Two years ago, when Richard Carlbom was hired to direct Minnesotans United for All Families, he faced what seemed like an impossible task: to succeed where pro-gay-marriage groups in 30 other states had failed. But with Carlbom at the helm, Minnesotans United ran one of the most impressive ballot initiative campaigns in the state’s history against the Republican-proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Carlbom crafted an ambitious messaging strategy that framed the campaign as a family issue – a departure from the civil rights rhetoric that had failed in other states. The group also recruited more than 50,000 volunteers and raised more than $11 million, ultimately leading to a historic win in November 2012.
After defeating the amendment, Minnesotans United refocused its efforts on lobbying the Legislature to legalize gay marriage. Carlbom was a key player behind the scenes, using the abundant resources of Minnesotans United to convince legislators to support the bill. Carlbom met personally with lawmakers, and volunteers and lobbyists relentlessly called upon legislators who they believed could be persuaded. MN United also connected pro-gay marriage constituents directly with their lawmakers. The bills passed the House and Senate, and in May Gov. Mark Dayton made it official by signing the measure into law in front of thousands on the steps of the Capitol.
Lawmakers say Minnesotans United was an integral component in making Minnesota the 12th state to legalize same-sex marriage. Carlbom’s peers describe him as a brilliant political mind with an unparalleled knack for reading voters. A Minnesota native, Carlbom attended St. John’s University, a Catholic college near the central Minnesota town of St. Joseph, where he majored in political science. Carlbom jumped head-first into a political career at 23, right after graduation, when he was elected mayor of St. Joseph. Shortly after winning a second term, he resigned his post to work for Tim Walz’s U.S. Senate campaign. Carlbom helped Walz win re-election in 2010, a notoriously successful year for Republicans. He was later hired as communications director for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.
Since helping pass the marriage bill, Minnesotans United reinvented itself once again, this time as a PAC that is vowing to watch the backs of swing-district legislators from both parties who stuck out their necks to support gay marriage. Carlbom also landed a new gig directing state campaigns for Freedom to Marry, a national organization dedicated to legalizing same-sex marriage in states across the country.