|Sunday, October 22, 1995|
King ads take risk by urging 'no' voteQuestion 1
By Joshua L. Weinstein
©Copyright 1995 Guy Gannett Communications
Gov. Angus King dove from the safe political mainstream into the center of a whirlpool with his unprecedented decision to use televised ads to oppose an anti-gay rights question on the Nov. 7 ballot.
Never before has a governor in a state facing a referendum on gay rights taken such a step. Even Barbara Roberts, the former governor of Oregon and a solid opponent of a similar measure there, did not appear in commercials.
By agreeing to be featured in a 30-second TV spot now airing throughout Maine on all four networks, King has taken an aggressive stand on a divisive issue.
Question 1 would prevent any Maine community from approving a gay rights ordinance and would overturn existing laws in Portland and the town of Long Island. Its supporters call King's commercial outrageous and inappropriate.
Politically, the ad is a risky move, say political analysts - even though King's ad never mentions the words gay, gay rights or homosexual. The safe ground would have been to remain silent on the question, or provide its opponents lukewarm support that would have alienated no one.
''For the governor of Maine, like any governor, to take a position against this kind of measure immediately casts the governor as an enemy of the religious right,'' said William Schneider, a political analyst with CNN and the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank. ''Politicians don't normally take stands they don't have to take that will alienate a constituency. Usually they just don't take a stand at all.''
The governor's upfront stance could reap him strong enemies among Question 1 supporters. It also could cement his status as an independent outsider who sets his own course.
Other Maine leaders have taken a more conventional stand on Question 1, which would limit human-rights protections to race, color, gender, physical or mental disability, religion, age, ancestry, national origin, familial status and marital status and would delete gays and lesbians from the state hate-crimes law.
Delegates also opposed
The state's entire congressional delegation is on record as opposing the measure. Although they have issued statements and written letters, none of the four has approached the issue with King's gusto.
Officials with Maine Won't Discriminate, which is leading the campaign to oppose Question 1, said Saturday they have not asked members of the congressional delegation to appear in similar commercials.
''We would love the senators and representatives to appear in our ads,'' said Amy Pritchard, the campaign director. ''So far they have not offered to do that.''
King, elected the nation's only independent governor last November, remains popular with Maine voters. But some observers say his decision to tackle Question 1 so publicly will test that popularity.
Carolyn Cosby, leader of Concerned Maine Families, which supports Question 1, said Saturday that the ad amounts to the end of King's political career. ''He's signed his own political epitaph,'' Cosby said. ''I think he's done.''
Michael Heath, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, is demanding that King pull the ads immediately.
Heath also implied that King, a newcomer to governing, didn't quite realize the leap he made by filming the commercial or the political repercussions that would occur. The governor's office is the first public post held by King, a former public television host and millionaire businessman.
''Gov. King has three years and a couple of months left in his term - he's not even through his first full year, and I think he's doing a fine job addressing many important issues,'' Heath said. ''The way that he chose to address this one was inappropriate, it was unwise and my hope is that he'll be more careful the next time he chooses to become so publicly involved in an issue of such deep concern, deep moral concern to Maine citizens.''
'It's to make a difference'
In an interview Friday, King, 51, talked about his motivation in appearing in the ad. ''It's to make a difference in this campaign, and to bring to the attention of a lot of people who may be undecided what the implications are,'' he said. ''It's an economic time bomb.''
King's role in this type of campaign is unprecedented.
During the past four years, Oregon, Colorado and Idaho have faced measures that would eradicate gay rights statewide. The governors of all those states, most notably Roberts, opposed the ballot questions, which failed in Oregon and Idaho and won in Colorado.
With the exception of Roberts, now a member of the board of directors of the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based gay rights organization, none of the governors opposed the measures as publicly and vigorously as King. Even Roberts stopped short of doing ads to state her position, saying she didn't want to make herself the issue.
Roberts, a Democrat whose husband died at the end of her term and who chose not to seek reelection, praised King.
''It's always courageous when political leaders step forward and speak not only to their conscience, but to the fairness of the culture in which we operate,'' she said from her office at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, where she is director of the State and Local Government Executive Programs.
Heath of the Christian Civic League sees it differently.
'Abusing public trust'
The TV spots, which began airing Tuesday, were written by Christian Potholm, a Bowdoin University professor and pollster; Will Robinson, a consultant for Maine Won't Discriminate, and King himself. The ads were paid for by Maine Won't Discriminate and will run statewide all this week.
Heath blasted the ad, calling it misleading and inappropriate.
