Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

Perez calls 2010 Prop 8
repeal effort DOA


Assembly Speaker John A. Perez. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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In his first press call with LGBT media outlets since being sworn in as the state's first openly gay Assembly speaker, John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles) said that there is "no practical way" to repeal the state's anti-same-sex marriage ban this year.

The comments are likely a fatal blow to the fledgling grassroots efforts to place a repeal measure of Proposition 8 before California voters in the fall. Already the majority of the state's LGBT rights groups had decided it makes more political sense to seek repeal of Prop 8 in 2012.

The lack of institutional support has been impossible thus far for the grassroots activists to overcome. As the Bay Area Reporter disclosed last month, the group seeking repeal this year is grossly under-funded and has collected so few signatures they have discussed using paid signature gatherers to meet the April 12 deadline of turning in nearly 700,000 valid signatures to state officials.

Asked about the repeal efforts this year, Perez said the effort is basically dead on arrival.

"There is no practical way to get it on the ballot in 2010. That window has already closed," said Perez, who was sworn into the powerful speakership post Monday, March 1 during a ceremony that included the Los Angeles Gay Men's Chorus singing "God Bless America." "I know people don't want to hear that, but it is absolute reality. The money is not there and the signatures are not there to get it on the ballot in 2010. I don't think the best environment to put it on the ballot is in 2010."

Neither John Henning, the executive director of Love Honor Cherish, the group overseeing the 2010 repeal effort, nor Eugene Hedlund, the campaign manager for Restore Equality 2010, responded to the B.A.R' 's request for comment about Perez's statements by press time Wednesday.

Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, the statewide LGBT lobbying group that has long backed repealing Prop 8 in 2012, said he agrees with Perez's stance and would be "extremely surprised" if there was a ballot measure to repeal Prop 8 before voters this fall.

"The amount of signatures needed takes a significant amount of money and a huge amount of volunteer support. I have not heard that either of those have materialized to the level that is necessary," said Kors, who helped lead the No on 8 campaign. "We have long said 2012 is a much better time to go back to the ballot. We look forward to working with the speaker and those who support 2010 coming together to mount the largest grassroots and strategic media campaign that has ever been undertaken so California becomes the first state to win on marriage at the ballot box."

Rather than waste resources on moving forward this year with overturning the anti-gay measure, Perez advised that the LGBT community and its allies need to be focused instead on making inroads into places the No on Prop 8 campaign failed to address in 2008, in particular Latino and Spanish-speaking communities.

"We have got to get out there and campaign in places we didn't campaign in last time. We got to create a coalition, that is the only way we will move forward," said Perez, who used his connections in the Los Angeles area to ask newspaper editorial boards to oppose Prop 8.

"Latino elected officials throughout southern California were all with us and singing from the same hymnbook. The Latino community voted with us more than the mainstream community if you adjust for social economic status," said Perez. "If you look at the amount of campaigning we did, it is amazing how well we did in a community we spent little money in and little outreach in."

Perez stressed that he was not being critical in order "to beat up on the No on 8 campaign." But he suggested that had more attention been paid to the Latino community, Prop 8 may not have passed.

"If we invest in Latino voters broadly, we would do better," said Perez, a former labor leader who was elected to the Assembly amid the fight over Prop 8 two years ago. "Part of this is a resource allocation question. Resources were spent less efficiently than they could have been."

During the festivities in the Capitol Monday, Perez used the power of his position to spotlight the continuing fight for full marriage equality. He chose his close friend Carlos Moreno, the only justice on the state Supreme Court to rule that voters had no right to pass Prop 8, as the person to administer his oath of office.

"He was the only justice to stand with us in the court case. It just reinforced the magic of the moment for me," said Perez.

But when asked by the B.A.R. if he would be willing to be the titular head of the campaign to repeal Prop 8, Perez said he did not believe it would be appropriate for him to serve in such a manner.

"I don't think it is the role of an elected official to head up that campaign. It needs to be a coalition effort. I am willing to be part of a coalition effort," said Perez. "We need to put together a team of skilled professionals who have done these campaigns before."

