LEAFLETS, AD BLITZ TO MARK DAYS LEADING UP TO GAY-RIGHTS VOTE
Key players The question
By PETER POCHNAWith 10 days left in the battle over Maine's gay-rights law, one side is relying on a church pamphlet to communicate its message, while the other side is relying on statewide television advertising.
©Copyright 1998 Guy Gannett Communications
Therein lies the difference between the campaign aimed at overturning Maine's gay-rights law, and the campaign aimed at preserving the law passed by the Maine Legislature last spring.
The success of each side's strategy will influence what is expected to be a close election and will determine whether Maine becomes the 11th state in the nation with a gay-rights law.
Those pushing for repeal don't have much money, but they do have a strong core of avid supporters based in Maine's conservative churches. The campaign's leaders are focusing on motivating these supporters to get to the polls.
Although the conservative core doesn't represent a majority in the state, it could make up the majority of Mainers who make the effort to vote in the Feb. 10 referendum.
''We have a larger, more dedicated core than the other side,'' said Paul Volle, executive director of the Christian Coalition of Maine and a leader of the campaign to repeal the law. ''Our core is motivated because they are loving people who are dedicated to the Lord Jesus Christ as lord and savior.
''They want to teach others of their beliefs,'' he said, ''and they don't want legislation in place that inhibits that and encourages a lifestyle in our society and our schools that is not a lifestyle but a deathstyle.''
One-issue special electionThe campaign to uphold the gay-rights law has more money and appears to have the support of most Mainers. The campaign's leaders say they can win by encouraging a big voter turnout through wide-reaching television ads, as well as mailings and phone-banking efforts.
Tom Ewell, executive director of the Maine Council of Churches, said he's confident that Mainers support the law against discrimination, but worried that they won't go to the polls and prove it.
''Our concern is that people are sufficiently motivated to go out in the middle of winter and cast a vote on just one issue,'' Ewell said. ''The question is how much passion and motivation is behind it.''
The ballot question will ask voters if they want to reject the law that would make it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation in credit, employment, housing and public accommodations.
The Legislature passed the law last spring - after rejecting gay-rights bills nine times since 1977.
Conservative religious groups, led by the Christian Coalition and the Christian Civic League of Maine, quickly rallied against the law with a petition drive.
The groups gathered more than 58,000 valid signatures in opposition to the law, forcing the February vote.
Those signatures represent the core of support for the ''vote yes'' campaign. In an election where only about 100,000 people are expected to vote, that core could easily be large enough to win.
To solidify the core, the Christian Coalition has printed 240,000 ''voter guides'' that it is distributing to nearly 900 churches.
The two-sided, 8-inch-by-5-inch pamphlets pose several questions, such as ''Should the Boy Scouts be allowed to maintain moral standards that exclude homosexual counselors?'' and ''Should parents object to the teaching of homosexuality as a normal lifestyle in the public schools?''
The guide tells readers that if they say yes to any of the questions, they should vote to repeal the law.
The 'vote yes' strategyThe guide promotes a ''vote yes'' strategy to stir concerns about the effect that a gay-rights law would have on children, and on a person's right to object to homosexuality.
Volle said these are concerns that will make ''vote yes'' supporters vote, regardless of weather or the timing of the election.
The television ads being aired statewide by the ''vote no'' campaign have a softer tone than the pamphlets, to reach out to moderate voters.
Getting the moderate voter enthused about the election is a critical ''vote no'' strategy, because polls show a strong majority of Mainers support the gay-rights law.
Strategic Marketing Services of Portland released a survey last week showing that 62 percent of registered voters would support the gay-rights law. But the survey didn't ask the critical question: whether people planned to vote.
The TV commercial that began airing Friday reaches out to moderate voters by having moderate and popular Gov. Angus King as narrator. King says in the commercial that he doesn't want to tell people how to vote, but he plans to vote ''no.''
He says gay people are our neighbors and ''deserve the same basic rights as you and me.''
