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    January 14, 2007

    HRC gets Dem-jacked

    Posted by: Chris

    Solmonesejoe_1 The answer arrived this weekend for anyone still wondering whether the Human Rights Campaign would maintain any semblance of nonpartisanship under Democratic operative-turned gay rights activist Joe Solmenese. This comes from a fawning profile in Saturday's Boston Globe about HRC's role in the election campaign last fall:

    Playing down its support for gay marriage, the HRC mobilized its 650,000 members to staff phone banks, raise money, and participate in get-out-the-vote campaigns to elect candidates sympathetic to gay issues, even if they didn't support gay marriage. The group was the single biggest donor to Democratic state Senate races in New Hampshire, helping the party take control of both chambers of the Legislature for the first time since 1874.

    The group also helped congressional candidates from Arizona to Florida and Ohio, and party activists believe the organization can play an even larger role in the 2008 elections. The idea, leaders say, is to become a steady source of funds and grass-roots support for Democrats — more akin to a labor union than a single-issue activist group.

    I can certainly understanding the decision not to adopt some sort of "suicide" strategy on marriage, refusing HRC support to all but the few candidates willing to back marriage equality.  But HRC's new commitment to partisan politics goes far beyond that bit of political realism.

    (An editor's aside: "Bipartisan" is among the most misused words in politics.  Legislation gets called "bipartisan" if it has even one sponsor from "the other party," which is indicative of nothing more than a single party rebel. Even more often bipartisan, which means "marked by cooperation between two major political parties," gets used when really what is meant is nonpartisan, which means free from party affiliation or bias. HRC has long claimed to be "bipartisan," though you have to click to the jump page of its mission statement to find the word now. In fact, HRC aspires to be nonpartisan, or at least it used to.)

    How has the hijacking of HRC by Democrats worked out so far? For one, HRC took money out of the fight against ballot initiatives to ban gay marriage, even when they would amend state constitutions.  "Solmonese said the group decided after the losses of 2004 that they could be more effective by focusing on candidates instead of ballot initiatives," the Globe reported. 

    So instead, HRC sank money and support in favor of Democratic Party priorities, like winning a majority in the New Hampshire state Senate.  In fact, the Globe reports, HRC was the single largest donor on New Hampshire state Senate races. How exactly does that move gay Americans closer to equality?

    The effect of the new HRC strategy is to put all the gay movement's marbles in the Democratic Party basket, even though from Bill Clinton and John Kerry on down, the party has almost never taken a political risk for its gay constituents. The Globe story compares the new HRC strategy as akin to that of labor unions.  We can all see how powerful they aren't, after sinking themselves into a one-party, no message strategy.

    Ricksantorum What's worse, HRC support for Democrats, especially in the most contested congressional races, often went to beat moderate and even pro-gay Republicans. They weren't targeted as such, but moderate Republicans are by and large from mixed, closely contested districts. So while you'll hear all sorts of gloating about the defeat of Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Democrat successes in most places came at the expense of GOP incumbents like Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, another Pennsylvania Republican. Log Cabin endorsed Fitzpatrick, but HRC dumped him for Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy.

    It's too soon to know whether HRC's blind faith in Democrats will bear fruit, or whether Solmonese will muster the courage to criticize his fellow travelers if they follow previous patterns.  Color me skeptical.  Solmonese came to HRC from Emily's List, a women's rights group that chose to officially align itself with the Democratic Party; clearly, Solmonese envisions something similar for the nation's richest gay rights group. 

    People like Solmonese so committed to partisanship will forgive all sorts of abuses from the party under the guise of buying into the bigger picture.  They will invariably accept excuse after excuse why now isn't the time for Democrats to expend political capital on the civil rights of gay people.

    The HRC "Massachusetts mafia" that hired Solmonese wanted a political operative, not an inspirational leader; and unfortunately, that's what they got. Anyone who's heard Solmonese  speak, or listened to his satellite radio show, knows that his focus is all on the horse race.  He must snooze his way through news articles about civil rights until he can get to the "good stuff" — who's up, who's down, raw politics.  There's no harm in that, per se, but you hire that person to direct your political operations, not lead the whole organization, much less a movement.

