Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Leading the Charge: In October, Aubrey Sarvis Took the Helm at the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. Will His Rolodex of Political and Business Bigwigs Be Enough to Overturn "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"?

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Leading the Charge: In October, Aubrey Sarvis Took the Helm at the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. Will His Rolodex of Political and Business Bigwigs Be Enough to Overturn "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"?

Article excerpt

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U.S. ARMY VETERAN AUDREY SARVIS has won his share of skirmishes in Washington. As chief counsel for the Senate Commerce Committee, he helped push through historic airline deregulation; as Verizon's top lobbyist, he fought for the landmark overhaul of U.S. telecommunications law. But as the new executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, the 63-year-old South Carolinian could be in for his biggest battle yet.

Do you have what it takes to repeal "don't ask, don't tell"? The challenge is not unlike my previous experiences. On the Hill it was about moving legislation and persuading the president to sign it. It was the same in the private sector--bringing before the Congress the business and practical realities of particular legislation. Here, we're faced with bringing before the Congress the practical realities of a really bad law.

What is your game plan for getting lawmakers' attention? Do you expect that the issue will progress differently with a Democratic-led Congress? We have to go before the House and Senate Armed Services committees and make our case. It's one vote at a time. It's sitting down face-to-face and telling our story and making the case that it was a mistake in 1993 when Congress passed this law.

What is priority number I as you embark on this challenge? Creating a national political campaign. This is a new commitment from the board, and it and the staff are committed to raising the resources to mount this. It'll look like a traditional national presidential campaign: We'll go to targeted congressional districts; we'll focus on targeted states. The organization has already been doing that, but we have to do a hell of a lot more.

What else will you do? We have to convince our supporters and friends of a new sense of urgency, to renew their investment with us. We already know our [$2.8 million] budget has to be doubled within the next 18 months. A national campaign costs money. We also have to look at a broader coalition. This fight has to look like those that led to the [1964] civil rights legislation. What we're asking Congress to do is to give us a civil rights bill. …

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