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11/07/2011

'Question One': Any answers?

by Jeremy Hooper

Leslie Nicoll was a great friend to the fight to preserve equality in Maine, and has been a great friend to this site specifically. Both that fight and this site go in indefinitely.

As we continue our quest to regain what was unfairly taken from us, we're all watching the new documentary about the 2009 fight, "Question One," with considerable interest. So in that spirit of learning from the past so as to not repeat it in the future, I thought it's be nice to get Leslie's firsthand take on that film, its premiere, and the takeaways we can apply to the future. Have a read:

Screen Shot 2011-11-07 At 8.16.04 AmReview from Maine: Question One
By Leslie H. Nicoll

I had the opportunity last Thursday to attend the Portland premiere of Question One, a documentary film on the battle for same-sex marriage in America. Produced by Fly on the Wall Productions and directed by Joe Fox and James Nubile, Question One brought me back to the campaign in 2009 in which I donated countless hours of my time as a volunteer. Reliving the campaign in 90 minutes left me, as another viewer said, with “misery in my heart” but even so, the movie is excellent and definitely worth seeing. I hope it gets wide distribution and a well-deserved audience.

As a quick recap, in May 2009, the Maine legislature passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage; this was immediately signed into law by then Governor John Baldacci. Opponents quickly mounted a repeal campaign and by August had collected enough signatures to put the referendum on the ballot for a people’s veto. As the first such referendum that year it was Question One. Those in favor of maintaining the law that had been enacted needed to vote “No” on the issue; those who favored repeal became the “Yes on 1” campaign.

Filmmakers Fox and Nubile approached both campaigns asking for permission to record the events that would unfold during the months leading up to the election. Although it was a “tough sell,” according to Jesse Connolly, the No on 1 campaign manager, eventually the project was given the green light by both sides to go ahead.

They filmed approximately 260 hours of footage. It took Fox and Nubile two years to turn this into a 90 minute documentary that tells the story in a fair, balanced, and to the extent possible, objective way. I think this movie should be required viewing for all Americans.
The film follows three people from each campaign. From the No on 1 side, it features Jesse Connolly, aforementioned campaign manager; Darlene Huntress, director of field operations; and Sara Dowling, a volunteer who lives with her partner Linda and their daughter Maya in Freeport. The Yes on 1 stars were Pastor Bob Emrich; Marc Mutty, campaign director; and Linda Seavey, a volunteer.
When I say the film was balanced, I mean that in a literal way. If there was a segment of Dowling, the volunteer, that would be followed by one of Seavey. A scene at headquarters of No on 1 would be followed by the same for the Yes folks. Marc Mutty drinking a scotch would be balanced by Sara Dowling enjoying a glass of wine. It was very clear that the filmmakers did not want to show one side doing something that the other side wasn’t doing too.

Trouble is, while the movie might be quantitatively balanced, qualitatively the two campaigns told two very different stories.
Let’s take phone banking, for example. For the No on 1 folks, there were several scenes of very busy phone banks with dozens of volunteers. For Yes on 1, they had one shot of one guy talking into a speaker phone. I think I saw him three times in the movie. I know the Yes on 1 campaign had calls going on but who was making them? The impression is that they came from outside the state. That was my impression during the campaign and the movie reinforces that belief.

Another example: October 27th and the filmmakers visited both campaign headquarters. No on 1 was a beehive of activity with dozens of volunteers, phones ringing, and people running here and there. At Yes on 1, we saw Marc Mutty, alone, looking like he was trying to figure out how to operate the photocopier. Where were the people? Obviously, somewhere else. And as we learn in the movie, that somewhere else is California.

Marc Mutty makes it very clear, through comments made to the filmmakers as well as during meetings and phone conversations, is that while he might have been the director, the campaign was run by Schubert Flint Public Affairs, based in Sacramento. This is the same firm that ran the Prop 8 campaign in 2008. Jeff Flint was the architect of the advertising campaign, pushing ads that Mutty acknowledges he agreed to, but didn’t like. Frank Schubert pops up at the end, wrestling the spotlight away from Mutty and declaring victory for the campaign. There was a memorable shot of him at the victory party, peering over Mutty’s shoulder. I thought he looked like a rat. My husband thought he looked like a devil. Both descriptions are apt.

It makes me sick to realize how fully our in-state repeal process was stolen from us, Maine citizens, and appropriated by out-of-state special interest groups to achieve their goal. And, I have to say, deep down inside, I don’t believe that either Schubert or Flint really care one way or another about same-sex marriage. What they care about is managing a campaign and making a huge pile of money in the process. They’re business people, after all, and will blow whichever way the wind is blowing. Unfortunately, the outcome was disastrous for my same-sex friends who only want the same simple right that I have: to be married.

As an aside, the film had very little about fundraising but as regular readers of G-A-Y know, we are still slogging through the battle here in Maine about exactly where the Yes on 1 money came from—in particular, who are NOM’s donors and how much did they give. Three years later and that question still hasn’t been answered. But, even without empirical evidence, I am sure that the deep pocket donors were not local Mainers.

After the film there was a Q&A with the filmmakers, along with surprise special guests Jesse Connolly and Darlene Huntress. The moderator noted that Marc Mutty and Bob Emrich had been invited to attend but declined to RSVP. Sara Dowling was in the audience with her family; no sign of Linda Seavey although she has been sent a DVD of the movie. Two comments from the discussion remain clearly in my mind:

Joe Fox saying that the most stunning thing to him, over the course of the filming, was seeing “the implosion of the Yes on 1 campaign and realizing that it was being run by ‘remote control’ from California. It took me two years after the election to really figure this out.”

Darlene Huntress closed the discussion with this comment: “Seeing the other side—makes me more proud of my side. The only bad thing was losing—everything else was amazing, before, during, and after. We walked away from this with our dignity and knew that we didn’t do this only to collect a paycheck.”

For anyone who wants to trek up to Maine, the film will be shown at 7 pm on Monday, November 7th in Hannaford Auditorium on the University of Southern Maine Portland campus. The film will be free and open to the public and will be followed by another Q&A with the filmmakers. Advance tickets are not required and the auditorium seats 500. You can find more information on their Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=304802712878643

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*FYI: The very first person the Minnesota For Marriage campaign followed on Twitter:

Screen Shot 2011-11-07 At 8.18.40 Am

So it's a certainty that the California-based Schubert Flint is going to go after us again in that state. Have we learned enough to combat the tried and tested playbook?

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