Op-ed: How We Thwarted NOM’s Attack Plan in New Hampshire

Op-ed: How We Thwarted NOM’s Attack Plan in New Hampshire

The National
Organization for Marriage’s top-secret strategy documents disclosed Monday in a
state investigation highlight that, along with working in the most cynical
fashion imaginable to “drive a wedge between gays and blacks,” NOM also wanted
badly to strip away the freedom to marry in New Hampshire. In fact, no state was a higher priority
for NOM. Of its “$20 Million Strategy for Victory,” a full $2 million was
dedicated to repealing the freedom to marry in the Granite State. Yet last week, we beat back NOM,
defeating the repeal bill by a margin of 211-116, bringing over a majority of
Republican lawmakers, 119-115, to our side. 

Sixteen months ago,
that triumph seemed next to impossible.

In November 2011,
New Hampshire had just seen the largest Tea Party/GOP sweep in the country,
with the legislature soon to be sworn in as 75% Republican. Though gay rights and marriage had next
to nothing to do with the elections, NOM nevertheless boasted of flexing their
electoral muscles.  

NOM had a willing
axe-man in New Hampshire, new House Speaker William O’Brien, a right-wing
social conservative who promised to prioritize repeal. “[New Hampshire] will be
the next battleground,” NOM President Brian Brown said the day after the
elections, “and we are confident of victory.” His partner-in-crime, NOM Board Chairwoman Maggie
Gallagher, said, “NOM’s next immediate challenge is to get a vote reversing gay
marriage in New Hampshire – to show… that history is not unidirectional.” 

Governor John Lynch
committed to vetoing any repeal measure, but NOM was confident that it could
secure a two-thirds majority in the new legislature to override the veto and
overturn the law.

Freedom to Marry
knew our side had to build a powerful campaign that could reach GOP lawmakers –
and quickly. Yet this was easier
said than done. In my first couple
of visits to the state, I reached out to top GOP lobbyists and not one of them
would take our campaign as a client. So I reached out to the top Democratic lobbyists. I was shocked when I got the same
answer from them — a whispered no. Post-election, it was clear some of them feared that representing us was
a bad business proposition. 

With 200 new
lawmakers flooding into the largest legislative body in America, nearly all
Republican, and with the threatened repeal vote coming as soon as our opponents
were ready to strike, Freedom to Marry and our partners got to work. Here’s how we thwarted NOM.   

Keeping Our Eyes
on the Prize.
  Our all-out focus was on how to surpass
133 votes in the House – the number we would need to sustain the governor’s
veto. We determined we had nearly
all the Democrats, so that meant focusing our entire effort on making the case
to Republicans. We had to convince
business-oriented and libertarian-minded Republicans to break away from antigay
and social-agenda politics to vote down repeal.   

Enlisting
Right-of-Center Civic and Business Leaders. 
One
element of our strategy was to enlist a who’s who of business and civic
leaders, with a focus on right-of-center Granite Staters. Lew Feldstein, the just-retired
president of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, took on the chairmanship
of Standing Up for New Hampshire Families, the campaign that we built along with state partners and the Human Rights Campaign. Lew worked his
Rolodex and made the case to dozens of VIPs about joining the campaign. By the
time of the vote, we had a nearly 300 person who’s who of New Hampshire, with a
strong right-of-center bent: the former chief justice of the New Hampshire
Supreme Court, the former chair of the Business & Industry Association, the
owners of several of New Hampshire’s best-known businesses, a former GOP House majority
leader, Senator Judd Gregg’s former chief of staff, and on and on. Skillfully deploying these local voices
to make the case throughout the campaign, our Standing Up campaign won the earned-media battle.

Improvising.  Because we couldn’t enlist a traditional
Republican lobbyist to work on preserving the marriage law, Freedom to Marry
turned over every stone to put together a GOP team. We found a young and openly gay conservative, the secretary of
the New Hampshire Young Republicans, who had moved with his partner to the
Granite State in 2009 and was now ready to do battle. We paired him up with the operative who had executed our
winning Republican strategy in New York. Standing Up for New Hampshire Families also brought onboard the former communications
director for the New Hampshire Republican Party.  Together, they crafted a GOP-focused lobbying,
vote-counting, and media strategy, and they executed it superbly. Later in the campaign, we secured New
Hampshire’s best-respected GOP lobbyist, former Senate President Ed Dupont, who
helped our team seal the deal. 

