Dobson’s Low Profile Hides Focus on the States

Following the rejection of the Right’s political agenda in the last election, there have been a number of news articles written in recent months about a potential split emerging within the evangelical political community, with newer leaders pushing to incorporate issues such as the environment and poverty into the agenda, while old-school leaders seek to quash any efforts to dilute their traditional anti-choice, anti-gay message.  

From this split, some new right-wing leaders appear to be emerging, such as Richard Land who seems to be attempting to position himself as the Right’s new powerbroker, seemingly at the expense of James Dobson.  For his part, Dobson has been keeping something of a low profile, perhaps chastened a bit by the controversy he generated when he suggested that presidential hopeful Fred Thompson was not a Christian.   

Other than appearing from time to time to declare that he won’t support or vote for Rudy Giuliani or John McCain, Dobson has been relatively quiet as of late – but that doesn’t mean that his organization, Focus on the Family, has become any less influential or involved in politics, especially at the state level. Just in the last two days, it has been reported that FOF has hooked up with a new “state policy council” in Washington and is affiliated with a similar organization in West Virginia, both of which have a similar goal:  pushing the right-wing agenda at the state level and energizing right-wing voters ahead of the upcoming elections. 

Focus’s own Citizenlink reports:  

The Family Policy Institute of Washington, the 32nd state policy council fully associated with Focus on the Family, is up and running.

“God has brought this organization together very quickly and with a solid foundation," said John Paulton, manager of special projects for Focus on the Family Action. "We’re delighted to be associated with the Family Policy Institute of Washington (FPIW), and we look forward to partnering with them on some critical battles.

“The development of this new organization couldn’t come at a better time. Washington state is a pivotal state right now on several fronts, particularly on the defense of marriage.”

With local elections this year and governor and Legislature races next year, Executive Director Larry Stickney said his work is cut out for him. Gay-rights supporters in the Legislature intend to rewrite the state's Defense of Marriage Act — maybe as soon as next year.

And he's hitting the ground running in Washington. His team is working to build a state-of-the-art database of values voters. So far, they have 50,000 names.

He's also trying to get out the vote. In the 2006 general election, just 12 percent of values voters showed up at the polls, he said.

"This is why we've lost so much ground here. We see our work cut out for us, as reinvigorating the conservative Christians."

And the Charleston Daily Mail reports on the emergence of a similar group in West Virginia:

[The West Virginia Values Coalition seeks to tap] into that potential power and creating what he calls "an army of citizen soldiers" who will advocate on behalf of conservative family values.

Yes, that means lobbying the Legislature and passing laws that the organization considers "Biblically-based" -- for example, an amendment to the West Virginia Constitution specifying that marriage is between a man and woman.

[Jeremy] Dys and the Values Coalition expect to have help from one of the most powerful conservative Christian organizations in the country, James Dobson's Focus on the Family.

The organization, which says it is "dedicated to nurturing and defending families worldwide, is considering forming an "association" with the West Virginia Values Coalition. That would give the coalition considerable additional credibility and resources.

Focus has state-level affiliates spread throughout the country and though they have “no corporate or financial relationship to each other or to Focus on the Family,” they all share the same goal: “serving as a voice for the family and assisting advocates for family ideals who aim to recapture the moral and intellectual high ground in the public arena.” 

So while Dobson and his organization have been relatively quite on the national front recently, it is clear that their political activities on the state level continue to move forward.  And one should not expect Dobson’s silence to last much longer, as he is set to be honored at the upcoming Values Voters Summit in October as the Right prepares to energize and mobilize its base heading into next years election.