I'm here to promote what I think is right from my point of view. I've always felt the best policy is to be honest about things. There are a lot of people around here who don't do that. And it hasn't been easy, being honest about things. Believe me.

E-mail robrt.pela@newtimes.com

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