Leyendecker: Is she or isn't she?

Kathleen Leyendecker, the Republican candidate for the State House of Representatives in district 26 sparked a fury by seeming to agree with both sides in one of the most polarizing political issues. In March of this year, Leyendecker's answers to a questionnaire for Choice PAC voter's guide indicated that she was 100 percent pro-choice. More recently, she responded to the Right to Life Committee's PAC with consistently pro-life answers. Neither group is happy about the situation and Leyendecker's in a tough spot.

Asked about this apparent contradiction, Leyendecker told the Alibi, "I had a volunteer fill out the original application [for Choice PAC], but I am pro-life." The application she referred to is to an eight-item questionnaire aimed at pinpointing candidates' positions on the issue; questions include whether or not the candidate supports "a woman's right to choose abortion as recognized in Roe v. Wade." According to Giovanna Rossi, director of Choice PAC, Leyendecker's signed questionnaire was enough for them to list her as pro-choice in their voter's guide, even though they endorsed Leyendecker's opponent, the Democratic incumbent Al Park.

"The problem is," Rossi said, "that when presented with two candidates who are both pro-choice, a lot of our members will choose the woman." She's worried about what will happen if some of the 5,000 pro-choice voters who received the guide will mistakenly vote for a pro-life candidate.

Leyendecker's explanation for the situation, that a volunteer made a mistake in filling out the questionnaire, does seem hard to believe. Rossi says, "I find it difficult to accept that a person with her background in working for other candidates [Leyendecker was a community liaison officer for the late Congressman Steve Schiff] would put her signature to something a volunteer wrote without reading it to be sure it represented her true position. Of course, it is quite possible that after heavy lobbying from the anti-choice groups here in New Mexico, Leyendecker changed her mind on the issue. To admit that would have been better than trying to play both sides and misleading voters."

But Dauneen Dolce, of the Right to Life PAC, didn't seem to be too pleased with the situation either. She told us she wasn't sure what Leyendecker was up to, saying "She may be playing games." Dolce said that Right to Life decided not to withdraw their endorsement because of Leyendecker's public statements indicating that she was opposed to abortion and because, Dolce said, "I've always known her to be pro-life." In addition, Dolce said she knew that Leyendecker's husband was very active in the Catholic men's group Knights of Columbus, a group that describes itself as "uncompromisingly pro-life".

"She may be playing both sides," Dolce said, "but that's a very dangerous thing to do because eventually you'll get caught."

Funny, that seems to be what just happened.

Rossi said she was shocked to read that Leyendecker described herself as pro-life in two recent stories in the Albuquerque Journal and the Albuquerque Tribune. Leyendecker did not return Rossi's calls.

Leyendecker's anti-abortion stance was also a surprise to Susan Loubet, the host of KUNM's talk show "Women's Focus," on which she regularly interviews women candidates for office. Leyendecker was Loubet's guest on Friday, Oct. 22, and the host asked her guest this question: "When I was working with you before, I always used to wonder why you were a Republican. You're a very moderate Republican, a pro-choice Republican, and so how did you decide to be a Republican?" Leyendecker went on to relate a story about being baptized a Democrat but changing her registration (when working for former Albuquerque mayor Harry Kinney) so that she could vote in a Republican primary election. She did not correct Loubet's characterization of her as pro-choice.

I asked Loubet how she knew that Leyendecker was pro-choice and she replied that in addition to seeing a copy of Choice PAC's voter guide, "I remembered her being pro-choice from when she worked with Steve [Schiff]; he was pro-choice." Loubet said that she knew of lots of pro-choice women who worked for Senator Domenici, even though he opposes abortion. "I knew who was [pro-choice] and who wasn't," she told me.

Why would a seriously pro-life candidate not correct a radio host who described her as pro-choice? "I don't know," Loubet said, "I don't believe this thing about a volunteer who did it. I could see a volunteer making a mistake but I can't see doing it on that issue. I could see it on a water questionnaire or something ... ."

For Loubet the controversy is particularly troubling because she rarely interviews men on "Women's Focus," but this time she also made a point of interviewing Leyendecker's opponent, Al Park. "I was interviewing Kathie [Leyendecker] because I thought she was an interesting moderate Republican running against a man who had carried an obscure piece of domestic violence legislation ... and—on his own—submitted equal pay legislation because he thought it was a good idea."

Only Kathleen Leyendecker knows for sure what happened, whether a volunteer "malfunction" was responsible for this mess, or whether a long-time pro-choice Republican decided she'd have to become pro-life in order to run against a women-friendly, pro-choice incumbent. According to Loubet, candidates who try to straddle both sides of the abortion issue rarely succeed. "You just have to decide which one you're going to be on and take the heat from the other side." Someone might tell Leyendecker that usually it's best if you decide on a position before talking to political action committees.