Geoff Kors: The Queerty Interview

QUEERTY REPORTS — In the aftermath of Prop. 8, two No on 8 leaders have come to represent the face of the campaign: Equality California’s Geoff Kors and the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center’s Lorri L. Jean. With everyone from media giants like Rolling Stone to gay rights leaders like Ivy Bottin1 to, well, Queerty, questioning and criticizing the mismanagement and tactics of the No on 8 campaign, Kors has come under heavy fire since Election Day.

Is it deserved?

It’s not an easy question to answer and those looking to this interview for a pat explanation will be disappointed, but as assigning blame is less important than gaining a full understanding of where No on 8 went wrong, we’re grateful that Mr. Kors was willing to talk candidly.

As Kors explains in the interview, his allocated responsibility was fundraising and by that measure he and Equality California were successful. What remains troubling is that even as a member of the executive committee, Kors had little hard knowledge of what was going on in the campaign as it was going on. The collective decision by the executive committee to cede vast authority to professional campaign operatives proved to be a tactical error– and Kors knew it. When the professionally-hired fundraisers failed to meet expectations, Equality California stepped up with their own fundraising effort, which ultimately proved far more successful. That the same oversight wasn’t extended to the rest of the No on 8 effort is one of the great missed opportunities in the battle for marriage equality.

QUEERTY: Who ultimately had responsibility for the No on 8 campaign?

Geoff Kors: Steve Smith from Dewey Square was the lead person hired to run the No on 8 campaign.

And who hired him?

Steve was hired by the executive committee in August 2007 to write a plan that was requested by some of the major funders. At that point there was no movement for a ballot measure, but obviously we were concerned that they would move, especially if the courts were to decide in our favor. So, we hired Steve, who had run, I think, over a dozen successful statewide campaigns in California and run the successful defeat of parental notification campaigns in California.

There are a lot of people who are upset about the passage of Prop. 8, and while criticism has been leveled at the Yes on 8 Campaign, it’s also directed at the No on 8 Campaign. Do you feel that criticism is warranted?

Probably. The Yes on 8 campaign won. So there’s definitely criticism. There’s always criticism of a losing campaign. Even in a winning campaign, there are things that aren’t done well and I think it’s essential that the community learn everything it can from this loss as well as the dozens of other losses we’ve had.

“I will say it’s clear the campaign did not engage the community and our allies.”

One of the biggest criticisms being made, not just by the community at large, but by specific leaders like Rick Jacobs of the Courage Campaign, is that the No on 8 campaign was exclusive and wasn’t interested in outside advice.

As far as the Courage Campaign, we’ve worked with Rick. And through Toni Broaddus, the Executive Director of the Equality Federation … [we] asked in 2005 for the Courage Campaign to get involved in LGBT issues in California. We had seven issues which we thought were priorities [one of them being marriage] and we reached out to him. Rick, at that point, was not involved, and I think it’s great he’s now getting really involved. We reached out to him to be on the campaign committee when we first got together in a big way, probably in March or April, so I don’t know who he’s spoken to since. I haven’t had conversations with him after that initial discussion that we wanted the Courage Campaign to be part of the No on 8 Campaign.

Obviously, we welcome everybody. The campaign committee was over 200 organizations and there no effort– in fact the effort was to get more people involved. My focus was not on that piece, though. I hadn’t heard of any group who was told they could not be part of the campaign committee.

Jeffrey King, executive director of In The Meantime Men’s Group, and Richard Zaldivar, director of The Wall Las Memorias Project, both told L.A. Weekly that they felt they were rebuffed by the No on 8 Campaign. They both said they had offered their expertise and came away with a sense that the No on 8 campaign’s attitude was, “We know what we’re doing.”

Yeah, I will say it’s clear the campaign did not engage the community and our allies. I think that it’s something that was necessary. I’ve seen some people say that people were more engaged in Obama and other things. Ultimately, the No on 8 campaign needed to engage people in a much deeper way and in a much broader way. Separate from the campaign, if you go to LetCaliforniaRing.org, you can see there’s been an ongoing marriage education campaign going on for three years. We’ve been doing outreach and education work in communities of color. Now, this wasn’t part of the campaign, but during this period we did 70 op-eds and ads in newspapers throughout the state, and did pieces in different languages in radio spots and obtained op-eds from a number of community leaders. In fact we actually got some great editorials on marriage in some of those papers. The political director of the No on 8 campaign is Yvette Martinez is the best person to talk about outreach efforts.

But yeah, I wouldn’t argue that the campaign could have and should have done much broader outreach.

As a member of the executive committee, were you getting information or reports on the activities of the campaign and did you have any sense that there were problems?

The executive committee hired strategists to run the campaign, as most campaigns do, and different people of the executive committee had different responsibilities and areas they focused on. When the professional fundraisers were not hitting targets, I moved my work and actually the entire Equality California development effort over to the No on 8 campaign. We turned our major donors over to it, we gave it all our emails and mail. I think Equality California sent out more emails than anyone. We jumped in; there was a huge void in fundraising.

“I didn’t focus more on the field campaign. That’s something which I wish I had done differently.”

In consultation with my board, we decided we’d focus all our efforts on the No on 8 campaign. The direct mail that was sent out, we sent out. There were many groups sending materials out, but the campaign just started using the emails daily I was sending out, because our email, web and fundraising efforts were being so much more effective than the No on 8 campaign’s. I thought that was a good thing to do because the campaign was behind in money, and we felt it was important to pitch in. But there were professional political fundraisers hired there was a professional structure.

So, if you knew there were problems with the fundraising efforts, were you at all concerned about how the rest of the campaign was being run? As a member of the executive campaign raising all this money, did you have any concerns about how it’s spent?

Well, the part of the campaign that I and Equality California were asked to run was the fundraising, and we raised more than any single group, and, in that respect, we were very successful. During the campaign, people would joke with me that I was in in the ‘financial closet’, because literally I was working out of this closet on fundraising efforts, and that was my piece of the campaign. If there’s something which I would consider a mistake I made, it would be that I didn’t focus more on the field campaign. That’s something which I wish I had done differently.

You believe there were mistakes made by the No on 8 Campaign?

There were a lot of mistakes. You know, we hired professionals to run the campaign and these are people who’ve had success in both national campaigns and campaigns here in California. I think moving forward, while we definitely should include professionals, a lot of the work and oversight needs to be homegrown. I think, certainly after this defeat and everything that’s happened since then, there’s a lot of energy,and we need to be doing the sort of grassroots community outreach that Equality California has been doing in the state for a long time.

No on 8 has announced that there will be an independent analysis of the campaign, but we still don’t know who is going to do the analysis and when we can expect it. Is there any more information?

Well, I know it’s going to happen. We’re finding people who have run similar campaigns, but it’s important that we choose people who were not involved in the campaign at all. I know that there are those who disagree with me, but I believe the results of the analysis should be reported to the community. I think it’s important that we do that and that there’s nothing about how we lost that could, you know, be used against us in future campaigns. Again, I know there are those who disagree with me on this.

There are people calling for you to resign, who say that there’s no way that you should lead the next marriage equality battle. What would you say to them?

I would say that Equality California wants to be part of the fight for marriage equality and will continue to do so. We have a vested interest in the issue and we will want to help out in the future. Going forward we need to find better ways to engage people and we need to bring more people into the process. That’s one of the reasons we’re part of the Equality Summit happening in L.A. next month.