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

ONLINE: LHC: EQCA board nixed Prop 8 repeal by one vote


Eric Harrison, Love Honor Cherish's interim executive director, formerly worked at Equality California.
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A proposal to try to repeal Proposition 8 in 2012 failed an Equality California board vote by one vote, officials from Love Honor Cherish claim in a recent letter to EQCA.

The Los Angeles-based LHC, which recently dropped its bid to repeal Prop 8 in 2012, began circulating the letter this week.

A Field Poll released Wednesday, February 29 shows that 59 percent of registered California voters support same-sex marriage, the highest level ever recorded during 35 years of polling on the issue in the state.

In their message, LHC interim Executive Director Eric Harrison and board Chair Tom Watson say that the idea of working to repeal Prop 8 in 2012 lost at EQCA's board "by just one vote."

EQCA's decision was seen as crippling by LHC and other repeal proponents. Without the statewide lobbying organization's resources, it's not likely that undoing Prop 8 is possible.

Harrison, who was EQCA's statewide development director at the time of the October 2011 decision, said in an interview today (Thursday, March 1) that he was not part of the meeting himself.

However, he said, "Numerous sources have disclosed that to us." He wouldn't say who those sources were, and he didn't know what the actual vote tally was.

Asked about the one-vote gap, EQCA spokeswoman Rebekah Orr said Thursday, "We had a very involved board discussion, which is a confidential discussion, and we decided it wasn't the right moment to go back to the ballot." She also wouldn't say what the vote tally was.

Orr confirmed LHC's claim that the board vote took place by phone, but she noted that EQCA's board members are "from all over the state."

She said that she was on the call "to make a brief presentation about the polling," but she said other senior staff wasn't included.

LHC's letter also says that senior staff "unanimously" supported going to the ballot in 2012. Orr said lead staffers weren't involved in the decision process.

The group's letter to EQCA is dated January 31, shortly before leaders announced they lacked the necessary funds to continue pursuing repeal of the state's same-sex marriage ban, which voters passed in 2008.

Harrison shared the letter with journalist Rex Wockner in an email Wednesday.

Asked why he's circulating the letter now, Harrison said, "It's unfortunate that the movement that's happened in California for support of same-sex marriage is being undermined" by statements from EQCA "stating not to trust polls."

He was referring to the Field Poll's display of strong support for marriage equality.

Orr told the Bay Area Reporter on Wednesday, "It's important to take [the poll figures] with a grain of salt, because we know voters often have an intellectual position on marriage and an emotional one, and the emotional one, which is often driven by fear and anxiety, tends to be the one that plays out at the ballot." She also noted that the figures reflect polling of registered voters, rather than likely voters.

The survey data, released by the Field Research Corporation, show that almost three out of five of California's registered voters favor allowing same-sex couples to marry and have regular marriage laws apply to them, while 34 percent disapprove. Another 7 percent didn't express an opinion. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Harrison said they wouldn't relaunch their signature gathering campaign, "But we're unwavering in our support of marriage equality, and there are some other angles we're looking at right now."

He wouldn't elaborate.


Money and emails

In their letter, Harrison and Watson also demand hundreds of thousands of dollars and email addresses from EQCA to use in what was at the time their planned campaign. After the No on 8 campaign folded, EQCA was left as the custodian of the resources that had been gathered by other groups. Geoff Kors, EQCA's former executive director, served on No on 8's executive committee.

LHC's letter says they helped raise more than $500,000 for No on 8, which Orr confirmed.

State data show that the EQCA political action committee holding the leftover money has about $258,000 in cash. Orr said that about $198,000 of that is No on 8 money, and it's being held in reserve to cover potential fines resulting from filing errors.

"It was the largest grassroots campaign in the history of the state," Orr said. "... It is not unexpected there would be errors.

Orr said that if the money isn't used for fines, it would go toward marriage-related work.

As Harrison pointed out to Wockner, EQCA transferred $200,000 from the PAC. Orr said that money belonged to her organization. It wasn't money that had been raised for No on 8.

Among other demands, Harrison and Watson also call for the hundreds of thousands of email addresses gathered by No on 8.

Orr said that "rules of engagement" established by the No on 8 executive committee prohibit EQCA from sharing the emails unless there's an actual campaign happening. Orr provided a copy of the rules.

EQCA's email list includes about 500,000 people, Orr said, but she couldn't immediately say how many of those addresses came from the No on 8 campaign.

She said the lobbying group is "managing that data to keep those contacts alive ... and to engage people in LGBT advocacy work," and public education.

Harrison said he couldn't comment on the engagement rules without seeing them. However, he said, "Rebekah's not been around in the movement long enough to know the history of the rules of engagement. I would defer to someone who was on that committee."

After the B.A.R. sent Harrison a copy of the rules, he responded via email, saying, "Under 'EQCA shall share portions of the data sets with the California organization or campaign that is leading the effort to defeat or pass such measures,' the data should have been shared."

Orr joined EQCA in July 2011. Harrison, who was laid off from the group in October 2011, started there in 2009. Former EQCA Executive Director Roland Palencia also started last July, and abruptly resigned shortly after the EQCA board vote on returning to the ballot.

Palencia did not return a message seeking comment. Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, served on the No on 8 executive committee and was copied on the LHC letter. She also did not return a message seeking comment through spokesman Erik Olivera.

Harrison said that LHC would use the email list for "volunteer mobilization." He also said "die-hard volunteers" are still gathering signatures, which LHC accepts, "but we don't see how we'd be successful without paid signature gathering."

He wouldn't say how many signatures have been collected, or how many volunteers there are.

LHC's letter says it's "inconceivable that EQCA would ever lead a repeal campaign, so the idea of saving [the email list] for 2014 or 2016 is preposterous."

Asked whether EQCA would ever be engaged in a Prop 8 repeal effort, Orr said, "I don't know. We have never ruled out the possibility that we would go back to the ballot. If the circumstances are ripe for that, I don't see any reason why we wouldn't. We just don't believe that now is that moment."

In their letter, Harrison and Watson say that when publishing poll results, EQCA has selected data "it characterizes as insufficient to be victorious." One example they point to is a 2011 survey that demonstrates "we can win," but also has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Orr said, "The poll numbers are accurate, and we might all wish that they were higher, but the poll is very involved and very comprehensive."

She added, "Polling is only one of many factors that we considered when we decided not to return to the ballot."

Another key concern is money.

Just getting a repeal measure to the ballot would cost from $1 million to $2 million, Orr said. Actually winning the campaign would cost at least $40 million to $50 million, she said.

In the months leading up the Prop 8 vote in 2008, the campaigns on either side each raised and spent more than $40 million.

Orr said that EQCA wasn't able to respond to LHC's letter before the smaller group suspended its repeal efforts.

To view Love Honor Cherish's letter and the No on 8 Committee's rules of engagement, click here.

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