“I was never accused of having done anything wrong, but rather I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”—Paul Davis
“What’s the difference between a hooker and a politician? There’s some things a hooker just won’t do.”—an old joke I first heard from a lobbyist
Regardless of your opinion on reproductive justice, single-payer health care, or self-employment taxes, there’s someone running for office who will reflect that position. No viable candidate, however, supports sex worker rights. When it comes to the sex industy, a candidate need only be sex worker-adjacent to be subject to a vicious attack, no matter his party. Sex workers truly have no friends in major party politics in the United States (sure, Libertarians, in theory, but once they decide to run as Republicans they tend to neatly pull back on select issues of personal choice). This election year’s sex work-adjacent scandals are pathetically unimportant and an indication of campaigns that are desperate for distractions. One deals with a 15-year-old raid on a strip club; the other with a state-run jobs website that “accidentally” listed some adult-industry jobs. One’s a Republican attacking a Democrat; the other’s a Democrat attacking a Republican.
In Kansas, Democratic gubernatorial challenger Paul Davis has been accused of being in a strip club when a drug raid took place—in 1998. How did this suddenly come to light, considering that Davis wasn’t arrested that night, making the only record of his presence a sealed investigative record (“…if members of the public want incident reports and investigative files, they typically have to sue to get them,” according to the Lawrence Journal-World)? The Montgomery county attorney facilitated the release of the records concerning the raid, tipping off Governor Sam Brownback’s campaign about a reporter’s records request. Subsequent attack ads like the one above rest on the assumption that being in a strip club is an indicator of Davis’s flawed ability to govern.
The above television ad also references Davis’s 2011 vote against the cutely named “Community Defense Act,” a bill intended to put all of Kansas’ strip clubs out of business (it mandated a distance of 1000 feet between a club and a school, church, library, park, residence or other sexually oriented business; midnight closing times; and a six-foot distance between dancers and patrons. They were gonna let them keep the liquor licenses, though). While it passed the House, it died in the Senate, then rose again in 2013 to die again in a House committee. Though his immediate response to this nothing story was to basically say “My boss made me go,” at least we know this: Davis voted against a garbage piece of anti-strip club legislation. Currently, he has a slim lead in the polls.
Davis’s campaign also produced an ad featuring a man who, Republicans discovered, had been charged with solicitation and had been suspended from teaching for inappropriate conduct with students; this story failed to gain the same traction, because casting a questionable dude in your campaign ad can apparently happen to anyone. Pennsylvania Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf, is currently far ahead of incumbent Republican governor Tom Corbett in the polls despite the embarrassment of having cast an attorney in one of his ads, unaware he’d previously performed in “torture porn.” It was promptly revealed to be not actual pornography but rather a couple of low-budget horror films.
Wolf’s campaign, then, must have been thrilled to death to uncover the scandalous news that a state-run jobs site that scraped other listings neglected to cull Craigslist adult job ads. They gleefully informed reporters of the ads for exotic dancers and escorts on Job Gateway after PA governor Corbett referenced the site during a debate. Columnist Eric Heyl wrote that “By turning the spotlight on this issue, Wolf undoubtedly has lost the disenfranchised stripper vote,” in an attempt at humor. It’s tiresome to be continually reminded that we exist in politics only as problems or punchlines.
If you’re in Pennsylvania and a Democratic voter and a stripper, you get the fun of voting for a guy whose campaign thought it was a cool idea to act like it was disgraceful for your job to be listed on a state website (they can make the argument that solicitation is a crime, but stripping at a bachelor party remains a legal job). Attempts to reach Fresh Start, the PAC that disseminated the information, weren’t successful. We suspect they don’t even want to give a quote to a site like this, because then that would associate them with sex work, and probably lead the Corbett campaign to spread a story about how Wolf’s campaign spoke to a site whose name can’t be printed in some family newspapers.
Plenty of commenters will respond to these stories with thoughts along the lines of “why is this news?” But precious few candidates will. There’s no capital to be gained from saying “I was in a strip club, a legal business, and I wasn’t doing anything illegal,” or “Jobs for strippers are actual jobs,” let alone taking a stance in favor of decriminalizing prostitution. At the very least, could we get someone to refuse to respond to an adjacency to the sex industry by reacting like they’ve been shocked?
Well, sure, as long as that candidate isn’t running as a member of any party, not even Libertarian or Green. Another gubernatorial candidate was in strip clubs in 1998—organizing for them. Colorado independent Mike Dunafon is married to Debbie Matthews, owner of premiere Denver strip club Shotgun Willie’s. When Glendale, CO, the suburb Shotgun Willie’s is in, tried to ban lapdancing, he organized the Glendale Tea Party and helped get stripper-friendly candidates elected to city council. Now he’s the mayor.
Dunafon’s site bills him as “The Most Interesting Politician In The World!” That’s a bold claim, but take a moment to check out Dunafon’s music video, where he raps along with Wyclef Jean, and tell me he’s not at least innovative in his approach:
As a reward for his nontraditional presentation, Dunafon doesn’t even register in this September Quinnipac poll. And Coloradans who want to vote for a character can stick with incumbent John Hickenlooper, whose quirky image is well-established.
Former strippers themselves have run for governor and won judicial elections in this country. But campaign non-scandals like these remind us that weed became legal in multiple states before a viable candidate said “Sure, I have been near strippers. And there’s nothing wrong with that.” Instead, they respond with something about their poor judgment, negligence, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and distance themselves as much as possible from the scarlet letter.