Stop SB 48 Conference Call: Initiative Title and Summary Expected in Days
Karen Ocamb

The title and summary from the California Attorney General’s office for the new Stop SB 48 initiative to repeal the California FAIR Education Act is expected in the next two days, Karen England, executive director of the anti-gay Capitol Resource Institute, announced on a Monday night conference call hosted by Public Awareness Ministries

The call was intended to recruit and rally supporters to the signature-gathering campaign, which England said they intend to kick off mid-January. They have 90 days after receiving the title and summary—expected to be towards the end of April to qualify for the November 2012 ballot. California history has not shown any initiative qualifying in that short period of time with only volunteer signature-gatherers. And while fundraising and the prospective campaign budget was not discussed on the call, there is a button on the Stop SB 48 website that requests that people help “Retire the STOP SB 48 Debit Today!”—indicating that the campaign may not be off to a good financial start.

The initiative—entitled the CLASS Act (Children Learning Accurate Social Sciences)—was submitted to the AG’s office on Dec. 5 and is broader than CRI’s first attempt at a referendum that failed on Oct. 11. According to Stop SB 48 sponsors at their website, this attempt is focused on only repealing the “over-reaching” aspects of the law: Stop SB 48 sponsor Jack Hibbs said it is “unacceptable” to require that schools “shine a spotlight on this lifestyle on the one hand and then demand that history books and teachers censor shortcomings on the other.”

“We drafted an initiative that responds to the perception that some want to ignore the contributions of certain individuals,” said Kevin Snider of Pacific Justice Institute Center for Public Policy. “This initiative prohibits history book exclusion of anybody based on their membership in a protected class. But it requires an accurate, historical portrayal of any individual,”

The initiative reads: founder Mark Matta, a 1985 USC grad with an MBA in Finance who also served in the California Senate, is now the “full-time development director for an international media ministry.” According to his website, “Mark is serving as a volunteer executive director of Public Awareness Ministries to help build a standing army, city-by-city, that prays and works together to protect life, marriage, America’s Biblical foundation, the source of our liberty to freely evangelize.” He believes prayer is the “tip of the spear:” By consistently reclaiming our cities for Christ, beginning with prayer, we have the best opportunity to get our states and nation back.

Matta opened and closed the conference call with a prayer that spoke of peace and love—and standing with a sword. He also spent a lot of time promoting and recruiting along the lines pitched on his website:

Restoring America’s Biblical and Constitutional foundation will require prayer and focused work of individual Judeo-Christian citizens like you and me. By God’s grace, if Christians who have a Biblical worldview will GIVE one hour a month in consistent united local prayer and one morning a month to work to advance Biblical values and God-honoring leaders, then we can GET America back. When each of us GIVE six hours a month—we’re on our way to GET America back!

But Matta was ill-prepared for the disruptions on the conference call, both technologically and as a moderator.

Phoners interrupted with claims that England and the Stop SB 48 campaign had blood on their hands—referring to the suicides of gay teens as a result of bullying by people who believe as England does. Interestingly, England felt it was an affront to claim she was a gay-basher without knowing her or having a discussion about her views. She said she was supportive of the state’s existing anti-bullying laws ”no child should be bullied.”

“You can’t accuse me of something unless you hear me and what I have to say,” she said. “I have no problem answering questions from opponents. It’s important to have an open dialogue.”

England spent the better part of an hour—when not interrupted by protesters or Matta’s long, tempered fulminations—talking about her interpretation of the FAIR Act and what it is supposed to do, referring to the L.A. Times editorial that agreed that historians, not politicians, should determine what constitutes history.

England explained how the Stop SB 48 coalition does not back the other four initiatives attempting to repeal the FAIR Act—including the parental op-opt measure—because they allow the legislature to amend the bill. “That defeats the whole purpose,” England said.

“Accurate history” is about accomplishment and not about orientation and mandated lessons for kids as young as kindergarten shouldn’t be mandated. In fact, openly gay assassinated San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk would still be taught about and shouldn’t be excluded simply because he happens to be gay. She noted that she opposed naming a special day after Milk—but she opposed naming a special day after Ronald Reagan, too.