    "What makes you political powerful is money and membership," the Globe quotes Solmonese as saying.  Notice that missing from that poli-sci lesson is anything about the message.  In the Solmonese playbook, having a meaningful message just doesn't count. (Neither does Solmonese's claim about membership, since he admitted last year that HRC cooks the numbers, counting as "members" anyone who's ever given even a single dollar to the organization.)

    Hrc_logo The Solmonese partisan allegiance, along with his disregard for winning hearts and minds — as opposed to just votes — is what's really behind his decision to divert money from the ballot measures to backing Democrats. The mixed results from November — which included several close calls and a win in Arizona — prove these ballot measures are, in fact, winnable. And losing has a serious cost, given the difficulty of re-amending a state constitution to once again permit marriage (and in many cases, even civil unions).

    But those aren't the biggest costs to the movement from Solmonese's failure to keep his eyes on the prize, as Martin Luther King, Jr., used to say.  (Can anyone imagine the Civil Rights Movement putting the likes of Solmonese at its helm, much less suborning the dream of equality to one political party?)  Unlike the countless, faceless races in which HRC spent gay rights money on somewhat-pro-gay Democrats, these ballot initiatives are about "our issues."  They represent an important opportunity to engage the public on marriage, something our leaders always say we need to do more of but never seem to get around to doing.

    In fact, HRC has wasted lots of money fighting marriage ballot measures, usually on ads that don't even advocate for marriage but instead invoke bland rhetoric about "not writing discrimination into the constitution" or making the argument that marriage is already banned by legislation. It's the kind of message that tests well with focus groups but (a) doesn't win elections and (b) does nothing to engage on the issue itself, reaching "the mushy middle" that is sympathetic to gay people but hasn't gotten over "the M word."

    Rather than see the money was wasted because it didn't go toward the message, Solmonese has instead diverted crucial funds even further from the actual battleground. That's because the HRC of Joe Solmonese has given up reaching those people, and instead chosen the lobbyist end-run: giving money through the back door to buy politicians who it's hoped will show leadership. It's a big gamble and one that shows little faith in the power of the message.  And it's certainly no way to run a movement.

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    1. HRC Politico Drama! from Queerty on Jan 15, 2007 4:02:22 PM

      Love em' or hate 'em, Human Rights Campaign proves to be one of the most powerful forces in gay politics today. Moving away from the inflammatory gay marriage issue, the Joe Solmonese-led group helped raise massive amounts of dough... [Read More]

    Comments

    1. Robbie on Jan 15, 2007 8:51:07 AM:

      Infuriating. The marginalization of the gay rights movement continues.

      What does Solmonese have to say to gay families living in solidly Republican states?

      Nothing. And that's the entire problem.

    1. KJ on Jan 15, 2007 12:39:17 PM:

      All right, Chris. What is it about Brazil that makes the viewing of US political nonsense so very, very clear?

    1. Tim on Jan 15, 2007 6:29:35 PM:

      this is the same problem I've had with any stupid gay novice that saw the democratic party as the key to winning the cultural battle. all you do is tie their horse to them and hope that for once they actually pass something other than bland feel good legislation that helps no one. I fear it's too late to think that gay rights will advance any time in the near future, enjoy your time in Brazil cause little is going to change here except for the continuing ghettoizing of gays. LOL maybe they can sign up for welfare stamps.

    1. Bloggernista on Jan 15, 2007 8:19:53 PM:

      Chris, its not unexpected to see your hatred of HRC continue after you (thank God) left the Washington Blade. At some you should find a new shtick.

      Under Joe Solmonese, HRC has taken is PAC activities to a whole new level and is setting the stage for critical advances in LGBT equality. For example, the investment in state legislative races in New Hampshire will make it easier to pass legislation granting rights and benefits to same-sex couples. But then, I am sure that you already know that. You just can't help being a bitter, bitter queen

    1. Joseph Kowalski on Jan 15, 2007 9:07:20 PM:

      There isn't a single gay rights organization out there which is going to operate to the satisfaction of every gay person.

