Last night the Anchorage Assembly passed the LGBT rights ordinance, AO-96, by an overwhelming 9-2 margin with Eagle River assembly members Amy Demboski and Bill Starr voting “no.”
Here are 4 things you need to know going forward:
This was not a compromise
In the midst of the debate Assemblywoman Amy demboski exclaimed “This is not a compromise!” Regardless of the spin the Mayor’s office, assembly members, and the media put on this, Demboski is correct. You will hear from those on the left that because self-described conservative Bill Evans sponsored the bill and then jointly sponsored a substitute with progressive Patrick Flynn this ordinance must represent a fair compromise between conservative and progressive values. That is just wrong.
The truth is Evan began by releasing and supporting a bill that was almost exactly what the LGBT was looking for. This meant when negotiations with Flynn started it represented a discussion between the center-left and the solid-left positions on the issue. The conservative faith community never had a seat or credible advocate at the negotiating table. The LGBT community not only had theirs in Flynn, but also had the spokesman for previous attempt to pass this ordinance (One Anchorage) in the mayor’s office to guarantee their values were represented.
This dynamic, along with the 9 of 11 votes supporters carried in their pockets guaranteed no substantive movement by progressives on any of the key issues of ministerial protections or religious conscience protections. In the end there was none.
If you want proof this ordinance did not represent a compromise look no further than the audience’s reaction to the vote. The LGBT community immediately rose in standing celebration while people of faith quietly simmered as they retired to the parking lot. As anyone who has watched the Seahawks’ repeated pummeling of the 49ers can tell you, that is the sound of victory, not compromise.
There will be a initiative or referendum
Everyone in the room last night was resigned to the fact that the religious right was going to put AO-96 on the spring ballot in some way. It could come in the form of a referendum, which repeals laws on the books, or it could be as an initiative, which adds language to the law.
One way or another this is going to happen. The religious right is hell bent to make it happen.
My conjecture is that religious groups will go with the initiative route. By doing so they can tailor their fight to introducing religious conscience and/or ministerial protections into the ordinance and thus focus the debate on religious liberty rather than LGBT rights. Most political insiders I spoke with agreed repealing AO-96 entirely would be a tough sell to voters, but protecting the freedom of religion could be a winner.
People are mad as hell at Bill Evans, but not about LGBT issues
I spoke with folks from the religious community at the hearing and asked them if they were really going to try to recall Bill Evans. I was shocked to even hear talk of such a thing since such a move would leave conservatives with LESS power on the assembly. The assembly has the power to appoint replacements to the body in such cases, so even if conservatives pick up the open seat in West Anchorage and South Anchorage, retain Amy Demboski, and beat either Dick Traini or Paul Honeman in the spring election, they still don’t have the votes to appoint Evans’ replacement. Its also worth pointing out that under that same scenario if Evans wasn’t recalled he could then be the 6th vote to create a conservative minded assembly majority to check Mayor Berkowitz’s progressive agenda. My question to them was “why would you recall a guy only to have him replaced by a progressive assembly and mayor and maybe cost yourself a shot at a ruling majority?”
Their answer was that they really feel Evans’ lied to them. He claimed in pre-election interviews he would not support such an ordinance, and then not only did he vote for it, he sponsored it.
It is fashionable for those on the left to see folks like Alaska Family Council head Jim Minnery and Anchorage Baptist Temple political consigliere Glenn Clary as hateful and Machiavellian figures completely devoid of character or conscience. In my experience that isn’t true. I don’t share their values on everything, but I can tell you those two men, and we could add Dave Bronson and others, hold themselves stringently to the moral values they espouse. There is a phrase they beat into us during my Americorps days that comes to mind “be the change you want to see in the world.” You may not agree with their vision for change, but don’t doubt that hold themselves to it as much or more than they do anyone else.
This is why when they feel they have been directly lied to by an elected official they react so harshly. They see it as a character failing of the highest order. They will say the recall effort on Bill Evans isn’t about the LGBT issue, it’s about his lying to them to get their support. To those on the left this will seem like a thin facade. If I hadn’t worked with these men I would probably think the same thing. I truly believe, however, these religious conservatives have had it with being lied to and they are not going to take it anymore. They feel lied to by Lisa Murkowski and Bill Evans and they are hell bent to draw a line. One of them told me last night “I’d rather elect a liberal with integrity up there than another “conservative” who lies to us.” That may not be what the recall is about to many of their supporters or opponents, but that is what it is about to them.
The spring elections will be judgement day for the religious right in Anchorage
The religious right appears to be pushing their chips all in on for the April 5th municipal elections. They are gearing up for a referendum or initiative on the LGBT rights ordinance, a recall of Assemblyman Bill Evans, and hope to recruit and elect strong family values candidates to the 5 Assembly seats that are on that same ballot. A total sweep in those elections would undo the damage they see as created by the AO-96, put a scalp on the wall that warns other Republicans and conservatives not to cross them, and put in place a conservative majority on the Assembly to challenge the progressive administration of Ethan Berkowitz.
More than any of those things however, a complete sweep would restore the religious right’s damaged credibility in the wake of this spring’s disastrous mayoral elections for which even many republican activists and voices blame them.
On the other side, if the religious right loses their referendum/initiative drive, fail to recall Evans, and wins any fewer than all 5 of the assembly races, thus preserving a progressive majority on the assembly, it could spell the end of their influence in both local and republican politics for a long time. Republican activists and strategists already tell me they dismiss the religious right as all talk and no muscle. This result would devastatingly spread and harden that opinion throughout the party. Republican candidates and lawmakers in most districts would no longer fear a challenge from the religious right and would be empowered to do as Evans has, vocally embrace a more socially moderate perspective.
Such a loss would also empower the Berkowitz administration to pursue their solidly progressive agenda without reservation. Oh, and by the way, I’m pretty sure the Anchorage Baptist Temple could say goodbye to their municipal property tax exemptions. As they say, you take a shot at the king, you better kill the king. It would effectively be the end of days for conservative faith based community in Anchorage.