He also cautioned that as difficult as it was for the No on 8 campaign to explain to voters how to vote against Prop 8 – some voters falsely believed they should vote yes on the measure in order to defeat it – the repeal campaign in 2012 will face a more difficult task of convincing voters to say yes in the ballot booth.

"It is more difficult because you are asking for a yes vote, which is more difficult to get than a no vote," said Perez.

It isn't only Perez who is revisiting the failures of the No on 8 campaign. The stumbles and miscues made by campaign's leaders continue to be a point of contention for the state's gay Republicans.

In its questionnaire to candidates seeking office this year, Equality California is asking if the person opposed Prop 8, and if so, to explain what they did to fight the measure. It provoked a rebuke of Assemblywoman Lori Saldana (D-San Diego) by openly gay GOP candidate Ralph Denney, who twice ran against Saldana and continues to lambaste her for not speaking up against Prop 8 more forcefully on the campaign trail in 2008.

While Denney wrote on his EQCA questionnaire that he "vehemently opposed" the homophobic measure before Republican audiences, he complained that Saldana "refused an opportunity to express an opinion and chose not to defend a young man who spoke out against 8 and was verbally attacked by religious conservatives" during a local town council meeting.

He also complained on his questionnaire that EQCA "refused to acknowledge" an editorial arguing against Prop 8 from a conservative perspective written by former GOP Congressman Tom Campbell, who is now a candidate in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate this June. And he wrote that many Republicans "were driven from" the No on 8 campaign because of "staff's insistence on supporting [Barack] Obama, even though he opposed marriage equality."

Asked in an interview about the comments, Denney said he thought using Campbell in television commercials as opposed to Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein may have been more effective in winning over those voters unsure of where they stood on Prop 8.

"Absolutely. There are a ton of fence-sitters who would have come down on our side had they realized there are Republicans who disagree with it," said Denney, who is supporting Campbell in his Senate race. "I told EQCA the same thing when they interviewed me."

Charles Moran, a spokesman for Log Cabin, agreed that the No on 8 campaign failed to utilize the Republican group to its advantage.

"There were a lot of missed opportunities on the No on 8 campaign's part. One of them is not utilizing some of the assets Log Cabin had put together," said Moran, who noted not only did Campbell publicly oppose Prop 8 but so did Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, who is now running in the Republican primary for state attorney general. "It is about taking the message we had created and using it more broadly in Republican districts."

Asked about the comments, Kors noted that Campbell, whom EQCA asked to write the op-ed opposing Prop 8, does not have the same name recognition as Feinstein has with the state's voters. He said the No on 8 campaign did ask Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to be in a commercial but he declined.

"We repeatedly asked Governor Schwarzenegger to do a commercial, which he declined to do, because he is the one Republican everyone knows in the state," said Kors. "We did use his photo and quote in a commercial."

Despite his criticisms of EQCA and the No on 8 campaign, Denney did note that he hopes the fact the group's political action committee interviewed him this year, the first time it has done so, is a sign of rapprochement and better working relationship between Democrats and Republicans.

"I sincerely hope my receiving this questionnaire demonstrates a move toward fairness and true bipartisanship," he wrote.

And Moran said that he feels Log Cabin and EQCA have built up a better relationship over the last year.

"They have a different tone now. They are much more willing and responsive to us and our members to find ways to work together," said Moran. "They cannot ignore conservative constituencies when doing marriage equality outreach initiatives. Gay Inc. cannot ignore what we are doing is successful and they need us. Because without us, they will fail."

Creating a better bipartisan working relationship amongst Assembly members is one of Perez's goals this year. He asked lesbian Rabbi Denise L. Eger to bless all of the state legislators present at an interfaith service held prior to his swearing in.

He plans to appoint several Republicans as committee chairs, something he said hasn't been done in years. And he expressed hope that more GOP members will support LGBT rights.

"We work on a bipartisan basis much more than people give us credit for," said Perez. "It is on big issues where you see cleavages between the parties, and particularly on LGBT issues of course."

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