One unexpected theme running throughout the call was how to awake what Matta called the “sleeping giant in America”—reticent pastors are about getting involved with anything construed as political. Matta and England repeatedly referenced a Pastor Jack Hibbs video which one caller said worked effectively with her pastor. There were also question about how to convince home schoolers that they have a stake in how their tax dollars are used in public school.

“It’s a frustration,” England said. “Sometimes they won’t even let you do voter registration.” But churches should get involved since this is a “moral” issue.

One lay pastor asked about the definition of “family values” and why people should focus on this “negative” issue “when Jesus commands us to feed the poor.” England said that was a “much bigger” issue and that the churches haven’t “stepped up” to their role of caring for the poor. However, she said, working to repeal the FAIR Act and feeding the poor “are not mutually exclusive”—she’s doing it! Matta concurred, noting the importance of preserving the “Biblical Constitution.” Both England and Matta got annoyed when the woman caller persisted.

One caller, who said she’d collected signatures for the first referendum, asked if the campaign would point out how this law would “spawn sexual predators” and that “sexual ideas” would be taught—that could “awaken things” in young kids. England said they were focused on the signature-gathering process but when the campaign began, they would—“especially talking about this issue at such a young age.”

Another caller talked about homosexuality as a “moral disease” and how something should be done to help them. England said that was a matter for a whole other call—but noted there are groups such as Exodus and Focus on the Family that deal with helping homosexuals—no mention of all the scientific and psychological evidence that proves that so-called “reparative therapy” doesn’t work.

After one of the last disruptions before Matta placed all calls on “hard mute,” England decried all the hate mail she’s received and added that some Log Cabin Republicans “felt like this” about the mandate. “We all need to make sure kids are not harassed in school. But neither side should be pushing their side in history class,” she said.

England said “I feel very confident we’re going to do it this time.

Equality California has issued statements of outrage—but seems to have done nothing publicly so far. But EQCA’s Rebekah Orr told me for a Frontiers magazine piece that there is work behind the scenes, including:

Voter education, field research and fundraising: We have hired nearly 20 paid street canvass and phone canvass staff to contact thousands of voters in key target areas each week to do public awareness about FAIR, recruit volunteers and to raise money—giving us significantly more on-the-ground resources to do work around the initiatives than we had during the referendum effort. We have work to do with our base—voters who generally support LGBT equality and who support marriage equality, but who we lose on this issue. This team is also doing field research—gathering information about people’s objections to and concerns about the FAIR Education Act in their own words and tracking key words and phrases that we’ll want to factor into our polling and focus groups. In addition, we’ve launched a statewide house party program that gives us the capacity to do similar public education and outreach, volunteer engagement and fundraising. We’re doing some online fundraising and have launched a Facebook app as a list/capacity-building tool that allows people to easily sign a pledge of support (providing all contact info, etc.) and invite their Facebook friends to join too.

Public opinion/ballot title research: We are gearing up to do comprehensive public opinion research on the FAIR Education  Act, as well as doing the fundraising required to conduct research to identify the best potential ballot title language, which will allow us to make informed and strategic recommendations to the Attorney General’s office. Consider this: If these measures reach the ballot, we will spend millions on advertising and public outreach to persuade and educate voters. But, even after all that, many voters may not see or remember that work on Election Day—but they will all see the ballot language. We know from our last round of polling on FAIR that the wording has a huge impact on support or opposition to the measure, so getting this right is critical.

If this initiative qualifies, it may be more difficult to fight because it basically says that ALL history should be taught based on proven accomplishments—not on someone belonging to a particular group— “historically accurate” and merit-based for both gay and straight. But England did have problems explaining it and suggested that the folks might not understand the complicated public policy. However—I think she might be closer to crafting her sound bite for the petitioners than EQCA is to rebutting the Stop SB 48  claims.

 Jeremy Hooper at Good As You has audio of the conference call.

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