March 24, 2010
Posted by: Chris
Speaking of effective activism, the kind that gets your attention and produces results, the Gill Action Fund folks behind Fight Back NY are back with another viral video, fresh off their lopsided defeat of ousted state Sen. Hiram Montserrate.
Last time around featured "Sex and the City's" Cynthia Nixon with a make-my-day attitude that would make Clint Eastwood blush. This time around it's a Jaws theme, designed to put on edge the other 36 senators up for re-election who voted against marriage equality. Particularly in the hotseat are those eight, now seven, who promised beforehand to vote for the gay marriage bill but switched sides when time came to be counted.
Can anyone imagine the D&G crowd at the Human Rights Champagne producing something this much fun...and this effective?
March 10, 2010
Posted by: Chris
"We tried the carrot. Now it's time for the stick."
That's the message from Cynthia Nixon, Miranda of "Sex and the City" fame, in a simple yet powerful new PSA for the fledgling group Fight Back NY, which exists for the sole purpose of voting out of office those state senators who voted against marriage equality a few months back.
As the dysfunctional New York legislature was winding down for the Christmas break, hopes for same-sex marriage never seemed brighter. The state Assembly had already approved the measure and embattled Gov. David Paterson (D) was vocal in his support. The last piece of the puzzle was the Senate, where a majority or close to it had given private assurances to activists that they would supply the votes needed for passage. Instead, same-sex marriage went down to defeat by a lopsided 38-24 margin.
With big-time political backing by Tim Gill and others, Fight Back NY was born, and convicted girlfriend abuser Hiram Montserrate (D-Queens) has been named the first target for his high-profile vote with Republicans against marriage equality.
Cynthia Nixon asks for donations to Fight Back NY's PAC, and with a smile on her face, makes it clear that it's no more ms. nice gay for her:
August 21, 2008
Posted by: Chris
. . . Well there aren't three yet actually, but gay Colorado businessman Jared Polis was the surprise winner last week in a highly competitive Democratic primary and is the heavy favorite in November in his bid to be the third out gay member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Even better, he would be the first gay man to win a congressional election as a non-incumbent. Lesbian Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) was the first to do it, way back in 1998.
Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and former reps Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) and Steve Gunderson (R-Wis.) all came out after they were already in office.
Polis is due belated congratulations for pulling off the victory in a three-way contest with no incumbent for the congressional seat representing Boulder and some of the top ski resorts in Colorado. Polis, a former chair of the state board of education who made a fortune from the e-card site bluemountain.com, spent more than $5 million of his own money to beat former state Senate president Joan Fitz-Gerald and conservationist Will Shafroth.
Fitz-Gerald had been as the favorite and her lengthy record of strong gay rights support earned her support against Polis from many local gays, notably Tim Gill, another wealthy entrepreneur whose Gill Foundation has done ground-breaking political work in Colorado and elsewhere.
Normally I would have jumped all over HRC for that decision, because it was very likely driven by fear of offending locals (i.e. donors) who backed Fitz-Gerald. It's not surprising that Polis had to beat a gay-friendly opponent; that's likely to be the case in almost all the liberal congressional districts where out gay candidates are going to have the best shot.
That's the primary reason -- along with homophobia, of course -- for the 10 very long years since Baldwin's landmark victory. Kudos to the Victory Fund for jumping into the Polis race when lots of pundits and analysts were saying it was a loser.
Still, I'm cutting HRC a break on this one -- close that gaping jaw, please -- because for one thing they often stay out of primaries with no incumbents. Much more importantly, I've had my own misgivings about Polis ever since he made clear he would have voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act introduced by Barney Frank and passed by Congress, on the grounds that it included sexual orientation but not gender identity as protected categories.
Without being drawn back into that bitter debate, it reinforeced why ideological purity has no place in a legislative body that inevitably horse trades, compromises and moves along incrementally. Like most activists and GLBT groups in the "trans or bust" crowd, Polis was maddeningly naive in his analysis, explaining it this way this way to a transgender writer for PageOneQ:
Q: So, among your endorsements is Congresswoman and ENDA co-sponsor Tammy Baldwin...
A: She was on the right side of [ENDA], you know. I was disappointed, along with many progressive members of our community, that we seemed to be cutting political deals and leaving part of our community behind.
Q: I felt it on a personal level, too, one of my best friends being a transwoman. We were being very pointedly pitted against each other politically, especially in the blogosphere.
