Thursday, March 31, 2005

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: FRAMING & SPINNING

As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
March 31, 2005

The Santa Fe County Democrats passed a resolution this week in favor of gay marriage.

Or did they?

I got an e-mail Tuesday from a local Dem who was at Monday night's Santa Fe County Democratic Party convention who said the story I had written about it was inaccurate in one respect.

The word "marriage" never is mentioned in the resolution.

"Please note that it is critical for the press to accurately frame the dispute," the e-mail said.

"Full Civil Rights is the issue; marriage is not," the e-mail concluded.

Yikes! Did the Legislature really eat my brain? How could I have ever made such a stupid mistake?

Looking at the resolution -- which passed on a voice vote with only one Democrat dissenting -- one "whereas" states that "same-gender couples in New Mexico in committed, loving relationships are not currently permitted to take advantage of the full array of civil rights freely given to opposite-sex couples that have full civil rights."

What civil right could that be? The right to chicken done right? Is "marriage" the civil right that dare not speak its name?

The next "whereas" says, "the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and several other countries in the international community of states have extended full civil rights to same-gender couples."

If I remember correctly the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that laws against same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. Were there other civil rights for same-gender couples allowed there that I forgot about?

And finally the only "separate-but-equal" laws mentioned in the resolution are "domestic partnership or civil union legislation." (New Mexico doesn't have any such law.)

Somehow these things led me to believe Monday night's resolution had to do with marriage.

Actually, according to some party insiders, the choice not to use the word "marriage" in the gay-marriage resolution came about because "we were trying to frame it as a civil rights issue and not 'gay marriage.' "

As one local party honcho said Wednesday, " ... when you get blamed for losing a presidential campaign for the Democrats because of gay marriage, well you just get a little timid."

The claim that marriage wasn't the issue of the resolution reminded me of someone on the opposite side of this issue: Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, who said "I know you're trying to make this a homosexual issue. I'm trying to make this a marriage issue. It is a family issue," when I asked him at a press conference how allowing same-sex couples to marry threaten heterosexual marriages.

Wouldn't it be nice if politicos just said what they meant instead of worrying so much about "framing" and spinning?

Rapid response: It used to be that when a Congressman had a "town hall" meeting around here it wasn't much of a big deal. A few citizens with specific concerns would show up, the Congressman would listen to concerns, shake some hands and try to score some political points, and the press -- and just about everyone else would ignore it.

But those days might be numbered.

Twice this week I've received calls from Danny Diaz, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee. I got to know Diaz during the last election when he was a spokesman for the Bush campaign. He'd faithfully call any time John Kerry or John Edwards came anywhere near the state.

But "rapid response" isn't just for elections any more.

This week Diaz was calling to give responses to Congressman Tom Udall, who conducted four town halls about President Bush's social security privatization plan including a panel discussion in Albuquerque with U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman.

On Wednesday morning the e-mailed "response" to Udall's town hall in Taos from a Diaz assistant arrived about three hours before the meeting started.

There's not enough space here to get into the arguments for and against the social security plan. Let's just say Udall is against it and Diaz thinks he should be for it.

Town Hall flashback: The only congressional "town hall" I ever tried to cover was on a slow news day back when Gov. Bill Richardson was a Congressman. The only memorable thing that happened was when a local character -- a man known for always wearing a dress -- read an original poem. This epic seemed to go on forever with the poet getting angrier and more animated with each verse. When he started yelling "Goddamn you, goddamn you!" Richardson looked concerned. I glanced over at then-Richardson aide Butch Maki, who at the time was in the same karate school as me, wondering if Maki would have to use his martial-arts skills. Luckily the guy in the dress calmed down when the poem ended.

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