Getting It Together

Is the group battling the proposed anti-partnership amendment having problems in Southern Arizona?

Michael Coffman is working alone in the back room of a cool, sparsely furnished office just south of Broadway and Tucson boulevards. The phones aren't ringing, and there aren't any volunteers; the only sound is the faint hum of an air conditioner.

"For the most part, I'm managing the office in Tucson," he said about his duties as Southern Arizona field coordinator for Arizona Together, a political committee coordinating opposition to a conservative marriage ballot initiative. "Anything that happens south of Phoenix falls under my jurisdiction."

Coffman came on board with Arizona Together about seven weeks ago, and some are hoping that he can give a shot in the arm to a Tucson campaign that has had problems connecting with activists and potential voters.

Although gay marriage is already banned by law, Proposition 107, if it reaches voters and is passed, would constitutionally define marriage as being between a man and woman, placing it outside the purview of the courts. It would also prevent recognition or adoption of civil unions. Furthermore, Prop 107 would ban benefits currently offered by local governments to same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners in Tucson, Pima County, Tempe and Scottsdale.

Protect Marriage Arizona, the political committee pushing the proposition, turned in 307,576 signatures on July 6. They only needed 183,917, so if the signatures are certified by the Arizona secretary of state after a sample is checked, then the initiative will likely appear on the ballot.

That is, unless a lawsuit filed by heterosexual couples earlier this month--charging that the proposition violates the state's single-subject rule for voter initiatives--is successful. A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 4.

In general, activists with Arizona Together and other gay-rights supporters have publicly expressed optimism that the state will buck the national tide and vote down Proposition 107. The failure of same-sex marriage opponents to gather enough signatures for a ballot initiative in Florida and California suggests that the movement might be losing steam, at least in some states.

Arizona Together also appears to have an advantage in fundraising. According to financial reports filed with the Arizona Secretary of State's Office, the political committee raised $348,416 in the six-month period ending May 31 and had $244,187.10 on hand.

In comparison, Protect Marriage Arizona raised $251,561.05 during the same six-month period and had $47,518.67 on hand.

Regardless of the current tactical situation, polls and people alike are forecasting a close election if Proposition 107 makes the ballot, meaning that every vote in every region of Arizona will make a difference.

"You just never know, because obviously, the anti-gay industry has a lot of resources and a lot of support," said Sam Holdren, political organizer for LGBT community center Wingspan. "And they're just really good at what they do, which is to distort the message and confuse people."

With this uncertainty in mind, Coffman said his focus in Southern Arizona, where people have more free time but less money than those in the Phoenix area, has been on rustling up volunteers and spreading the word about the proposition. Wingspan is also coordinating a forum series targeting groups that could be affected by Prop 107, Holdren said.

"The media campaign--alone--is not going to win this particular issue," Coffman said. "People in Tucson and the surrounding parts need someone to talk to, that face-to-face interaction, so they can ask questions and make sure that they fully understand what all is at risk here."

Yet getting people to understand the stakes has been a consistent problem, according to Coffman. "We've found that a lot of people really don't even know that the marriage amendment is coming up," he said. "They have no idea. And, even in that, they think that it's just defining marriage as between a man and a woman, rather than the whole thing--that they're just stripping everything down."

Coffman said Arizona Together's goal has been to emphasize that the majority of people who would be affected by this measure are straight.

"The groups that we've come across typically just chalk this up to a gay-marriage issue, and they just quit listening," said Coffman. "We've tried to show similar amendments that have passed have stripped domestic-violence laws out of the system (and) have wound up stripping child protection, health care--those kinds of things--just out the window for straight couples, who stand in awe going, 'Wait, but I voted for that. That's not supposed to affect me at all.' Yet it does."

Communication between Tucson and Phoenix may also be an issue in getting out Arizona Together's message.

For example, Coffman said volunteers have been in short supply in the Old Pueblo. However, up in Phoenix, Steve May, a former state lawmaker and Arizona Together's treasurer, said there was no problem rounding up people in Southern Arizona. He qualified his answer when told of the specifics of Coffman's assessment.

"Well, here's the deal," May said. "We want to have 5,000 volunteers (statewide) by the end of September, and we don't have 5,000 today. So, I guess if you're saying, compared to where we want to be, would we like to have more? Sure."

Efforts may have also been hampered by Arizona Together's disorganization in Southern Arizona, according to sources familiar with the situation.

Vicki Gaubeca, who served as secretary for Arizona Together until she resigned on May 23, said she hopes the committee succeeds, but is worried about the tactics they're using. She said the Phoenix-oriented emphasis on raising money didn't translate well to Tucson, where grassroots organizing reigns supreme. Gaubeca added that faith-based events and other rallies meant to win support in Tucson were shot down by the leadership up north.

"A lot of people were like, 'What is going on?' And the more we talked to Kyrsten (Sinema, Arizona Together president) and Steve about it, the more they were like, "Well, that's not our focus. They're off message. And, plus, all we need to do is raise money,'" she said. "So I think eventually, people just got annoyed, and said, 'You know, we've been doing all this work.' They weren't feeling valued."

May denied that the campaign was ever in "disarray" in Southern Arizona.

"There were certainly some people involved with the campaign at one time who wanted the campaign to do things that we didn't want the campaign to do," May said. "For example, the campaign didn't have a rally every weekend at a park, which some people think that's what we're supposed to do--it's not. So, no, the campaign is, I think, doing very well in Tucson.

"The bottom line is there are different people and different ideas about what a campaign should or should not be doing."

About The Author

Comments (0)

Add a comment

Add a Comment