I was going to use my lunch hour today to write my account of the Assembly meeting last night. But that’s going to have to wait: there’s something more important to say at the moment.
We learned midway through the Assembly hearing that numerous red-shirted ordinance opponents had been bused in from the Mat-Su Valley — and some of these non-residents were coming forward to testify. Assembly Vice-Chair Harriet Drummond objected during the meeting to permitting their testimony but Assembly Chair Debbie Ossiander decided to permit it, on the grounds that many Valley residents work or shop in town.
But Mat-Su residents are citizens of Mat-Su Borough, and the governments there. The Anchorage Assembly is supposed to be the government for Anchorage citizens, Anchorage voters. Why are people from outside being permitted to testify in an attempt to influence our government’s decisions about us?
John Aronno of the relatively new blog Alaska Commons, sitting just a couple of people away from me, was recording the entire proceedings, and intends to post transcripts as the week progresses. He was also paying close attention to the “testimony from non-residents” issue. In the wee hours of the morning, he had this to say:
[S]hould we be concerned that anyone was allowed to give testimony, regardless of resident status? Going into today, the vast consensus was that we would not reach a vote. The confirmation of this was not a surprise. However, only getting through eighty out of 300 plus three minute testimonies? There was, unquestioningly, some legitimate points made on each side that should be paid attention to, from people that reside outside of Anchorage. But, should they not be bringing their points, beliefs, and testimonies to their own assemblies? If everyone on the “waiting list” shows up again on June 16th to speak, we’re looking at easily another ten hours of testimony. And, as you’ll see when I am able to upload the transcripts from tonight, easily one third (a conservative estimate) was from out of town.
I will grant you that both sides had out of town representation regarding a bill restricted to Anchorage city limits, but for anyone who was there, and as I believe the transcripts will show, it would be very difficult to argue that it was even in displacement. While one out of state doctor argued the merits of the original wording of the ordinance and the importance of protection for transgenders, and four or five parents spoke on behalf of children who had left the state claiming discrimination on account of being gay, there was a heavy contingent from the Mat-Su Valley, who reportedly arrived in buses, that helped bolster the ranks of the Jerry Prevo, Ron Hammon persuasion. In effect, it looked more like a fillibuster than a string of testimonies.
Besides which, the four or five parents who spoke about their children who left the state were all themselves, from what I heard last night, Anchorage residents. The only person identified as a non-Anchorage resident who testified in support of the ordinance was the doctor to whom John refers.
There were a few Mat-Su supporters of the ordinance present last night, to be sure — Phil Munger of Progressive Alaska, for example, and Linda Kellen Biegel of Celtic Diva’s Blue Oasis [see correction below]. I saw Linda after the Assembly adjourned for the evening, when she came into chambers to ask Assembly Chair Ossiander why she’d permitted the non-resident testimony. (She received the same explanation we’d been given earlier, including Ms. Ossiander’s frank statement that other Assembly members had objected but that as chair, it was her prerogative.) Phil posted last night with photos of the Anchorage and Mat-Su children, some as young as ten, that had been bused in by Anchorage and Mat-Su fundamentalist churches to help front the outside-the-chambers propaganda battle; today, he points out how the Don Hunter, in his Anchorage Daily News story about the hearing, is “totally incurious as to where all those kids in red came from.” But — neither Phil nor Linda attempted But Phil made no attempt to testify. I doubt it even occurred to them him to try.
Correction! Linda informs me (in comment below) that I am in brain-fart-land — well, actually she didn’t use that term, I do. In any case, I was wrong in my belief that she now lived in the Valley. She’s an Anchorage resident, has been nonstop since 1984, & is on the list to testify. Way down on the list. #313. I wonder just how many bused-in Mat-Su residents are on the testimony list ahead of her?
Might there be legitimate reasons for a non-resident to testify? The testimony of the pro-ordinance doctor from out-of-state suggests one reason: expert information. She testified specifically about the medical standards of care for transgender people undergoing transition, relevant in particular to the problematic “bathroom language” in the current draft of the proposed ordinance. It would also seem a no-brainer that visitors to Anchorage might be victimized by the types of discrimination and bias that are at question in the ordinance, in public accomodations at least; and former residents might have stories to tell too — as indeed Linda Kellen might have: she received harassing phone calls and all four tires of her car were slashed simply because of her support for a similar ordinance in 1992. (I believe she later wrote that the tire-slashing was investigated as the Municipality’s first case under a hate crimes law put in place around that time.) Another reason I can think of for why a nonresident might legitimately testify would be if they ran a business in Anchorage, and would therefore be subject to the ordinance’s nondiscrimination provisions in how they treat their employees.
Did any of the Mat-Su residents who testified last night have reasons of that nature? It’ll be interesting to analyze, once John Aronno gets those transcripts posted, what exactly the Mat-Su residents imported into this Anchorage question testified to. Are they among those who claimed that there religious freedom was somehow being violated if Anchorage passes this ordinance — in spite of the fact that their churches are based in the Valley?
But the bottom line remains: the Anchorage Assembly is, in the final analysis, answerable to us, not to Mat-Su residents.
And one must wonder: why did Jerry Prevo & company feel the need to ship in resources from out of town?
In 1998, proponents of Ballot Measure 2, which resulted in the amendment to the Alaska constitution which defined marriage as being between “one man and one woman,” were able to win the battle for advertising in no small part because of huge influxes of money from Outside. As explained at the time by Dan Carter, treasurer of Alaskans for Civil Rights/No on 2, in a letter to Alaska newspapers dated October 30, 1998:
While Alaskans for Civil Rights has received $35 from Outside gay/lesbian organizations ($25 from the Philadelphia Task Force and $10 from Pride, Inc. from Macon, GA), the proponents of this unnecessary measure were receiving almost $560,000 from Outside groups trying to rewrite Alaska’s constitution. When you look at how much money each side has raised from INDIVIDUAL ALASKANS, the financial reports are even more revealing. For every dollar raised by the NO on 2 campaign, 89 cents has come from individual Alaskans. On the other hand, for each dollar raised by the so-called Alaska Family Coalition, less than 9 cents has come from individuals living in Alaska. That’s the real issue in this campaign. Why should Outsiders determine if Alaska’s constitution should be amended? What is their agenda?
One can phrase a similar question now: Why should Mat-Su residents determine the fate of Anchorage’s equal rights ordinance? What is their agenda?
In this battle, the opposition is not just borrowing outside expertise or outside money — they are using actual outside bodies. All those bright young kids in red t-shirts bused in by Mat-Su fundamentalist churches who stood outside the Loussac Library last night waving signs. All those Mat-Su adults who spend time in Anchorage part-time at best, recruited by Prevo & company in order to try to affect the laws governing the citizens of Anchorage who live here full time.
But there’s another question we can ask too. If this ordinance is as bad for Anchorage as Jerry and company claims — why do they have to bring in people from outside the Municipality to fight it? Can it be that ordinance opponents simply don’t have as much support as they claim to in Anchorage? And if they don’t — why are they trying to sabotage the democratic process of Anchorage government?
(Silly question, I know. Since when did Prevo & company care about democratic process?)