      All that really matters is that the organization has a plan to advance gay rights.

      For the Log Cabin Republicans, their plan is to try and gain acceptance within the Republican party. For HRC under Joe Solmonese, the plan is to build state legislatures which will support gay rights. Since the agenda of the legislatures are set by the party in power, the Democrats are our best bet to gain legislative control of our issues.

      Neither of these plans are going to work 100% of the time but both are needed if we are to achieve equality in the near future.

      Everyone should realize by now that there are no guarantees with any politician regarding gay rights.

      Personally, I have some problems with the operation of both of these organizations, but for all of our sakes, I wish them and every other organization working to advance gay rights complete success.

      But I do agree with you that HRC should drop any reference to being bipartisan.

    1. Cecile on Jan 16, 2007 2:47:09 PM:

      Can someone explain their support of Joe Lieberman?

    1. marc paige on Jan 17, 2007 12:28:22 AM:

      Still up to your old tricks, eh Chris. Trying to convince us Republicans really aren't so bad for gay Americans, even as their zero regard for gay families finds you writing your column in Brazilian exile. By the way, HRC stupidly endorsed Chaffee of RI, a nice guy and one of the only gay supportive Republicans. But had HRC had its way and Chaffee won, Mitch McConnell and Trent Lott would be our Senate Leaders, instead of Carl Levin and Dick Durbin.
      But you keep trying to convince us that those 95% of GOPers whose political values punish gays really don't mean it.

    1. raj on Jan 17, 2007 3:49:22 PM:

      Cecile | January 16, 2007 at 02:47 PM

      Can someone explain their support of Joe Lieberman?

      I never supported Lieberman, but I can give you two reasons why he might have been re-elected.

      Why did so many people from Connecticut support him? That's fairly easy. Connecticut is heavily invested in the "defense" industry. It is headquarters of United Technologiies, which includes what used to be called (and may still be called) Sikorsky helicopters, Pratt & Whitney aircraft engines, and so forth. The New London area is home to a submarine base, and Electric Boat. Connecticut depends heavily on the war-mongering industry.

      Lieberman also supported the insurance industry scam. The insurance industry is also a major employer in Connecticut, but that's a side issue. The important issue was the dependence of the state on the "defense" industry.

      The more interesting issue is why the national Democratic party did not support Lamont, the party's nominee. That should be evident, but I doubt that it is. The national Democratic party does not really exist to get Democrats elected, it exists to get incumbents who might be friendly to Democrats re-elected. LIEberman promised to caucus with the Democrats, allowing them to attain control of the Senate, so the national Democrat money people supported him. They would have done so regardless of whether or not the national Democrats needed LIEberman's vote. And that's because the national Democrats could not reward an intra-party insurgent. And why not? Because any of the national Democrats might be subject to an intra-party primary challenge, which might threaten their position in congress.

      The national Democrats aren't interested in the party: they are only interested in their positions in congress. And that's the long and the short of it.

    1. raj on Jan 17, 2007 4:11:19 PM:

      On the subject of the post, let's understand something. Crain is doing something that I have noticed on more than a few gay "Mighty Righty" web sites: they are complaining about the policies of self-described gay organizations, that they tend to support Democrats. I have asked on more than a few why those who are complaining do not start up organizations that are more to their liking, and have never gotten a response.

      So, Mr. Crain, why do you not start up an organization that is more to your liking?

      As far as I can tell, the gay Mighty Righties merely want to complain. I don't know how I can put it more simply. They just want to bitch and moan.

    1. Alan on Jan 17, 2007 4:14:43 PM:

      Raj:

      A) I think Cecile was asking about HRC's support of Joe Lieberman.

      B) Joe Lieberman was elected as an Independent - primarily with the votes of Republicans who did not, just as their national party didn't, support their own party's candidate. Your analysis of why Lieberman was re-elected may be correct but it was engineered by Republicans, especially Joe's kissing cousin George W. Bush, and not by Democrats.

