by Kara Suffredini*
MASSACHUSETTS–This post-election period is bittersweet. Nationally, voters exorcised their economic angst on a lot of pro-LGBT pols. But here in Massachusetts, we re-elected Deval Patrick, the most pro-LGBT governor in the country. We also re-elected a pro-LGBT attorneygeneral, MarthaCoakley, who is fighting a landmark court case on behalf of marriage equality. And we sent an early, critical backer of marriage equality, Steve Grossman, to the treasurer’s office. Meanwhile, when the 2011/2012 class of state reps and senators are sworn in next January, we will have an overwhelming majority of pro-LGBT equality lawmakers to work with. As a result, Massachusetts is poised to do even more to protect the rights of LGBT citizens from cradle to grave.
These wins weren’t handed to us because we’re Massachusetts and we do things differently here. (A sentiment, by the way, that was summed up nicely by Gatehouse Media Publisher Greg Reibman, who tweeted early on, “Going to have to pull out the ‘Don’t Blame Me I’m From Massachusetts’ bumper sticker.”) No, we got these wins because we worked for them.
MassEquality backed Gov. Patrick’s campaign for reelection early on. We were criticized by some for endorsing Patrick when Republican nominee Charlie Baker, who picked an openly gay running mate in Richard Tisei, and who has a gay brother, was widely perceived by many as equally supportive of LGBT rights. But these candidates were not equal, and we saw it as MassEquality’s responsibility to expose their key differences.
When Patrick ran his first campaign for office in 2006, he became the first gubernatorial candidate in the country to win after pledging openly and frequently to back LGBT rights. As Governor, he delivered on that promise, spending precious political capital protecting marriage equality and promoting equality for transgender Bay Staters. Baker, by contrast, tried to exploit anti-LGBT prejudice for political gain in his run for the state’s top job when he referred to a bill that would give equal rights to transgender residents in the most ugly terms imaginable at last April’s state Republican convention.
So we continually reminded our members of Patrick’s work on our behalf, and of Baker’s opportunistic trans-baiting to appeal to the fringe elements of the statewide GOP. Meanwhile, we backed up our endorsement by recruiting 62 organizers for the Patrick campaign and 110 volunteers. We also assigned a dedicated volunteer to work full-time on the Patrick campaign who liaised with the LGBT community. And we raised money for Patrick: MassEquality brought in a full third of the money raised for the governor during an October fundraiser by LGBT community leaders.
But that’s not all we did. We assigned field staff to work on the campaigns of winning incumbent state Representatives Jen Benson, Demetrius Atsalis, Tom Sannicandro, and Harold Naughton. We did the same for incumbent state Senators Karen Spilka, Sal DiDomenico, and newly elected state Senator Katherine Clark, who left her seat as a state rep to run for the senate. We also dedicated staff to the campaigns of Dan Wolf and Eileen Donoghue, who won open senate seats in the Cape and Islands (Wolf) and First Middlesex (Donoghue).
Throughout the election season, we made 46,000 get out the vote phone calls to our members. We made 9,000 phone calls to district voters; recruited volunteers who knocked on 500 doors; and recruited 100 volunteers who helped out on Election Day. We sent 70,000 campaign mailers with information about our endorsed candidates to our members, and 18,000 more to targeted district voters. There is no doubt that MassEquality’s aggressive field game helped push Clark, Wolf, and Spilka over the top Nov. 2.
A surprising number of pro-LGBT candidates in Massachusetts faced opponents who sought advantage by playing politics with our rights. We publicized the anti-LGBT stances of failed statewide candidates James McKenna (attorney general) and Karen Polito (state treasurer). As of this writing, the auditor’s race was too close to call, but we also publicized the anti-LGBT stance of Republican candidate Mary Z. Connaughton, who signed a petition in 2006 that sought to take away the rights of LGBT people to marry in Massachusetts.
That’s not to say that we won every race we focused on. State Representatives Steve D’Amico, Barbara L’Italien, and Bill Bowles faced hard contests as progressive leaders in conservative leaning districts and ultimately lost. But we managed to pull off something remarkable in this year of Tea Party extremism: statewide, we elected a slate of pro-LGBT candidates. The same cannot be said anywhere else in the country.
Since taking the helm of MassEquality, I’ve been asked over and over what is left to do in Massachusetts? The 2010 election season has shown us that, for starters, there is still plenty of work that needs doing to protect our friends in the State House from anti-LGBT challengers so that we can prevent a rollback of the historic equality gains we’ve made. It’s a lesson we need to keep in mind as 2012 approaches: identify the work to be done. And then get it done.
*Kara Suffredini is the executive director of MassEquality.