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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
January 14, 2005

The lessons of Issue 1

Ohio needs better statewide preparation for the
next ballot issue, leaders say

If Ohio faces another anti-gay ballot measure, the campaign against it must be different from the one mounted to oppose Issue 1 last year. This is the assessment of many leaders of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, who also warn that the possibility of a new ballot issue is real.

Ohio could face another anti-marriage constitutional amendment if the one passed November 2 is struck down under the federal constitution and its backers put a replacement before voters.

The state�s GLBT community needs better organization to prepare for this.

David Fleischer, organizing and training director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, says that Ohio is among several states where the possibility of a new amendment exists within the next four years.

Attorney Tim Downing of Cleveland, who was instrumental in organizing the Ohioans Protecting the Constitution campaign against Issue 1, agrees.

Downing says the amendment�s second sentence, barring anything that �intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage,� is vague and probably violates the federal constitution�s equal protection guarantee. He also believes that it violates another Ohio constitutional provision known as the �one subject rule� that requires amendments to be limited to only one subject.

�The first sentence [of the amendment] is about marriage,� said Downing. �The second sentence is not about marriage. It is about something else.�

�They should have proposed two amendments,� said Downing, �One of only the first sentence, the other only the second sentence. Had they done that, the first-sentence one would have passed with the same numbers that Issue 1 passed, and the second sentence would have failed.�

Organizing the GLBT community would also create the opportunity for an initiative to repeal the amendment, which several groups around the state say they are preparing to do. State constitutional amendments can only be passed or repealed by voters.

Ohioans Protecting the Constitution was formed by members of the board of its parent group, Ohioans for Growth and Equality, which itself formed in November 2002 to lobby against a so-called �defense of marriage� law before the state legislature. That measure passed.

Downing chaired OGE until OPC had been organized, then stepped down. He was replaced by Chad Foust, who also chaired the OPC campaign committee.

Foust would not name members of the committee, saying only that they were �a lot of different leaders from across the state� which he said included political and religious leaders.

Among committee members were its treasurer Lynn Greer of Columbus, Rev. Grayson Atha of Columbus, Democratic Party activist Pat Logston of Columbus, Log Cabin Republicans national board chair Bill Brownson of Columbus, Gary Wright who co-chaired the Article 12 repeal campaign in Cincinnati and David Caldwell of Cleveland Heights, who led the campaign to create that city�s domestic partner registry.

Wright and Caldwell had limited involvement with the committee once campaign manager Alan Melamed was hired in May. Wright said he needed to spend his time on the Cincinnati campaign.

Foust said the committee had only an �advisory role� and not involved in the day-to-day operation of the campaign. That was left to Melamed.

The process to put together a campaign, which was headed by Downing, had participation from the Human Rights Campaign and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, both of which have experience fighting state ballot initiatives.

To field or not to field

The first signal of the direction the campaign would take came in May when the committee hired Melamed to manage the campaign and Ian James as political director. Both were part of James� consulting firm, the Strategy Network.

There were two favorite candidates in the final cut for the job: the Strategy Network as a unit and Mari Engelhardt, who was the national LGBT coordinator of Dennis Kucinich�s presidential campaign.

Engelhardt proposed setting up a campaign where more of the resources would have gone into volunteers in neighborhoods and high-traffic areas to engage voters on the issue.

Strategy Network�s�s proposal had little of this �field� element, and was mostly dependent on raising enough money to buy TV advertising time.

According to Caldwell, who was part of the process, the NGLTF and HRC participants joined him in support of Engelhardt, while Logston and most of the OGE participants backed TSN, except Mary Jo Hudson of Columbus, who wanted both.

The decision was a tie with 4� votes each.

That led Hudson to offer a compromise that was eventually accepted--that Melamed would be the campaign manager, James its political director, and Engelhardt its field director.

But they were not equal in that Engelhardt would work for James� firm. Engelhardt was eventually fired by the Stragey Network for reasons that remain unclear, other than campaign finance reports show the campaign had no money around that time.

This left no field operation for the duration of the campaign. Potential volunteers became frustrated when the campaign didn�t respond to requests for something to do. Some of them called and e-mailed the Gay People�s Chronicle to complain.

Law student Chris Geidner in Columbus began blogging, �Where is organized opposition to Issue 1?�

NGLTF, concerned that OPC�s message avoided mention of the word �gay,� and focused on the amendment hurting business, lost confidence in the ohio campaign and chose not to put resources into it.

�What is left with enduring value?� said Fleischer. �Is there a list of thousands of donors, a base of volunteers? How many votes did the campaign change?�

�This campaign cost the community a lot of money,� Fleischer added. �What do you have to show for it? Is anything really changed in Ohio?�

An OGE member involved in the hiring process, who asked not to be identified, said Fleischer and NGLTF were �offensive� and turned people off, especially when they gave OGE the ultimatum of no support unless the campaign was run their way.

�But in retrospect, they were right, and we should have listened,� the OGE member conceded.

Money, money, money

NGLTF was also concerned that the Strategy Network�s proposed campaign did not have an adequate fundraising plan.

James talked openly about expecting to raise $4 million, mostly from the corporate communityn. Asked over the summer why corporations would want to put that much money into defeating Issue 1, James responded, �Because it�s bad for business.�

In the end, the campaign raised less than $1 million, with only about $30,000 coming from corporations outside LGBT advocacy groups.

Downing said that is somewhat misleading because some of the individual contributions resulted from corporate contacts.

He added that the campaign had more problems raising money within the LGBT community.

�Our community fell woefully short,� said Downing, �The corporate community kept looking to our community for leadership gifts that did not happen. The closet has a lot to do with that, as does a lack of seriousness among people in our community.�

�We as a community need to grow up,� said Downing. �Money talks and we need to learn how to raise it in big amounts.�

Without money and with no field operation, the campaign had to rely on 15-second television spots among all the political ads already running.

Gay or not gay

�The campaign was a mess,� said John Farina of Lakewood, who was hired briefly to do some of the work Engelhardt started.

�There was poor messaging, no literature, and the commercials were not good,� said Farina, �They should have been more about anti-gay discrimination and that the amendment is gay-bashing.�

The decision to �de-gay� the campaign was made by James and Melamed on the belief that the message that Issue 1 is bad for business and bad for Ohio was the winning message, and that they needed more time and money to get the message out there.

There were polls that suggested that was true, and that voters, especially more conservative ones, reacted negatively to the second sentence of the amendment once they knew about it.

OGE members, whose web site also focuses on business and economic growth instead of anti-gay discrimination, accepted that strategy. Many LGBT activists did not.

In the end, the campaign did not change many votes. Initial polls over the summer showed that 61 percent of voters were likely to vote for Issue 1, and 30 percent were likely to vote against it.

On election day, the measure passed 62-38 percent.

�Ohio needs a real statewide organization,� said Fleischer. �There�s a real disparity between what�s there and what�s needed next time.�

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