    1. raj on Jan 17, 2007 4:29:27 PM:

      Alan | January 17, 2007 at 04:14 PM

      I'm sure that Cecile can explain what she meant by the ambiguous "their," but, as far as HRC is concerned, why they would support LIEberman--if they did, which I don't know--is probably the same reason that they gave for supporting Al d'Amato in the 1990s. Regardless of party--and this tends to go against Crain's thesis that HRC is of necessity beholden to the Democratic party--they will support an incumbent who meets their "gay rights" support criteria over a challenger. That part was simple.

      As to your second point, it is the case that the CT state Republican party threw their support towards LIEberman, as you have stated, but it is also the case that the national Democratic party took a "hands off" policy with respect to Lamont, probably largely for the reasons that I outlined. The national Democratic party is an incumbent protection racket. The national Republican party probably is, too.

    1. Will on Jan 17, 2007 5:56:02 PM:

      "..from Bill Clinton and John Kerry on down, the party has almost never taken a political risk for its gay constituents.?"
      You know darn well that Bill Clinton tried to lift the ban on gays in the military and the result was Don't Ask Don't Tell.

      Your arguments are weak and without any real facts. This is my first and last trip to your blog.

    1. Citizen Crain on Jan 17, 2007 6:40:29 PM:

      Bill Clinton didn't lift a finger to lift the ban. Ask any gay movement leader who was around in 1993. He was horrified when the issue got raised (and not by him) and never once attempted to rally support or expend political capital. There's a reason why David Mixner, his close friend and ally, got himself arrested protesting in front of the White House.

      And "raj," I did start a gay organization. Check out my bio. How about you? If you haven't started your own blog, does that make your criticism of me simply "bitching and moaning"? ;)

    1. raj on Jan 17, 2007 7:21:57 PM:

      C-Squared | January 17, 2007 at 06:40 PM

      Bill Clinton didn't lift a finger to lift the ban. Ask any gay movement leader who was around in 1993.

      This is true, as anyone who read Andy Sullivan's Oct. 1998 Advocate article "Sex, Lies and Us" should know. (Sullivant went downhill after that, but that's another issue.) A copy of that article was on the Log Cabin Republican website for a long time, but it was taken down, for a reason that escapes me.

      And "raj," I did start a gay organization. Check out my bio.

      Your bio being what? Clicking on your name at the bottom of the comment goes nowhere. I suppose that "C-Squared" is supposed to mean something to someone, but it doesn't mean anything to me.

      How about you? If you haven't started your own blog, does that make your criticism of me simply "bitching and moaning"? ;)

      Sorry, I don't know who or what you are. But, query, what does "starting a blog" have to do with bitching and moaning about existing organizations (not blogs, organizations) that market themselves as supporting equal rights for gay people? And why should I start yet another blog or gay organization? We here in New England have more than a few organizations that satisfy my needs. Why should I start yet another? Out of vanity?

      BTW, if you really have started what you describe as a "gay organization," you really do need to learn a bit about marketing. If you knew anything about marketing, you would have provided a link to a web site for your organization. That you didn't suggests to me that you really aren't particularly serious.

    1. raj on Jan 17, 2007 7:23:01 PM:

      Oh, the proprietor doesn't allow for html tags here. Schade.

    1. Citizen Crain on Jan 17, 2007 8:01:09 PM:

      Errr… I would be the "proprietor" of this here blog. "C-Squared"? "Citizen Crain"? "Chris Crain"? Anyone, anyone… Bueller?

      So by "check out my bio" I meant click the "about" link. I was responding tongue-in-cheek to the silly suggestion that it's somehow not legitimate to criticize an organization unless you've started your own. Why wouldn't the same principle apply to criticizing blogs? Even easier to start a blog than an organization…

    1. Alan on Jan 17, 2007 9:31:43 PM:

      Don't feel bad raj or Chris. I was a regular reader more than a month before I figured out C-Squared was Chris - and I am amongst the sharpest tools in the toolbox.

