For those who aren’t aware, the Secular Coalition for America represents 11 member groups and it serves as the lobbyists for the secular community. I’ve been a vocal supporter of the SCA (and many of their member organizations) for years.
A few days ago, they announced their new Executive Director and the secular community got very excited. Unfortunately, most of this excitement was rather negative. You see, the new Executive Director is Edwina Rogers, a republican lobbyist with a history that reads more like someone we’d be working against, than with.
I wanted to wait a few days before commenting on this announcement, in order to do some research, wait for more information and really think things through. In the past few days I’ve seen both unfair, reactionary criticism as well as many valid concerns and, after listening to Greta Christina’s interviews with Edwina and Roy Speckhardt (he was on the SCA board that hired her), I can stay silent no more.
Let me start by pointing out that I’m still supporting the SCA’s goals and I’ll continue to support the member organizations. I’m strongly opposed to those who have called for people to stop supporting the member organizations. Please don’t do that.
I can’t stress this enough. Even if your objections to this appointment are strong and sound, it’s not the fault of the member organizations and we need people to work together toward solutions. The students who benefit from the SSA, had no part in this and the same is true for people who benefit from all of the other member organizations – withdrawing support is the wrong way to react to this situation.
I want the secular community, as a whole, to succeed. I love that we have a lobbyist and I’m not so partisan that I’m opposed to having a republican lobbyist. In fact, I think there’s a strong case to be made that a republican lobbyist might be exactly what we need. I’m not even opposed to having a “hired-gun” lobbyist whose personal views aren’t known. I think that many in the secular community would agree, as long as we have good reason to be confident in the choice.
That said; I’m going to be an honest friend to the SCA and give them my frank opinion:
The SCA screwed this up, in a major way.
I don’t mean that they necessarily screwed up by hiring Edwina Rogers, though I do think that may be the case, I mean that they screwed up the introduction of their new director to the community.
What the community needs is someone we can rally behind, someone who inspires people to participate in the process, someone who we have confidence in, and someone who is a passionate representative of the issues we value. It’s possible that Edwina could have been that person, with the right introduction, but it’s going to be virtually impossible for her to achieve that, after having been unceremoniously dumped in the laps of people who don’t know her and don’t trust her. Quite frankly, what I’ve seen and heard from her doesn’t fill me with confidence in either Edwina or the SCA.
The announcement of a new SCA Executive Director should have been met with enthusiasm, instead it was met with suspicion, discomfort, and a string of both fair and unfair attacks that have left much of the secular community divided and bewildered. (Crommunist posted his thoughts with links to the thoughts of others at FTB, including PZ, Greg Laden, Stephanie Zvan, Jen McCreight and more… )
Edwina is a non-theist who is pro-choice, favors marriage equality, supports church-state separation and when asked why she’s been working for and donating money to republicans who stand in opposition to these values, her answer is, well…a little hard to pin down, and harder to believe once you know what it is. She was extremely evasive during the interview with Greta (though Roy doesn’t seem to think so…which I consider to be symptomatic of the bigger problem).
Every time Greta tried to address a conflict between the values that Edwina shares with us and the position that republicans take, Edwina simply pointed out that this conflict isn’t from every single republican, and may not represent a majority.
That’s political bullshit. No one is saying that all Republicans are the same, that all Democrats are the same or that all atheists or secularists are the same. We’re all aware that there are atheist republicans. The point was that the Republican Party – as a party – stands in opposition to values that are important to much of the secular community. It’s right there in their platform, repeatedly.
(From the 2008 Republican Party Platform: “At its core, abortion is a fundamental assault on the sanctity of innocent human life. Women deserve better than abortion.” – “Because our children’s future is best preserved within the traditional understanding of marriage, we call for a constitutional amendment that fully protects marriage as a union of a man and a woman.” – “…and ever grateful to Almighty God…“)
I find it absolutely unbelievable that a lobbyist with 20 years of experience could be oblivious to this, and that means that her tap-dancing responses were intentionally deceptive.
This evasiveness makes it appear that Edwina is a hired-gun lobbyist who is willing to set aside her personal views and lobby in support of people who directly oppose them – so was she doing that when lobbying for republicans or is she doing it now? Either way, there’s a credibility issue and considering that attempts to get her to answer questions on this subject have been met with tap-dancing, sophistry and claims that strain credulity, I’m unable to fully trust her.
My problem with Edwina isn’t that she is a Republican or even that she donated to Rick Perry (though this does speak to her character, as does her dismissing this issue by noting that Perry used to be a democrat) – my problem with her is that she doesn’t seem to see why those facts cause people in the secular community to be suspicious. She doesn’t seem to have the first inkling that professing secular values while donating to one of the most bat-shit crazy, anti-secularism governors on the planet might give people pause.
