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Questions for Richard Carlbom, the man who'll unite Minnesota

by Jeremy Hooper

Screen Shot 2011-09-12 At 8.11.29 Am-1At the tender age of twenty-three, Richard Carlbom was elected mayor of St. Joseph, Minnesota. Now, at only thirty, Carlbom is stepping away from his post as spokesman for St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman, so that he can lead a campaign very much on this site's radar: The fight to stop the so-called Minnesota for Marriage coalition (Minnesota Family Council, National Org. For Marriage, Minn. Catholic Conference) from writing abject discrimination into the state's precious governing documents.

277180 200148973363365 7816799 N-1Carlbom was nice enough to field a few preliminary questions and listen to some of my own thought-food, which built around things I've learned from working with past state coalition's on these kinds of ballot initiative campaigns, as well as daily observance of the groups and figureheads that will be leading the opposition campaign. Here's that:

Good As You: As you surely know, the state's leading anti-equality, advocacy group, Minnesota Family Council, has put quite a bit of
overheated rhetoric on the record, much of which goes beyond marriage and gets right into LGBT lives themselves. MFC is part of the so-called Minnesota for Marriage coalition. So do you think it's important to show Minnesotans how far the agenda can and does go?

Richard Carlbom: It is important to know your competition, hold them accountable and respond to every attack. We will actively monitor what is said in this campaign and think critically about how it can help us connect with Minnesota voters who will make the decision on Election Day 2012. While the Minnesota Family Council will continue to use hurtful and harmful rhetoric, we must remain focused on winning in 2012 - which will mean we must respond and move quickly to our own positive and persuasive message that will appeal to voters.

G-A-Y: In every past state battle, we've seen our opposition, led by the National Organization For Marriage, turn the issue to public schools and inclusive reading materials. (a) Do you expect to see the opposition turn to this issue again, considering the LGBT-centered tragedies that Minnesota public schools have experienced in recent years? (b) Is the campaign prepared to address that?

RC: A). Yes, they will use what has worked in the past. B). Yes.

G-A-Y: With Rep. Michele Bachmann getting so much press these days, what role do you expect her to have in this campaign, on either side. In terms of the other side: As someone who pretty much built her national reputation on this issue while serving in the state legislature, do you expect her to now expend capital on this state matter? And in terms of our fight: Do you think her past comments might give effective insight into the marriage amendment and its roots?

RC: Michele Bachmann championed this issue for more than a decade now, so she will definitely be a headliner for our competition when it comes to raising money and motivating their base. Her past comments, cloaked in compassion and concern, should be a reminder to the pro-LGBT community that while we see what she says as hateful and harmful, some voters think she is sincere. We must vigilantly rebut all dishonest claims while not demonizing our opposition.

G-A-Y: Apathy has been known to kill us at the polls. Whereas the other side has much easier ways to turn out the hyper-motivated vote, we have many would-be. could-be supporters of equality who fail to show up for any number of reasons. How do we connect with fair-minded Minnesotans, showing how this is an issue that effects all people, regardless of sexual orientation?

RC: We will do this the Minnesota way: build the largest grassroots campaign in Minnesota history. We will have thousands of volunteers have millions of conversations with voters in every county of our state.

G-A-Y: The Minnesota Catholic Conference (a third coalition partner, along with MFC and NOM) is taking a leading role on the other side, as the local Catholic church has been doing for the past few years. Is there effort underway to connect with lay Catholic, who polls show support marriage equality in majority numbers?

RC: Yes. As a graduate of the College of St Benedict and Saint John's University, I know lay members, priests, and monastics who will be willing to support equality and many more who will vote against enshrining discrimination into the constitution. Within hours of the press release being sent regarding my new position as campaign manager, I received six emails from various members of the Church, including 2 Priests and 4 monastics. That doesn't even include countless lay Catholics that I heard from as well. The reason our coalition will win in 2012 is because of the incredible diversity standing up for equality. We are truly a united front on this and that gives great meaning to our name: Minnesotans United.

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