A: I do think there was a good grassroots response from gays and lesbians nationally, to push back against our political leadership in Washington. I know that HRC and others got a lot of negative letters from gays and lesbians. I have a lot of transgender friends as well, and I think the best thing I saw was some protesters at one of the HRC dinners saying, "You can't spell 'Equality' without the 'T'."
An inclusive ENDA is all we should really be talking about. I don't think that we should talk about a piecemeal version that pits part of our community against one another.
Not only is Polis flat-wrong about Baldwin, who voted for the gay-only version of ENDA, he's also frighteningly simplistic. "You can't spell 'Equality' without the 'T'"? Seriously? Since you can spell "Equality" without a G, L or B, should we assume he'd be all for a trans-only version?
Fitz-Gerald said she would have voted for Barney's ENDA, and that was enough for me for the primary. But Polis' victory is still a very important one, so let's hope he gets a reality check, whether from his general election race against someone to the right of kum-ba-yah or from good-ole Beltway politics.
(Above: Photo of Jared Polis celebrating victory via the New York Times)
February 11, 2007
Posted by: Chris
Regular Citizen-reader Andoni makes an interesting comment to my post yesterday about Tim Gill:
It's a continuation of the spat between Howard Dean and Rahm Emanuel. Is the money best spent at the top or building a party at the state level? Well both, but each half has to acknowledge the contributions of the other.
Indeed, Dean was pushing to invest many in all 50 states, while Emanuel wanted to concentrate limited resources in the races he thought would flip control of Congress. Dean did things his way, as he is wont to do, and the Dems won both houses anyway, though by smaller margins than Emanuel et al claim they would have.
I'll buy into the analogy so long as it stays an analogy. Dean and Emanuel were squabbling over how to spend limited resources on Democratic Party priorities. In the same way, Gill and Jeff Soref (and his Dem-first, gay-second friends at the Human Rights Campaign) are partying ways on how to spend limited resources on gay rights priorities.
Dean may have had the better long-term argument for Dems, but that doesn't mean gay money should back his "50-state" campaign. This confluence of Democratic Party priorities and gay rights priorities has been one of the central strategic errors of the gay rights movement over the last decade, and rathern than be corrected, it's been enshrined in Joe Solmonese's decision to model HRC after (of all things) organized labor.
I have made no secret of my great disappointment in how Dean morphed from the civil union champion who rode gay money to become the early leader in the '04 Democratic primaries into the curmudgeonly, anti-marriage technocrat who abolished the Democratic National Committee's gay outreach desk and treated gay Democrats as if they were nothing more than glorified pocketbooks.
Dean was so miffed by my paper's tough coverage and my editorial pressure that he called the Washington Blade the "New York Post of the gay and lesbian press." "They’re not credible and they have somebody there who has an agenda which is clearly not favorable to the Democratic Party so we simply don’t give them any credence," he told an interviewer last summer.
Exactly. Like so many other Democratic Party leaders, Dean expects gay people and gay groups to treat the Democratic Party agenda as if it were their own, and he bristles when the gays get uppity. Take, for example, Donald Hitchcock and Paul Yandura. Dean fired Hitchcock as the head of gay outreach after Yandura, his partner, sent out a blistering email criticizing Dean for refusing to fund the fight against statewide mariage ballot measures.
But Hitchcock is keeping up the pressure, evidenced by a letter in this week's Blade that critiques Dean's performance at the recent Democratic LGBT Caucus meeting:
After attending the recent Democratic National Committee LGBT Caucus meeting, it reaffirmed for me my reasons for standing up to Howard Dean’s reluctance to treat our community with dignity and respect, an action for which I was fired. I claim that firing as a badge of honor.
Dean barely addressed the LGBT caucus with only five minutes worth of comments and he took no questions from the floor. And unfortunately, his talking points had shifted from the comprehensive plan to address the anti-LGBT state ballot measures offered last year to throwing only “a little bit of money” into the states at the end of the fight.
So much for the strategy to combat them that he touted in the LGBT press prior to the elections. A recent survey shows that the DNC gave states less than $20,000 in total, despite having raised almost $2 million from the gay community in 2006. But we will never know the exact amount given to state groups since the DNC is embarrassed to officially release the numbers. …
At the meeting, gay finance staff and key fundraisers did sit at the caucus table, as before, but what is different is that lately we seem to be treated solely as an ATM for the party, with our civil rights seeming an afterthought or burden.
Kudos to Donald for holding Dean to task, even if groups like HRC and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force have swallowed Dean's dogma hook, line and sinker. Let's hope gays with money pay heed to Hitchcock's criticism and give close consideration to Gill's new approach.