''He is abusing the public trust,'' Heath said. In a statement, he said King ''is attempting to scare people into voting no on Question 1, and he's doing it from the governor's chair with misleading information. . . . We are demanding that our governor stop play acting for the apologists of gay rights.''
On Thursday, two days after the ad began airing, Heath asked supporters statewide to call the State House and lodge their complaints. So far, more than 300 people have done so.
Ironically, many members of the Christian Civic League supported King during the 1994 gubernatorial campaign. Last June, Heath said his group and members of the Republican Party's right wing ''would certainly find Angus as palatable as'' the GOP gubernatorial candidate, Susan Collins.
Now, however, Heath said King is behaving like an activist rather than a statesman.
King, who until November never held elective office, won the governor's seat in a close, four-way match, receiving 38 percent of the vote. Heath said King's economic, rather than social, message won him the office.
''Angus King was elected without a mandate or even really any special call to address the issue of gay rights,'' he said.
Ad focuses on economics
King's advertisement does in fact focus on economics. In it, King says he spends most of his time trying to bring businesses and jobs to Maine.
''If Question 1 passes,'' he says, ''it will make my job a lot harder. Imagine the next day's headlines across the country: 'Maine legalizes discrimination.' ''
Schneider, the CNN analyst, said the ad is carefully worded to make the greatest impact.
''Research shows that it's the word 'discrimination' that turns people off,'' he said. ''He is opposing the measure on the strongest grounds. This measure, he is saying to the voters of Maine, will endorse discrimination, whereas the religious right would like people to come into the voting booth with the idea that to vote against this measure will endorse homosexuality.''
King said Friday he has no worries about potential fallout or criticism from the right.
''It was my concern that if this thing passed it would just create a negative image for the state around the country, and indeed in other parts of the world, that would make my job that much harder,'' he said. ''To check my instinct on this, I called Roy Romer, who's the (Democratic) governor of Colorado, and asked him what his impression was on the effect of the passage of this thing in Colorado. His unhesitating response was he thought it had hurt their economy.''
Colorado voters in 1992 approved a constitutional ban on anti-discrimination protections for gays and lesbians. That ban is now under appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Gay rights activists say Colorado lost up to $100 million after the vote as tourists canceled trips and groups changed convention sites. Denver officials estimate that the ban cost Colorado's largest city $38 million, but say they have made up some of those losses in other conventions since then.
Colorado impact disputed
Cosby, of Concerned Maine Families, said King is simply wrong, both in his message and the way he chose to deliver it.
''The reality is that Colorado is just in a tremendous boom,'' she said. ''If he doesn't do better research than that, shame on him.''
CMF's spokesman, Larry Lockman, echoed Cosby.
''There's no factual basis for the claims he's making in this paid political advertisement,'' he said. ''It's a false and misleading ad, and the governor appears to be a mouthpiece for a wealthy special interest group.''
Lockman said King's commercial is more than inappropriate. He said it's a political blunder. ''He's wasting valuable political capital,'' Lockman said.
At a press conference Saturday, former state Sen. Linda Brawn said the governor - as the representative of all Maine people - has no business taking a stand on the issue.
Paul Madore, head of the Coalition to End Special Rights and a supporter of the referendum, accused King of playing politics with the television campaign. ''His concerns are not genuine,'' he said. ''They are politically motivated.''
King, who said he hasn't decided whether to seek a second term, said his political aspirations end with the governor's office. He also said he doesn't care about the political fallout.
Earlier in the campaign, King and his wife, Mary Herman, donated $1,000 to Maine Won't Discriminate.
Roberts, the former Oregon governor, said King has nothing to fear by appearing in the commercials, and called criticism that King is acting like an activist unfounded.
''Every governor's role is to be an activist on the things that matter to their state, whether it's economic development or good education for our children or fairness for the citizens of the state,'' she said.
Although some supporters of Question 1 have said that King's decision was a blunder by a political novice, Duane ''Buzz'' Fitzgerald, president of Bath Iron Works and a close King ally, said King knows exactly what he's doing.
''The real point of the issue is not whether it hurts his reelection chances,'' said Fitzgerald, who also opposes Question 1. ''Here we have a governor willing to do what he believes is right, without regard to its effect on his electability. And his electability will be just fine.''
Suzanne Delcamp, a staff writer, contributed to this report.
''Do you favor the changes in Maine law limiting protected classifications in future state and local laws to race, color, sex, physical or mental disability, religion, age, ancestry, national origin, familial status and marital status, and repealing existing laws which expand these classifications as proposed by citizen petition?''
Concerned Maine Families and the Coalition to End Special Rights are urging a ''yes'' vote.
Maine Won't Discriminate urges voting "no."