Maine Won't Discriminate, the group leading the ''vote no'' campaign, produced the commercial, which is scheduled to be shown roughly three to seven times a day on all Maine TV stations.
Maine Won't Discriminate can afford television ads. As of Jan. 5, gay-rights supporters had raised $203,000, while gay-rights opponents had raised $54,000.
The TV ads are part of an extensive effort by Maine Won't Discriminate to raise awareness of the referendum and the issues involved. Joe Cooper, the group's spokesman, has been sending out press releases almost every day in an attempt to prompt media coverage.
''I'm a big fan of the blast fax,'' Cooper said.
Ice storms hurt effortHe said the ''vote no'' campaign was hurt by the ice storms that grabbed most Mainers' attention for most of January.
He said the television ads and the press releases, in combination with a large contingent of volunteers sending out mailings and calling voters, will get people to the polls.
''The more people know about the vote, the better,'' Cooper said. ''I think Mainers made up their minds long ago that they don't want to discriminate. It's just this one special-interest group won't take no for an answer.''
Despite Maine Won't Discriminate's advantages in fund raising, polls and television ads, ''vote yes'' supporters say they are not discouraged. They say their ''neighbor to neighbor'' campaigning is more effective than television ads.
''It's not about money,'' said Paul Madore, who led the campaign that overturned Lewiston's gay-rights ordinance in 1993. ''It's about people and civil rights.''
He dismissed the value of polling information by pointing to polls released before the Lewiston vote that predicted gay rights would prevail.
The repeal campaign might stray from its ''neighbor to neighbor'' approach by running TV ads just before election day. Michael Heath, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, said that money coming in from national conservative organizations might be enough to fund the ads.
''It's a possibility,'' Heath said. ''But it's remote.''
The campaign is running newspaper ads that resemble the voter guides they are distributing in churches. But their primary outreach is to their religious supporters.
''Our task is to point out some of the weaknesses in the law and to continue to articulate what our moral views are on homosexuality,'' said Heath. ''Then it's just a question of whether or not people go out and vote.''
Vote "No" leaders
Joe CooperAGE: 26
TITLE: Spokesman for Maine Won't Discriminate
BACKGROUND: Cooper brings youthful aggressiveness to the ''vote no'' campaign. When Maine Won't Discriminate attacks the ''vote yes'' campaign's tactics, Cooper leads the way with pithy sound bites and biting press releases.
He came to Maine Won't Discriminate fresh off a victory in last fall's referendum on the widening of the Maine Turnpike.
Cooper graduated from Boston University in 1993 with a bachelor's degree in political science and English. Since then he has worked on political campaigns in Texas, Nebraska, New Hampshire and Maine. He has also worked as a reporter for the Fort Worth Star Telegram in Texas and in public relations for the Liberty Mutual insurance company in New Hampshire.
Last fall he was a spokesman for Maine Citizens for Jobs and Safety, the lead group promoting the widening of the Maine Turnpike from York to Scarborough. Voters approved turnpike widening, 61 percent to 39 percent.
Cooper quickly jumped from the turnpike campaign to Maine Won't Discriminate.
''I came to them and said, 'I'd like to work for you.' I think this is an important cause,'' Cooper said.
Karen GeraghtyAGE: 37
TITLE: Campaign manager for Maine Won't Discriminate
BACKGROUND: Geraghty is a veteran of the battle for gay-rights legislation in Maine. She worked for Maine Won't Discriminate in 1995, when it defeated a referendum that would have prohibited laws protecting gay people from discrimination. She also is a past president of the Maine Lesbian and Gay Political Alliance.
In May, she won a seat on the Portland City Council, winning 59 percent of the vote in a three-way race for the seat that represents the West End and Parkside neighborhoods.
She did not make gay-rights issues part of her council race, instead focusing on economic development and the future of the waterfront.
She is a former accountant who now works as a consultant for nonprofit groups. She said she has worked on political campaigns since she was 18.
Geraghty comes across as more committed to issues than to self-promotion. She objected to being profiled in The Portland Newspapers, saying that the paper should instead profile some of the many campaign volunteers who make ''huge personal sacrifices'' to help Maine Won't Discriminate.
