By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“What’s loosely referred to as the ‘war room’ is critical,” says Sragow. “But you hit them back quickly and correctly.”
Last fall, the “No on 8” campaign was widely criticized for failing to react quickly and decisively to attack ads. Fred Karger, founder of Californians Against Hate, took up the very basic task of researching the opposition when he realized “no one seemed to be doing it” — a huge, amateurish oversight.
The “No on 8” campaign “went a different way,” Karger says, “showing the loving couples.”
So Karger, a retired political consultant, started looking into the major donors to the “Yes on 8” campaign. “I wanted to make these people accountable,” he says. Karger then created a “dishonor roll” for his Web site and during this process noticed a big influx of cash from people whose names he didn’t recognize. After a little digging and cross-checking, he found that members of the Mormon church were contributing incredible amounts of money to “Yes on 8.” In October, he used his discovery to stir “No on 8” supporters into action. By that time, though, the “No on 8” campaign was back on its heels, and it never fully recovered.
In the end, the job of developing good political ads, knowing where to knock on doors, and coming up with effective opposition research falls on the shoulders of a solid campaign manager. That’s the “hire” that all the gay-rights leaders are obsessing over now.
Discussions range from whether the person should be gay to whether she or he should be familiar with California politics. Once again, many people are concerned that Geoff Kors and Equality California will leverage a guy who ran campaigns in far more predictable and manageable Massachusetts into the position.
Chaz Lowe says, “[Marc Solomon] definitely wants to play a major role in the campaign.”
“Marc came here to run the next campaign,” says Rick Jacobs. “It’s admirable, but we really need the best.”
Solomon talks ambivalently, in public, anyway, about filling that key position. He says he is building an “extremely experienced” team, hiring 25 field organizers and writing plans for a campaign structure and campaign funding. He insists that Equality California — with Solomon working from L.A. and Kors and the rest of the staff in San Francisco — will be “team players” with the other groups. But it seems hard to believe he moved to California only to sit at the table.
Gay-rights activists are not sure what to make of Solomon. Scott Schmidt says Solomon is “still learning about California.” Robin McGehee feels he isn’t qualified for a job that should be held by somebody with extensive experience running ballot campaigns in big, increasingly Latino and not always “liberal” California. Torie Osborn, who worked with David Mixner to defeat the Briggs Initiative and Proposition 64, says Solomon has “none of the skills” to run a California ballot measure. “God bless him,” she adds.
Sragow, though, says anyone hiring a campaign manager for a California ballot initiative faces slim pickings. “There are only a handful of firms in California that handle ballot measures,” he says. While Sragow doesn’t believe it is absolutely necessary for a campaign manager to be based in this state, a choice like Solomon still raises a “red flag.”
“Massachusetts and California have nothing to do with each other politically,” Sragow says. “People in Massachusetts wake up in the morning and talk about politics, but in California no one talks about politics that way. It’s very hard to get people’s attention. The political landscape is filled with consultants who came here from somewhere else and who have failed, and failed miserably.”
Whoever heads up the next gay marriage–rights campaign in California should expect an extremely bumpy ride. “It’s going to be a very difficult campaign,” warns Sragow.
Nearly seven months have passed since Robin McGehee made the speech in front of Fresno City Hall, which incurred the wrath of the Roman Catholic Church. And now, on a hot and humid Saturday afternoon, she stands on a stage, behind a microphone, at that same spot, for “Meet in the Middle.” But this time, 3,000 to 5,000 people have her back.
Ashley Swearengin, the new mayor of Fresno, declined to greet the racially and ethnically mixed, charged-up crowd of teenagers, straights, gays, activists and college students who traveled there not only from all of California’s key cities but also from New York, Cincinnati and Buffalo. Despite the snub, McGehee, who’s known as the “gay mayor of Fresno,” smiles at everyone.
“If you look at that banner,” she says, pointing at a huge rainbow flag, “that’s how you win in 2010.”