Good Old
Fashioned Field Work.
  Quite simply, we outworked our
opponents. Our Standing Up for
NH Families
field team ran
phone banks and organized meetings between same-sex couples and a targeted list
of lawmakers. We built a powerful
new media presence. In the end, we generated more than 30,000 constituent
contacts to a targeted list of lawmakers, who consistently said they heard more
from our side than our opponents’. 

National Republican
Leader Engagement. 
Coming off
the New York victory, in which we passed the freedom to marry bill through a
GOP-led state senate, some of our strong national GOP supporters shared our
commitment to ensuring that the right-of-center momentum on our side wasn’t
reversed in New Hampshire. Former chairman of the Republican National Committee
Ken Mehlman worked relentlessly to make the case to GOP lawmakers, trekking up
to Concord, reaching out via email and phone calls, offering strategy guidance,
writing a powerful op-ed piece in the Manchester Union-Leader, and always offering to do more. Paul
Singer, the hedge fund entrepreneur who was a lead contributor and fundraiser
for the New York marriage effort, once again came through with a crucial
contribution that enabled Freedom to Marry to powerfully make the case. We
enlisted Jan Van Lohuizen, pollster for George W. Bush, to do polling and share
with GOP lawmakers his findings that for the vast majority a vote for repeal
would be unwise politically. 

Building
Electoral Power. 
Given NOM’s involvement in the 2010 elections
and their m.o. of threats to bully and bluff Republican lawmakers, we knew our
side needed to muscle up. As a
result, top local Republican campaign expert Sean Owen created a PAC called New
Hampshire Republicans for Freedom and Equality, and committed to raising and
spending at least $100,000 to support Republican lawmakers who stood for
equality. 

Making Our Case,
New Hampshire Style. 
Undergirding every aspect of our campaign was
the fact that — thanks to years of investment in local organizing and public
education as well as powerful national momentum — New Hampshire residents
support the freedom to marry and overwhelmingly oppose repealing the law. “Live Free or Die” is the state slogan
for a reason: liberty and freedom are core values in the Granite State. As we made our case on television, the
radio, in the press, and in direct mail, we never let New Hampshire lawmakers,
or voters, forget that — in the words of Dick Cheney (whom we actually quoted frequently
to GOP lawmakers) — “freedom means freedom for everyone.”  The campaign introduced Granite
Staters to a personification of that value, Craig Stowell, a former Marine and
conservative Republican who wanted nothing more than to be the best man in his
gay brother’s wedding, just as his brother had been for him. We enlisted Craig as GOP co-chair of
Standing Up, and he wowed them.

Last Wednesday, the
day of the vote, I sat in the gallery in Concord as the Speaker turned to the
repeal bill. One Republican
lawmaker after another stood up to speak out against the measure, powerfully
combating the Republicans who spoke out in favor. The fact that only GOP lawmakers spoke on our side was by
design, the orchestration of our talented campaign team. We wanted this to be an internal
debate about what the GOP in New Hampshire stood for. And as our side won vote after vote that day, I could only
think about how far we’d come. Our opponents had promised to secure two-thirds of the vote, yet in the
end, we were the ones who got two-thirds of the lawmakers – with a majority of
Republicans joining Democrats in voting to uphold the freedom to marry.

Our New Hampshire
job isn’t over. NOM’s Brian Brown,
who obviously still hasn’t learned that it’s better to under-promise and
over-deliver than vice versa, blustered that “because of the vote, we now have
a target list,” promising retaliation. He also committed NOM to electing a governor who will work for repeal,
and unfortunately, that’s not as far-fetched. Both GOP frontrunners strongly
support repeal, although they are reluctant to offend voters by talking about
it. So we need to – and will –
stay vigilant and finish the job. 

In New Hampshire,
Freedom to Marry stared down, and took down, NOM, and preserved a hard-fought
win in a way that again transformed the fight for the next wave of states and
national work. Help us do the same
in other priority states this year by supporting Freedom to Marry’s Win More States Fund. Momentum is no doubt on our side, but
it takes hard work and resources to turn that momentum into marriage.

MARC SOLOMON is the national campaign director for
Freedom to Marry.
 

Latest videos on Advocate

From our Sponsors

READER COMMENTS ()