Tom EwellAGE: 54
TITLE: Executive director of the Maine Council of Churches
BACKGROUND: Ewell is a soft-spoken, easygoing man who gets riled up when discussing the leaders of the ''vote yes'' campaign and their efforts to seize the moral high ground.
''It grieves me that people working out of a moral base would misuse the political process the way that they are,'' he said. ''It doesn't speak well for the Christian name.''
Ewell is co-chairman of the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination, an interfaith coalition of religious leaders who have organized ''to protect human rights for all citizens.''
The group formed in 1995 to fight a ballot proposal to forbid gay-rights laws in Maine. It has continued as a lead proponent of gay-rights legislation in this year's campaign.
Ewell has led the Maine Council of Churches since 1986. He has spoken out against the expansion of Maine's prisons and in support of reforming criminals and reintegrating them into society. He is a member of the Religious Society of Friends, a Quaker group.
Vote "Yes" leaders
Michael HeathAGE: 36
HOME: South China
TITLE: Executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine
BACKGROUND: Heath has been at the forefront of some of Maine's most volatile debates for nearly a decade. As a leader of the Christian Civic League, he's campaigned against abortion, same-sex marriages and gay rights, and in favor of a state-funded sexual abstinence program for teen-agers.
He is friendly and exceedingly neat, with a youthful, choir-boy face. He is also a tough leader who runs aggressive campaigns and is willing to take the heat generated by his controversial stands.
Last week, he criticized Gov. Angus King for King's support of the ''vote no'' campaign.
''Governor King doesn't get it,'' Heath said. ''He is governor of all the people of Maine, not just the ones who pay for his television time.''
Heath was hired as administrative assistant for the Christian Civic League in 1989, and was appointed executive director in 1993. Before joining the league, he directed a Christian treatment facility for recovering addicts and the mentally ill.
He ran as a Republican for the state Legislature in 1992. He won a three-way primary but lost the general election.
Paul MadoreAGE: 48
TITLE: Chairman of the Maine Grass Roots Coalition
BACKGROUND: If anybody knows how to rally voters against gay rights, it's Madore. He led a campaign in 1993 that overturned Lewiston's gay-rights ordinance by a 2-1 ratio.
He is a fast-talking, high-energy campaigner who preaches the value of hard work and neighbor-to-neighbor campaigning. His tactics are successful, but they have drawn criticism, even from others battling against gay-rights legislation.
In 1995, a spokesman for Concerned Maine Families, which wanted the ban on gay-rights laws, accused a group led by Madore of ''engaging in politics motivated by the malevolent spirit of disgust and bigotry.''
Madore denied the charge. He said he is fighting for an individual's ''right to make moral distinctions.''
He is a builder with a two-year degree in architecture. In 1994 he ran as a Republican for the Maine Senate and lost.
Paul VolleAGE: 59
HOME: Tenants Harbor
TITLE: Executive director of the Christian Coalition of Maine
BACKGROUND: Volle is leading the ''vote yes'' campaign. He brings 40 years of experience as a conservative political activist to the post.
He also brings a past filled with controversy. In August 1990 he resigned from his post as chairman of the Cumberland County Republican Committee after he was convicted of shoplifting. He was reappointed to the position three months later.
In 1992, Republican congressional candidate Linda Bean removed Volle as her campaign manager, bowing to pressure from moderate Republicans who accused him of being a divisive force.
He has an amiable, folksy manner and speaks proudly of his devotion to God and family.
''I first believe in my God, my family, my Constitution, and fourthly I am an activist,'' he said.
He ran as a Republican for the Maine Legislature in 1988. He won a primary but withdrew from the general election, citing family problems.
BALLOT QUESTIONThe ballot question in the Feb. 10 gay-rights referendum will ask voters:
''Do you want to reject the law passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation with respect to jobs, housing, public accommodations and credit?''
A yes vote would kill the law.
A no vote would allow the law to take effect 30 days after the election results become official.
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