May 12, 2011
By Adam Bink
This is a piece of direct mail from Fight Back New York, which worked to unseat State Senators who voted against marriage equality in December 2009. I’ll get to why it’s important in a minute.
Here’s New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo on the current effort to pass legislation legalizing same-sex marriage in New York (bolding mine):
“This has never been about, on marriage equality, a vote in the Assembly primarily. The Assembly has passed it before. People expect it will pass again. The question is what’s going to happen in the Senate. The discussions that I’ve had with the collective group that is working on this in a unified way is we want to pass a bill. We don’t want to bring a bill up in the Senate that will fail, right? We don’t want to have an instant replay of last year. It’s not about having a vote for a sake of a vote. It’s about if it’s going to pass. and the conversations we’re having now will educate as to whether we’ll bring the bill to a vote.”
Well, that’s the trick, right? Figuring out who is where on the bill and the methods you use to do it.
I spent a lot of time interviewing people and mulling over what went wrong in a December 2009 post at my old stomping grounds, OpenLeft.com. Here’s what openly gay State Senator Tom Duane, who helped lead the push for passage of the bill, said over the course of several months in 2009, and what I wrote in response:
On why in the world we would have a vote only to lose by eight votes, here’s Sen. Tom Duane, the openly gay lead sponsor and vote-counter, back in April:
Sen. Tom Duane, D-Manhattan, the leading advocate of same-sex marriage in the Senate, predicts passage with votes to spare. We’d settle for any margin sufficient to remove one more barrier of discrimination.
But Tom Duane, the Manhattan Democrat leading the gay marriage push in the Senate, said he’s sure there will be enough votes, including some from Republican lawmakers. With Assembly passage, Duane said “the logjam will be over.”
“There will be some ‘me-tooism,’ ” Duane added.
State Senator Tom Duane of Manhattan, the openly gay, hyper-vocal proponent of marriage equality, said yesterday that he’s received private assurances from at least 32 of his colleagues that they will vote in favor of a marriage-equality bill introduced by Governor Paterson and recently passed by the State Assembly. Though he wouldn’t specify which senators had pledged support, he did say the list included several Republicans. “I would not want to deny them the pleasure of telling you themselves. That would just be wrong and really impolite of me to do that,” he said, assuring simply: “I have the votes.”
In October, following being called out by the Empire State Pride Agenda at their dinner:
So, I think there’s some fear that marriage might not happen. But it is happening. We have the votes the governor is providing great leadership on it. He absolutely wants it to happen the votes are there for it to pass.
I’m not releasing my vote count until we’re ready to vote. What people have told me, they’ve told me in confidence. It just wouldn’t be appropriate for me to share that.
One way to look at this is that Duane can’t count votes. Probably more accurate is that he, and the Dem leadership, were lied to en masse. I’m told by a number of reliable sources that we had commitments from several Republicans to vote yes. This felt wrong from the moment I saw not a single Republican spoke on the floor in debate, probably because there was a live video stream and no one wanted to get on tape being a homophobe. Essentially, we got punked.
So here we are today, with many of the same cast of characters and the same game. Sen. Addabbo says he’s thinking about it. Sen. Greg Ball says the same. So does Sen. Alesi, the same Republican Senator who publicly appeared anguished on the Senate floor when it was his turn to vote, most likely because he privately promised Duane he was a yes and then knew the bill would fail when Sen. Addabbo went no. Several others are giving mixed signals.
Thankfully, it appears that Duane learned his lesson. Gay City News reports (bolding mine):
Advocates have been burned before. In 2009, four of the Democratic no votes came from senators, including Addabbo, who received significant gay money and assistance. Before that vote, Duane made bold promises about what would result from the community’s support of those Democrats –– successful marriage and GENDA votes. Following the 2009 debacle, Duane was saying the community had been betrayed. Now, the community needs reliable promises.
“We have to get the majority of senators to say publicly that they will vote in favor of our right to be married and that they will vote in favor of the right of people of transgender experience to have full civil rights,” Duane told reporters following his speech. “They have to say it on the record.”
They have to say it on the record is right. Trust, but verify.
So the question I have is whether we’re going to play the same Albany ballgame with private commitments and whether the Governor and our lead advocates is going to take these words on faith and then get burned when it appears the bill won’t have enough votes to pass (unlike in some states, the roll in New York is called alphabetically, one by one), and our private commitments fall like dominoes, or whether we’re going to put it out in the open and target those who are undecided. As Duncan writes in the Gay City News piece, we’ve been burned before. Speaking from an organizing perspective, we’ve had public efforts before on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, where anyone who read my writing and your comments here at P8TT, or any gay blog, or Ed O’Keefe’s work at the Washington Post, or Chris Johnson’s at the Washington Blade knew who was undecided and who wasn’t. We had it on the public option fight over health care reform. And we drove calls and letters and field organizers and even Lady Gaga to people like Sens. Snowe and Collins in Maine. People aren’t stupid, and when “Call Your Senator” has been done for months, it’s time to step up to sophisticated organizing and giving constituents something to do when their Senators are firmly committed, as well as sympathetic people outside. As of today, there are 26 Senators publicly on the record who said they will vote for the bill — most, in fact, have already in the Assembly or Senate. We need to get to 32.
I posted the image of the mail from Fight Back New York, which targeted and helped defeat three anti-equality State Senators last election and replace them with publicly supportive members, because it’s ironic, and instructive. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The money and enthusiasm for Fight Back New York came about because we got knocked on our rears in December 2009 through a failed method of delivery. Are we going to be insane and do it again?
Cuomo is right. We don’t want to have an instant replay of last year. The question is how we’re going to avoid it.