    1. Alan on Jan 17, 2007 9:56:22 PM:

      Raj - the entire point of being elected is being re-elected which is why Congress (and the President as well)spends more time fundraising than legislating. This is the cardinal rule of politics regardless of party affiliation. Voting districts are gerrymandered to help incumbents or, if they are from the party not in power, to make it easier to beat the incumbent. That is why many states have institued term limits. Otherwise you wind up with 79 year old bigots like Frank D. HArgrove in the Virginia legislature for over 20 years who face no competition for re-election.

    1. raj on Jan 18, 2007 9:52:38 AM:

      C-Squared | January 17, 2007 at 08:01 PM

      Errr… I would be the "proprietor" of this here blog. "C-Squared"? "Citizen Crain"? "Chris Crain"? Anyone, anyone… Bueller?

      That's nice. Some of us use consistent aliasing, which reduces likelihood of confusion in commenting within and among blogs.

      So by "check out my bio" I meant click the "about" link.

      Oh, you were one of the founders of Window Media. I'll avoid any catty remarks regarding Window Media (except to note that the Bitch Session feature on their web sites was one of the more entertaining aspects of the publications), but I suspect that more than a few people would appreciate the fact that there is something of a substantive difference between

      (i) an organization like Window Media, which exists to sell gay peoples' eyeballs to advertisers, and, not coincidentally, to provide excellent remuneration for its executives, and

      (ii) an organization such as HRC, which purports to exist to further equal civil rights for gay people by supporting politicians who might help them accomplish that goal, and which also apparently provides excellent remuneration for its executives.

      It is to organizations described in (ii) that was under discussion: you were complaining about HRC and its tactics. So, returning to the point I made yesterday (raj | January 17, 2007 at 04:11 PM), Mr. Crain, why do you not start up an organization (along the lines described in (ii)) that is more to your liking? As far as I can tell, you just want to bitch and moan.

      Just to note, I don't have any objection to organizations that provide excellent remuneration for their executives--as long as I am not taxed for and therefore required to contribute to that remuneration, of course.

    1. raj on Jan 18, 2007 9:54:50 AM:

      Alan | January 17, 2007 at 09:56 PM

      What you posted was correct, but it was also beside the point that I was making regarding the lack of national Democratic party support for Lamont after he had won the Connecticut state primary.

    1. Citizen Crain on Jan 18, 2007 10:57:03 AM:

      I'm sorry, raj. I don't say this very often, but you really don't know what you're talking about. If you actually think William Waybourn and I started Window Media to "sell gay peoples' eyeballs to advertisers and, not coincidentally, to provide excellent renumeration for its executives," then you don't know anything about either one of us or our company.

      I was a lawyer at a large Atlanta firm and took a 50% paycut — no violins, just facts. Our motive was to raise the bar on the quality of the gay press and, when we purchased the Washington Blade five years later, to further improve our other publications by sharing that paper's considerable resources.

      The reason we wanted to improve the gay press? Because we both believe that the most powerful weapon for equality isn't money, as Joe Solmonese said, but an informed gay citizenry. If gay people know more about what's happening, including what our own organizations are doing, they are more likely to get involved and make smart choices in doing so.

      As for renumeration, if you ever get to D.C., you really should visit the offices of the Washington Blade and then visit the HRC building (or, for that matter, even the Thomas Circle offices of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force). The "non-profit" and "for-profit" are completely reversed from what you would expect.

      An absolutely enormous amount of money (donated by gay people, rather than spent by mostly straight advertisers) has been wasted on high-high-end office space nicer than at the large D.C. law firm where I worked in the early '90s.

      It pains me to think all that could have been accomplished with all those wasted resources.

    1. raj on Jan 18, 2007 12:08:28 PM:

      C-Squared | January 18, 2007 at 10:57 AM

      Mr. Crain, let's understand something. If you're only 40 years old (plus or minus), some of us have been around a lot longer.

      You say "If you actually think William Waybourn and I started Window Media to "sell gay peoples' eyeballs to advertisers and, not coincidentally, to provide excellent renumeration for its executives," then you don't know anything about either one of us or our company." You might want to quote what I actually wrote, which, quite frankly, is right on the mark. I'll cut to the chase. What I actually wrote was to the effect that any advertising medium is selling its readers' eyes to the advertising. Regardless of whether or not you and your partner Waybourn knew that when you started Window Media, that's the fact. How did you expect to to get revenue? Divining?

