Politics & Government

Ted Cruz, in Nipomo, discusses gay marriage, Obamacare, religious rights

Presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks in Nipomo on June 22, 2015.
Presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks in Nipomo on June 22, 2015. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

In town for his father-in-law’s 70th birthday, presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said Monday that he supports traditional marriages — but he thinks it’s up to the states to decide whether to allow same-sex unions.

“I believe in the union of one man and one woman,” he told a crowd of 300 at the Edwards Barn in Nipomo. “But I’m also a constitutionalist, and under the constitution, marriage has always been a question for the states.”

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a landmark ruling on same-sex marriage bans, possibly this week.

In April, Cruz proposed legislation that would protect states that want to bar same-sex marriage.

Cruz’s wife, Heidi Cruz, grew up in San Luis Obispo. She and her husband returned to the county to help her father, Peter Nelson, a retired dentist, celebrate his birthday.

But Ted Cruz, a conservative senator from Texas, also used the visit to rally supporters and solicit donations at an event hosted by the Republican Party of San Luis Obispo County.

A Harvard Law School graduate, Cruz attracted much attention in 2013 when the then-freshman senator waged a campaign to defund President Barack Obama's health care program — culminating with a 21-hour speech on the Senate floor.

During his speech Monday, Cruz continued to voice support against the Affordable Care Act, this time as a presidential hopeful.

“We need to repeal every word of Obamacare,” Cruz said.

The health care program, he said, is an example of excessive federal government.

“Under Obamacare alone, there are over 20,000 pages of regulations,” he said.

If elected, Cruz said he would unravel federal government regulations, pursue a flat tax, abolish the IRS and expand religious rights.

“Religious liberty has never been more under assault from government than it is today, and we need a new generation of patriots to stand up and say, ‘We will defend the right of every American to seek out and worship the Lord God almighty with all of our hearts, minds and souls, free of government getting in the way,’ ” he said.

Cruz, a Tea Party favorite, has made special efforts to reach out to evangelical Christians.

Speaking in a relaxed style, with occasional jokes, Cruz’s talk was typical of a candidate’s stump speech — heavy on well-versed talking points and light on specifics.

Cruz’s press representative said there was no time for an interview with The Tribune at Monday’s event. But the former solicitor general of Texas did have time to mingle with supporters before and after his speech.

John Daly, a former county attorney from Atascadero, said he’s seen many politicians speak in person, and Cruz stood out.

“The only one I’ve heard that was that succinct, that precise and that engaging was Ronald Reagan,” Daly said.

Daly agrees with Cruz that Obama should follow the law made by the legislative branch.

“The president is supposed to execute the law,” he said. “He is not supposed to make it up.”

Ellen Sturtz of Los Osos said she thinks Cruz is overplaying the religious persecution aspect, especially given that most Americans claim to be Christian.

“This war on Christians seems really fabricated to rally the base,” she said after the speech.

Sturtz, a lesbian activist who garnered headlines in June 2013 for heckling Michelle Obama at a Democratic Party fundraiser in Washington, D.C. — saying the first lady's husband had not done enough to protect the rights of gay workers — asked Cruz questions about equal rights for women and the LGBT community.

Her rights, she said, are more at risk than Christians’ rights.

“In over 30 states, I can be fired for being a lesbian or perceived to be a lesbian,” she said. “I don’t think people realize that.”

Cruz’s own marriage is now a vital part of the campaign. After he announced his candidacy, his wife went on unpaid leave from her job as managing director at Goldman Sachs to help the campaign.

The two met in 2000, when they were policy aides on the George W. Bush presidential campaign.

Before and after her husband’s speech, Heidi Cruz spoke with an endless throng of supporters as she held their 4-year-old daughter, Catherine.

Heidi Cruz, who now lives in Houston, attended Valley View Adventist Academy in Arroyo Grande and the Monterey Bay Academy, a Seventh Day Adventist-owned boarding school in Monterey, before eventually earning an MBA from Harvard.

“What’s really neat is seeing how elections start in small states and communities,” she told The Tribune. “You almost feel more at home on the campaign trail in towns like San Luis Obispo than in cities like New York City or Houston.”

Her mother, Suzanne Nelson, said her daughter and son-in-law stayed at a family friend’s vacation home in Avila Beach, Ted Cruz having arrived Saturday.

The couple attended a birthday party for Peter Nelson and a local fundraiser for Haiti, where Heidi Cruz’s brother, Scott, began raising money for the wounded poor after a 2010 earthquake.

Suzanne Nelson, who helped watch her granddaughters during Ted Cruz’s speech, said she and husband Peter are not normally very public people — though several people approached her after the senator spoke.

If Cruz gets elected, she said, she and her husband don’t expect to live an extravagant life in the White House.

“I said, ‘I’ll be the maid, and he can be the gardener,' ” Nelson joked. “That’s what we like to do.”

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