Thursday, November 5, 1998

Election '98

‘Yes’ won with
focus, clear message

The opposition was trumped
by a well-run, well-financed effort
and its own legal challenge

By Mike Yuen


A better-focused and easily understood message.

Control of "fringe" elements.

Serious missteps by the opposition, including a legal challenge that backfired, causing the state to lift the $1,000 limit on campaign contributions meant to influence ballot measures.

Those were key factors that led to the overwhelming approval of a constitutional amendment that gives the Legislature the power to outlaw same-sex marriages in Hawaii, according to observers and combatants.

With its simple message that marriage has been and should remain a union between one man and one woman, Save Traditional Marriage-'98, which spearheaded the yes-vote drive, easily connected with a common notion held by most people, said veteran pollster Don Clegg.

Plus, when the traditional-marriage proponents showed that people who generally don't agree on many issues, such as Democratic Gov. Ben Cayetano and Republican challenger Linda Lingle, were voting "yes" on the amendment, it signaled wide community support, Clegg said.

'Easy, emotional message'

Less than two weeks before the general election, Clegg stopped polling on the anti-gay marriage amendment. With his polls nearly mirroring the eventual vote of 69 percent for and 29 percent against, Clegg said there was no need "to waste a question" in his surveys for Cayetano, who narrowly won re-election.

Even the opposition acknowledged that Save Traditional Marriage's portrayal of the measure as a referendum on same-sex marriage trumped the opposition's efforts to place the vote within a civil-rights context.

"They had an easy, emotional message," said David Smith, a senior strategist with the Human Rights Campaign -- the nation's largest gay-rights organization, which spent about $1 million in its failed effort to defeat the constitutional amendment.

"We had a complex, technical message about government and civil rights: If this (denying marriage to gays) can be done to us, discrimination can also happen to you."

Linda Rosehill, strategist for Save Traditional Marriage, said having Daniel McGivern step down as president of the Hawaii Christian Coalition and adopt a low profile was important for her side's success. His inflammatory remarks allowed the opposition to paint all foes of same-sex marriage as religious extremists, she said.

"We wanted our entire campaign to be moderate and the voice for the silent majority," Rosehill explained.

No cap on contributions

Rosehill said "a big difference" in the campaign came when gay activist Bill Woods accused Save Traditional Marriage of receiving more than the $1,000 limit from contributors. That complaint was dismissed by the state Campaign Spending Commission as the attorney general's office concluded that the contribution cap on ballot measures was unconstitutional.

With no cap, that opened the door for the Mormon Church to contribute $600,000 to the yes-vote effort, Rosehill said.

The "educational campaign" -- that "yes" votes supported traditional marriage and that "no" votes legalized same-sex unions -- was crucial to the passage of the amendment, Rosehill added.

Since only 2 percent of the ballots cast were blank, that meant voters were aware that a blank ballot counted as a "no" vote, she said.

That educational campaign reaped more benefits than the opposition's strategy of seeking endorsements, she added. Although the no-vote side received endorsements from some 15 unions, that did not translate into union sign-waving or union newspaper advertisements or TV spots advocating the amendment's defeat, Rosehill noted.

Smith, of the Human Rights Campaign, said he doubts that he would have undertaken a different strategy.

The anti-gay marriage amendment passed, he said, because of isle residents' fear of same-sex marriage, stirred by an 11th-hour campaign of "fear and prejudice."

Same-sex marriage:
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