Queer Town: Are Gay Pundits Hurting the Gay Marriage Movement?

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Fri, Dec 4, 2009 at 9:00 AM

Over the past few days, gay pundits such as blogger Michael Petrelis and Bay Area Reporter news editor Cynthia Laird have been hammering Courage Campaign's Rick Jacobs for refusing to publicly release polling data for a pro-gay marriage ballot measure, with popular blogger Andy Towle writing that such a look-see is not an "unreasonable request." The lingering controversy, though, seems just a tad bizarre, to put it mildly.

We can't believe we're going to defend the withholding of information to the media -- it goes against every single grain and instinct of this journalist's body -- but this is one case where it makes a lot of sense.

click to enlarge Prop. 8 protestor at Los Angeles Mormon Temple in November, 2008. - PATRICK RANGE MCDONALD
  • Patrick Range McDonald
  • Prop. 8 protestor at Los Angeles Mormon Temple in November, 2008.

A little background...

Los Angeles-based Courage Campaign has emerged as the leading grassroots organization looking to overturn Proposition 8, the successful ballot measure that took away the existing right of gays and lesbians to legally marry in California.

Since Courage Campaign is now in a leadership position, Petrelis and crew want to keep close tabs on them, and for good reason. During the failed "No on 8" campaign, no one outside (and possibly even inside) of that campaign knew who was really calling the shots and how the public's money was being spent.

"No on 8" leaders such as Equality California's Geoff Kors and Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center's Lori Jean didn't make things any better after the loss.

Rather than taking responsibility for a devastating failure that we're still feeling today, Kors and Jean pointed fingers at the gay community, saying we were, at times, too complacent ... even though Kors and Jean took vacations during that campaign.

The upshot?

People are still angry about how Proposition 8 was handled, they've vowed it will never happen that way again, and they're suspicious of any and all leadership, which is totally understandable.

Yet it still doesn't dismiss the fact that Petrelis and gang are wildly off base, and their demands, if ever met, could harm the pro-gay marriage movement in California and across the country. In fact, we wouldn't expect Geoff Kors to share all of Equality California's campaign research with the media for a pro-gay marriage ballot measure.

But in the name of "transparency," Petrelis and assorted critics want Jacobs to turn over important polling data to news media outlets. Sounds swell at first, but if Jacobs did reveal his information, anti-gay marriage forces would be howling with joy -- it would make their jobs that much easier.

Don't take our word for it.

Queer Town read the various posts taking Jacobs to task, wondered if our instincts were completely wrong, and sought advice from a highly respected Democratic political consultant based in L.A., Darry Sragow. He's completely independent from Courage Campaign, Equality California, and the rest.

Sragow, who's a very busy man, got back to us immediately -- he was clearly shocked to hear that anyone in the pro-gay marriage camp would want to publicly release polling data.

Here's the political consultant's response in full, with no editing:

"Political campaigns use polls primarily to inform their decisions on what they say and to whom they say it," Sragow writes in an email. "For example, the arguments for and against a gay marriage initiative would in all likelihood be different for younger voters versus older voters, for Democrats versus Republicans, for Anglos versus African Americans versus Latinos versus various Asian American groups. A campaign needs to understand those differences. Polls are also used to test the appeal of your opponent's messages.
"For all these reasons, professionally run campaigns never ever release their polls, and there is certainly no legal requirement that they do anything like that. Polling information is worth its weight in gold and is closely guarded.
"Now, sometimes campaigns will release polling numbers for specific public purposes -- to motivate their base, to scare their opponents, to generate news coverage aimed at persuading undecided voters.  But those numbers are almost always carefully selected bits and pieces excerpted from more comprehensive questionnaires."

Transparency concerning many things is extremely important, and holding gay rights leaders accountable is absolutely necessary. But demanding that important campaign information should be open for public scrutiny is not only politically naive, it's just downright reckless.

Let's put it this way. Say you're running for office. Would you want your campaign manager handing over your polling information to the national press, where your rival could get a good look at it? 

Most probably not.

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.

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