Free Speech, Crop Insurance and Homophobia

Article excerpt

One hates to discourage Sen. Jesse Helms when he says he's on the side of free speech. Unfortunately, the free speech that the North Carolina Republican is currently defending with his legislative guile is gay bashing by an Agriculture Department official whose job it was to stop gay bashing.

Mr. Helms is employing his patented obstructionist tactics to win the reinstatement of Karl Mertz to his old job as equal employment opportunity manager in Athens, Ga. Mr. Mertz was transferred after criticizing the agency's policy toward gays.

First, Mr. Helms put a "hold" on the confirmation of two low-level appointees to the Agriculture Department. Now, he is blocking passage of an important bill to reform the federal government's program for compensating farmers for crop losses after natural disasters. Nearly everyone associated with the crop insurance and disaster programs agrees they need reform. The stalled bill is designed to address situations like that in St. Charles County, where only 1 percent of farmers had crop insurance before the Flood of '93. The insurance was expensive and the farmers relied instead on free disaster aid. Mr. Helms himself supports the reform bill. But first he wants his way on Mr. Mertz.

Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy explained Mr. …