Tonight, I’m taking a red-eye flight to Maine -- arriving in Portland tomorrow. I’ll be there for 10 days, volunteering for the “No on 1” campaign to protect marriage equality. And I'm bringing my laptop with me, so readers will get my daily dispatches. As a Californian, the fight against Question 1 is personal. Gays and lesbians last year had their rights snatched away, and it can never happen again. Proposition 8 was eminently beatable, but our side ran a bad campaign. The right has long argued that every time “the people” get to vote on same-sex marriage, it loses. It is time to deliver them – and their consultant, Frank Schubert (who ran “Yes on 8” and is now running “Yes on 1”) a humiliating defeat, one with national implications. And that’s why we’re helping to send volunteers from across the country over the next 32 days.
Why Does Maine Matter?
Ever since the Republican Party pegged gay marriage as a “wedge issue” in the 1990’s, we have seen it on the ballot in virtually ever state that has an initiative process. And while public opinion is gradually shifting in favor of marriage equality, no state has affirmed it at the polls. Arizona defeated an anti-gay marriage amendment in 2006, but the proposed measure also repealed domestic partnerships – which was decisive in the outcome. Two years later, Arizona passed an amendment that only banned same-sex marriage.
But none of these defeats were more devastating than California – because gay couples never had the right to marry in other states that passed amendments. Prop 8 was the only time this fundamental right was taken away from us (after having first been recognized.) Now that Maine has granted marriage equality through its Governor and state legislature, we run the risk of a Prop 8 redux. In the past year, same-sex couples have won the right in four more states – Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine – and now the right is hell-bent on stalling our momentum on the anniversary of Prop 8.
Frank Schubert, a California consultant who ran the “Yes on 8” campaign, has been hired to run the Maine campaign to repeal gay marriage. Earlier this year, Schubert won an award by the American Association of Political Consultants for running what was (regardless of your political views) a brilliant campaign. It appears he is cultivating a national reputation in conservative circles as the man to hire to stop marriage equality. Anyone offended at what happened last year should be determined to make him fail.
What are the Odds of Winning in Maine?
On the surface, outsiders may assume that Maine is “pro-gay” – given the trend of New England states approving marriage equality (only Rhode Island has yet to do so.) But Maine is more rural and working-class than its neighbors, and northern Maine is often called the “Deep South of the Northeast.” The state is not liberal or conservative, but relishes its independent “maverick” streak – which makes its politics unpredictable.
Yesterday, Nate Silver (who I trust more than anyone else when it comes to polling data) predicted Question 1 should lose by five points. He based this on general demographic trends in Maine, national opinion trends on gay marriage – and calculated that in “off-year” elections, young voters are more likely to stay home. His analysis is good, but he didn’t consider what else is on the ballot to drive turnout. Besides Question 1, there will be a slew of right-wing tax measures (bad) and medical marijuana (good.)
Polls on Question 1 have been all over the map. A Daily Kos poll last week had the forces of bigotry winning by two points, but a Democracy Corps poll this week had us ahead by nine points. The Daily Kos poll queried “likely voters” – whereas Democracy Corps asked registered voters. In other words, we’re only going to win by nine points if every Mainer votes – an unlikely prospect given that it’s an off-year. We cannot be complacent (Prop 8 at one point was 17 points down), and the result will hinge on the ground game.
Volunteer Vacation Plans Going Well
The “No on 1” campaign has been pushing supporters – whether they live in Maine, or out-of-state – to take an October “vacation” to help the field team. A lot of Californians still upset at Prop 8 would gladly go to Maine for at least a week – if only they knew about it, and had the means (or assistance) to go. By working with experienced pros from the Obama campaign, we have launched “Travel for Change Maine” for this effort. On our website, you can (a) donate airline miles to get someone a plane ticket, (b) donate money for other expenses or (c) sign up to go.
I’m now convinced that recessions are the best time to get good campaign volunteers. A lot of our skilled and enthusiastic people coming are unemployed, so have time – but not money. Donated airline miles have been a great way to get them to Maine. We’ve also helped volunteers set up their personal online fundraising page – asking their friends and family to pitch in. One volunteer planned to go to Maine for a week, but raised so much that they’re now coming for two weeks. You can see the results here, and donate to a volunteer who has yet to meet their goal.
Pretty soon, we will also be setting up a “Drive for Equality” program on our website – where East Coast volunteers taking weekend trips to Maine for the campaign can carpool with other supporters. Obama campaigners from California used the same software last year to send people to Nevada, and with enough exposure can have a viral effect. Rather than keep organizers busy arranging hundreds of carpools, volunteers can find themselves on the page – and “pair up” with another person going to Maine that same weekend.
Next week is the first week of “Volunteer Vacation,” and I’m excited to report that two dozen people are coming to Maine from across the country – all who committed to work full-time for at least a week. These volunteers will be crucial, because Maine has a very liberal “early absentee” voting law. Early voting has in fact already started – and these volunteers will help the campaign bank as many “No on 1” votes early, making it easier to focus later in the month on those who haven’t voted yet.
Can’t go to Maine? Help out a satellite phone-bank in your area. Last year, the Obama campaign made more volunteer phone calls from California to the swing states than any other part of the country. We hope to help replicate that effort this year, with volunteers ready to get involved. In San Francisco, the Courage Campaign, Equality California and the local Democratic Party are organizing phone-banks to defeat Question 1. Join one this weekend.
How are Maine Voters Going to React?
I’ve been asked if bringing out-of-staters to Maine will be counter-productive. Not if last year’s experience with Obama volunteers is any indication. The campaign sent over 7,000 Northern Californians to the “swing states” – and only three of them reported any backlash they received from locals. If anything, said Jay Jonah Cash – who led the effort last year and now directs Travel for Change Maine – voters “really respected others who took time off to fly across the continent because they believe in something.”
One Texas volunteer who’s already out knocking on doors in Bangor has reported a friendly reception from Maine residents – despite having an obvious Southern accent. “Mainers are what all Americans should be,” she wrote. As Californians, I believe we can bring an important perspective to Maine voters – because we saw the same scare tactics that are now being used. We are ashamed of Prop 8, and don’t want Mainers to fall for it too.
And if the opposition wants to call us “outsiders,” they’re opening a can of worms. Their campaign manager, Frank Schubert, is a Californian who ran the Prop 8 campaign – and their ads are filmed in San Francisco. More than half ($160,000) of their initial filing reports came from one source – the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a New Jersey-based group.
Who is NOM? I had the pleasure of debating their Executive Director on CNN once – which was fun. But the problem is no one knows who they are, because they are not registered as a PAC with the Maine Ethics Commission – where we could see who their donors are. Yesterday, the Commission voted to investigate NOM to see if they violated any of Maine’s campaign finance laws.
Some speculate that NOM is a front for the Mormon Church – who donated $20 million last year to the Prop 8 campaign. In Maine, the Catholic Church is – despite its share of problems – heavily involved in the “Yes on 1” campaign. But the Mormons have generally stayed out this time, at least not publicly. After taking a lot of heat for their heavy-handed role in California last year, are the Mormons hiding behind this new group to influence Maine?
While NOM is under investigation, Travel for Change, is a registered PAC with the Maine Ethics Commission. All of our finances are public record, and will be reported. We may be helping out-of-state volunteers get to Maine to assist the campaign, but no one can accuse us of trying to hide anything.
Paul Hogarth is the Managing Editor of Beyond Chron, San Francisco's Alternative Online Daily, where this piece was first published.