Karen Ocamb

The Unnoticed Power Player at the Repeal Prop 8 Leadership Summit

Filed By Karen Ocamb | July 29, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: API Equality, Barack Obama, California Democratic Party, Courage Campaign, David Bohnett, David Comfort, Equality California, Equality Network, Eric Bauman, gay marriage, HONOR PAC, John Cleary, John Lewis, Jordan/Rustin Coalition, LA Gay & Lesbian Center, LGBT Leadership Summit, Love Honor Cherish, Marc Solomon, marriage equality, Marriage Equality USA, Paul Mandabach, Prop 8, repeal Prop 8, Richie Ross, Rick Jacobs, Robin McGehee, Sarah Callahan, Sheri Sadler, Steve Kaplan

The California LGBT community is in the throes of a transformation, catalyzed by the movement for marriage equality. In addition to the important Ted Olson-David Boies challenge to Prop 8, new grassroots and institutional LGBT organizations are struggling with each other over when and how to return to the ballot box to repeal Prop 8 in a state that is issuing IOUs. Since I was apparently the only full time reporter covering the statewide LGBT Leadership Summit, I want to report back as fully as possible. My report is being published in three parts:

  1. The demographics that challenge recent blog reports
  2. Advice from political consultants and how that was received
  3. An interview with a California Democratic Party big-wig who went largely unnoticed at the summit but who may play a significant role in the future

Someone who escaped much notice in the Repeal Prop 8 Leadership 3760372010_b32bf53429.jpgSummit room - but who could have a significant impact - was Eric Bauman, the openly gay vice-chair of the California Democratic Party. Equality California executive director Geoff Kors tried unsuccessfully to get the California Democratic Party engaged before Prop 8 qualified for the ballot, though the party did contribute to the Decline to Sign campaign. This time around, Bauman is not only engaged, he's married.

My interview with him is after the jump.

"It goes without saying that marriage equality is the life force of the LGBT movement today. We clearly have two different tracks going on in our community. We have the track that's typically guided by the professionals that looks at the polling data and sees 2012 or 2014 as far better opportunities for us. And then we also have this grassroots groundswell, which is angry and emotional that wants us to go as soon as possible meaning 2010.

I think the professionals are tactically correct - but it's like when a train starts barreling down the tracks, it's kind of hard even for Superman to stop it. I wanted to see, to feel what's going on on the ground here. I happen to be close with Rick [Jacobs] and folks at the Courage Campaign, and close with Marc [Solomon] and the folks at equality California. And I see both sides of the debate - and in fact I contemplated signing the document put out by the groups of color from the community asking for the delay [Bauman is an advisor to HONOR PAC]. But I recognized that there is a momentum and the greatest danger we cause ourselves is fracturing the community.

If a ballot measure were to qualify, and if the funding streams from our community and our supporters aren't there - and we lose and get whomped - that's a set back for a generation because instead of building strength over time, it looks like we're losing strength over time. We're arguing about something that is very personal and very emotional to most gay and lesbian people. And I'm not sure that having an argument about what's rational and about what the best tactic is gets us to the issue at stake here.

And particularly young people who got activated and excited last year in the wake of Prop 8, in the wake of Barack Obama, in the wake of everything that's going on - I'm not sure they want to hear these kind of rational arguments from old political pros.

One thing for sure, we need to start working on this campaign today - whether it goes on the ballot in 2010 or 2012. We need to have a governing structure for our campaign that's not just one or two or three organizations but that's actually representative of the broad spectrum of our community in every sense - both the A-listers and the grassroots activists, big groups and small groups. There has to be some way to do that. There has to be a centralized professional campaign manager who can synthesize and integrated everyone to work together to build this for the future.

The good news is that so far nobody has killed each other today. But there's definitely a lot of emotion in the room.

The [California Democratic] Party's on record in overturning Prop 8 and in fact, at our executive board meeting last weekend, [former] Sen. John Burton, the new chair of the party, listed overturning Prop 8 as among his top two or three priorities going forward. But of course he said, we'll see how it looks in terms of when it qualifies and what the race looks like.

But I think we all know that the only way we win is to have tremendous leadership from the Democratic Party and from our brothers and sisters at Log Cabin. This is not a Democrat-only issue. Democrats cannot carry this by ourselves. If moderate and liberal Republicans can't join with us and can't be part of the structure, we cannot win. If Independent voters are not with us, we cannot win. So even though I'm the vice chair of the Democratic Party and for me, I'm very partisan - I recognize that we have to be sitting at the same table and using my expertise to talk to Democrats and using Log Cabin's expertise to talk to Republicans to make sure that everybody has a message and a place to be part of this."

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Geoff Kors tried unsuccessfully to get the California Democratic Party engaged before Prop 8 qualified for the ballot, though the party did contribute to the Decline to Sign campaign.

Really? What did Kors' attempts consist of? What were the obstacles? On a related matter, DNC Chairman Howard Dean tried to volunteer to help out, to speak out and to make personal appearances in California. His overtures were frustrated when he couldn't even get telephone calls returned.

Hi David.

I know Geoff called Art shortly after I spoke with Art - and I believe he tried to follow up, as well. I don't know what the obstacles were since no one at the CDP ever returned my repeated calls and emails trying to find out what was going on.

As to Howard Dean - I apologize for not being clearer in my post - it was the DNC that gave money to the Decline to Sign campaign - the CDP gave nothing.

HOWEVER - I am NOT aware that Dean tried to "volunteer to help out, to speak out and to make personal appearances." What I DO know is that I tried to contact Dean through his spokesperson Damien LaVera to say something or find out if the DNC was going to contribute. Damien had set up an earlier exclusive interview with Dean for me and I thought he could help.

Additionally - the No on Prop 8 executive committee - as well as major donors, etc - tried repeatedly to contact Dean via phone and email - and through Andy Tobias and the LGBT folks at the DNC - to beseech Dean and the DNC to get involved, contribute - whatever. Nothing. Andy Tobias told the campaign that the DNC had to focus on Obama.

I reported on this at the time for IN Los Angeles magazine as part of my ongoing coverage of Prop 8. I don't yet know how to access the links to my stories since the merger with Frontiers so I apologize for not being able to support here.

I would be interested in a link to your story about Dean - or if you could share how you came by that story so we have a more complete picture of what happened from different perspectives.



LGBT activists met and brainstormed to oppose it, but no one stepped up to lead the effort. Precious weeks, if not months, were wasted, say some activists. Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean reportedly offered to go on a media/fundraising tour but never heard back from organizers.

I had another source at the time. It MAY have been the Huff.

"It was the DNC that gave money to the Decline to Sign campaign - the CDP gave nothing. "

That was my understanding as well.

Admittedly, this saga drives me to distraction.

Thanks so much for this. It helps add to the whole picture.

It also raises a very important point about how we often will believe the reporting from a straight media outlet over our own reporting on the ground.

I really really like Politico - one of my "must-read" sites. But please note the use of the word "reportedly" - reported by whom? This may well be cover-your-as spin from one of their DNC sources since the executive committee received emails from the DNC saying something to the effect of "leave us alone."

Anyway - the upshot is that the CDP is interested this time around - and the DNC under Tim Kaine....well, all I can say is, "Tim who?"