February 10, 2007
Posted by: Chris
Kudos to Atlantic Monthly for luring reclusive gay philanthropist Tim Gill out for a long-form interview that adds a much-needed perspective to how gay Americans might best strategize for equality. Gill, who made his fortune on Quark software, has been devoted full-time to philanthropy through his Denver-based Gill Foundation since selling his stake in the company six years ago.
But after dissatisfaction with the results from donating large sums to existing gay groups and political parties, Gill hired his own political strategists and embarked on something of an experiment. First motivated by anti-gay ballot measures in Colorado, Gill invested his money directly where the action was: trying to stop statewide constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.
But seeing the long odds there, he and his advisers looked more closely at the situation and saw that, although these measures get broad support at the polls, they are typically generated by only a few local politicians who use the social issue of gay marriage to drum up dollars and build larger political careers. As they advance, they only wreak further havoc on gay people at a higher level. Think Rick Santorum.
So beginning in 2004, Gill aimed at cutting off these careers early on, identifying the loudest anti-gay politicians from the most vulnerable local districts, and he poured large sums of money into knocking them off. And after years of networking with other gay philanthropers, he got them to follow suit.
The result, according to Atlantic Monthly, was extraordinary:
In 2004, [Gill] quietly targeting three anti-gay Colorado incumbents; two of them went down. Through the combined efforts of a host of progressive interest groups, including many supported by Gill, Democrats captured both chambers of the legislature for the first time in forty years. Gill’s decision to back Democrats in Colorado was the only choice that would produce the gay-tolerant leadership he’s pursuing. But ten years from now, he told me, he hopes he’ll be able to give evenly to Republicans and Democrats.
In 2006, Gill went even bigger, targeting some 70 vulnerable anti-gay incumbents and other races that might affect who controls a state legislature. The results were even more extraordinary:
In the 2006 elections, on a level where a few thousand dollars can decide a close race, Gill’s universe of donors injected more than $3 million, providing in some cases more than 20 percent of a candidate’s or organization’s budget. On Election Day, 50 of the 70 targeted candidates were defeated … and out of the 13 states where Gill and his allies invested, four—Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Washington—saw control of at least one legislative chamber switch to the Democratic Party.
Even with the strong anti-incumbent, anti-Republican electorate, those are impressive results.
Two factors that set Gill and the Gill Action Fund, his political action committee, apart from dinosaurs like the Human Rights Campaign are GAF's constituency of one, and its independence from the Democratic Party. GAF has been headed since last year by Patrick Guerriero, the smart and talented former director of Log Cabin Republicans.
Gill and Guerriero harbor no illusions that money is well spent today on the anti-gay GOP leadership, but their independence means — and this is most critical — that their money is spent on gay rights priorities, not Democratic Party priorities. There are many times, of course, when these two interests coincide, often in deciding control of state legislatures and in many individual races.
But one key principle preached by Gill and GAF is that gay money is better spent down in the trenches, like conservative Christians have for decades, than on "the shiny bauble" of national politics, even when sirens like Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama are calling.
That sort of strategy doesn't sit well with the "Massachusetts Gay Mafia" that runs HRC, or with leading gay Democrats like Jeff Soref, who complained to Atlantic Monthly that Gill's approach drained needed resources from Democrats:
"One of the problems with Tim’s strategy is that he’s turning people away from national politics at a time when Democrats have just achieved a big victory — one that we weren’t as big a part of as we might have been, perhaps because of his steering gay money away from the national level. I’ve personally gotten calls, pre- and postelection, from Democratic leaders who feel the gay community has not been as supportive in this election as in previous ones. There’s a tangible downside to disengaging. In a competitive environment, our issues may not get the attention we want them to get."
Soref has been an important critic of weak-kneed Democratic Party strategy on gay issues, but I couldn't side more strongly with Gill's independence over Soref's apologist thinking. Let's hope Democratic Party leaders noticed the missing pink dollars. It's frankly galling to hear that party leaders are paraphrasing Ms. Jackson — "What have you done for us lately?" — when that's exactly what we gays should be saying to them.
And as Gill Action Fund opens up a Washington office, the contrast with HRC couldn't be more striking. As HRC adopts a strategy modeled after labor unions beholden to Democratic Party crumbs even as the party fails to deliver on its priorities, Gill and GAF are putting their money where the action is: ballot measures that deal directly with our equality and races where our money can make the most difference.