She’s going to be lobbying on behalf of church-state separation issues and apparently doesn’t know how to spot them, or never previously cared about them.
The SCA knew about her past and knew that hiring her was going to be controversial. So what did they do? They gave the secular community a new lobbyist who has never been active in the secular community, doesn’t seem to know much about us, doesn’t know how to talk to us and doesn’t seem to have a very realistic view of the Republican Party – or at least doesn’t want to honestly address that subject – and they didn’t do much of anything to make this situation work out in a positive way. They pretty much crossed their fingers and hoped that everyone would just sing ‘Kumbaya’ in support. Even in yesterday’s interview with Roy Speckhardt, he pretty much said that he hopes everyone just falls in line and that he doesn’t have to deal with a situation where people don’t accept her.
I would have thought that someone would have taken a moment to consider how this announcement might be received and then tried to figure out what they could do to make it as successful as possible. I would have thought that they would have taken some steps to help make it easier for people to be enthusiastic about the new Executive Director of the umbrella organization that represents us all.
It would have been smart to have her say something like “For years, I worked for people who directly opposed many of the things that I value most. My priorities have changed and I can’t continue to do that – I want to spend my time working to promote the secular values that I hold dear.” So, did this not happen because no one thought of it, or because it’s not true?
I think the answer is clear: it’s not true. She’s had no change of heart; she’s had a change of employment. She doesn’t see any significant problem with the Republican Party, just little problems that provide opportunities to educate.
It would have been smart to come out of the gate with some new policy initiative for people to get excited about, something that would help ease some of the concerns that people have. So, did no one think of this, or is there just no plan?
Having coalitions up and running in all 50 states by the end of the year is an ambitious goal, but it’s not new and I’m doubtful about how they plan to achieve this when the hiring of the very person who should be inspiring the formation of these groups has been, well, uninspiring.
It would have been smart to get feedback from some of the community leaders before hiring her, but it definitely would have been smart to get feedback from the community leaders about how best to introduce her to the community.
Yes, there was a conference call (which I was unable to attend) but that was too little and too late.
There are a lot of other smart things that could have happened – and it’s curious that none of them did. The SCA board has a lot of smart people on it, so why was this situation handled in a way that borders on gross incompetence? Why does this entire situation feel so, icky? Why does it feel like she was set up to fail?
It’s entirely possible that the SCA has done a brilliant job of selecting our new lobbyist – but they’ve done a horrible job of convincing anyone of this. If the decision-making process to hire her was anything like the decision-making process surrounding her debut, that’s a problem. The most enthusiastic response I’ve seen is, ‘give her time’. I agree that we should give her time (I’m not sure that we have a choice). Let’s see what she can do for us. I hope it’s not too late. I hope that we ultimately find out that she’s great…but I’m not holding my breath.
I tried to be very positive and supportive about this decision, but I simply cannot. I’ve heard her speak and listened to her think on her feet when faced with mildly troubling questions – she does not do well. She definitely knows how to give political, seemingly diplomatic answers, but she doesn’t say much of value. She doesn’t say things that resonate or inspire and she doesn’t come off as honest, passionate or knowledgeable.
It’s been suggested that she must give answers like this, in order to be effective. It’s been suggested that she can’t come out of the gate pissing off the very connections that she was hired to make use of. That may be a valid argument, but it doesn’t do a thing to energize the community.
I won’t pretend to know much about lobbying, and I especially don’t know much about lobbying republicans, so it’s possible that she may be my best representative…but after hearing her speak, I really find myself wishing that she wasn’t speaking on my behalf. She doesn’t know us, because she hasn’t been a part of us. She doesn’t seem to understand us and she doesn’t know how to talk to the secular community – which makes me doubt her ability to speak on behalf of that community.
That’s something she may learn, with time, but surely something could have been done to make this process easier.
The bottom line:
I want to wave the flag for every secular group and cheer on the leaders and representatives of every secular group. I understand that it’s unlikely that I’ll always be able to do that – but I should always be able to do that for the umbrella organization that represents all of us. I should always be able to point to the SCA and especially the Executive Director of the SCA as some of the best representatives of the secular community.
Right now, I can’t do that. I still support the mission of the SCA. I’ll still work toward that mission. I’ll still work alongside the SCA. I’ll even work alongside Edwina, if the opportunity presents itself…but this situation has been botched. I don’t know what needs to be done to repair the damage, but I hope that we can – and soon.