      Let's understand something else, Mr. Crain. Washington Blade existed long before you came along. I read Washington Blade in the mid 1970s when I was living in the DC area (indeed, I came out there). And we (my partner and I) read your affiliate NY Blade in the early 1980s. Both of those existed long before you came along. I have to tell you, Mr. Crain, it was through the reporting of NYBlade in the early 1980s that we (my partner and I) first learned of HIV/AIDS. AND YOU HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THAT, DID YOU?

      Mr. Crain says I was a lawyer at a large Atlanta firm and took a 50% paycut — no violins, just facts.

      That's nice, Mr. Crain. Some of us have also taken the jump from big law firm to other opportunity, and irrespective of whether we were selling gay eyeballs to advertisers. Apparently, you were able to persuade just whom within your domain to support equal rights for gay people? Anyone? BTW, no violins.

      Regarding your "Our motive was to raise the bar on the quality of the gay press and, when we purchased the Washington Blade five years later, to further improve our other publications by sharing that paper's considerable resources."

      That's very nice. I have to tell you, though, that thank goodness your Windows Media was unable to get its clutches on the New England gay-oriented publications, such as InNewsWeekly and BayWindows. I would have been horrified by what you might have done with them. More "Bitch Session"?

      So, let's cut to the chase. Just what have YOU done to found an organization that purports to be devoted to equal rights for gay people? Nothing, as far as I can tell.

      You just want to bitch & moan.

    1. raj on Jan 18, 2007 12:13:16 PM:

      C-Squared | January 18, 2007 at 10:57 AM

      Oh, and by the way, regarding "The "non-profit" and "for-profit" are completely reversed from what you would expect" we actual lawyers know the differences among "non-profit," "not for profit" and "for profit."

      The point, Mr. Crain, is that you really should stop BSing us. Did you leave your vaunted Atlanta law firm voluntarily, or merely because they told you to?

    1. Citizen Crain on Jan 18, 2007 12:26:07 PM:

      You're just plowing forward, facts be damned eh? Where to start…

      The NY Blade was founded in 1997, so I doubt you were reading it in the early '80s. The gay paper you're crediting with solid AIDS reporting was the NY Native, which went under in the mid-'90s when for weeks on end it insisted on reporting that HIV didn't cause AIDS, but HIV meds did. Some role model.

      I didn't say we bought the DC Blade to make it better (though I believe we clearly did). I said we bought it to share its resources with a larger family of publications.

      Window Media does, in fact, have "its claws" in New England, since InNewsweekly was purchased last year by HX Media, a sister company with overlapping ownership.

      Do you like Bitch Session or not? First you said you did, now you say you don't. (And yes, it was my idea.)

      We've probably long past the point of diminishing returns, but please do entertain us with more, if you'd like.

    1. raj on Jan 18, 2007 1:54:20 PM:

      C-Squared | January 18, 2007 at 12:26 PM

      Stop lying, Mr. Crain. I did not laud NYNative's (yes it was that, the obvious predescessor of NYBlade) reporting of HIV/AIDS. The idea that I was lauding NYNative's later reporting was somewhat silly, but it was your leap. Why did you leap to that? You tell me. The fact is that NYNative, and its sister publication Christopher Street, reported about HIV/AIDS, long before the conservatives' St. Ronald Reagan's malAdministration was willing to tell us about it, and we paid attention to it early on, however their later reporting developed. So?

      Irrespective of that, you might seriously want to respond to the issue that I raised at raj | January 18, 2007 at 12:08 PM: "So, let's cut to the chase. Just what have YOU done to found an organization that purports to be devoted to equal rights for gay people?" You appear to be evading that issue. Why?

      BTW, just to let you know, whether or not I find Bitch Session entertaining is completely orthogonal to the issue. Answer the question, Mr. Crain.

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