Activists, Conventions, and the GOP platform

Posted on 05 Sep 2014 at 7:00am

Texas GOP’s anti-gay party platform made headlines, but it isn’t really an aberration

2014-GOP-Convention

PARTY FOR THE FAITHFUL | The 2014 Texas Republican State Convention ended with a platform that calls for reparative therapy for LGBT people. (Rex C. Curry/Associated Press)

James Russell  |  Staff Writer

When the Texas Republican Party passed its party platform in June in Fort Worth, the 40-page document called for freedom and prosperity for Texans — except for LGBT Texans.

Despite all the attention the Lone Star GOP got for its antiquated views on LGBT rights and “reparative therapy for gays and lesbians,” Texas’ Republican platform isn’t really all that different from other state GOP platforms. As it turns out, GOP platforms in all but seven states and Washington, D.C. include some form of anti-LGBT language.

In some states, the language uses the national party’s platform language, opposing LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage. In other states, party platforms go further.

Texas is one of those states.

The 2014 Texas Republican platform did remove some of the harsh anti-gay language that had been included in the 2012 version. But the “softer” language was not much better: “Homosexuality is a chosen behavior that is contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths that have been ordained by God in the Bible.”

Were that not enough, a last ditch move by conservative activist Cathie Adams of the Texas Eagle Forum got a plank regarding the “legitimacy and efficacy” of reparative therapy.

Adams told the Texas Tribune that she faced criticism after it passed. After the convention, Texas GOP Chair Steve Munisteri told Texas Public Radio while he opposed the language, he couldn’t kill it without gutting the entire platform.

A quick perusal of state platforms provided by The Huffington Post indicates Texas is alone in specifically mentioning reparative therapy; otherwise the language is similar to others nationwide.

Among the most frequent anti-gay platform planks are those opposing same-sex marriage, even in states where it has been legalized, like Iowa and Massachusetts. Other planks include opposition to adoption by same-sex couples and to nondiscrimination ordinances.

Oklahoma’s 2013 platform, for example, opposes “[repealing] the elimination of laws against sodomy.” It also mentions opposition to “gender-norming, promotion, co-ed training and housing and ‘sensitivity training’ in the military.”

James Riddlesperger, a professor of political science at Texas Christian University, emphasized that party platforms are non-binding. Whether it’s the Democratic or Republican convention, those attending are primarily die-hard party activists.

“They [the conventions] mostly attract people who have axes to grind,” Riddlesperger said.

And those activists typically do not resemble the average voter, who Riddlesperger described as “partisan, but not to the extent of a party activist.”

Attending also costs a lot.

“Going to a convention entails giving up three to four days of work and a weekend at your own expense. When you think about the personal investment, it takes a particular type of person to go to a convention, typically hyper-partisan political junkies,” Riddlesperger pointed out.

Conventions are clearly not entirely dated concepts, but many candidates no longer attend. Elected officials like the former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison “often chose to chart their own course,” Riddlesperger said.

He cited the increasing use of digital and social media by candidates, which broadens their voter and donor base as one reason fewer candidates attend conventions now.

But not attending a convention does have a price.

The party activists Riddlesperger described are seen as the grassroots voters who are more likely to vote in primary and run-off elections. In a nearly one-party state, the candidates they back usually become the elected officials.

In the case of the GOP, those voters are known, if not sometimes inaccurately, as Tea Party voters. Their presence at the conventions spills into the polls, with their influence clearly determining election outcomes. While conventions may attract mostly activists, their influence is still undisputed.

As the Tea Party emerged on the right as an influential movement, activists flocked to the conventions to have their voices heard. Thus the party also moved rightward.

And as the convention’s influence wanes, grassroots groups also take over, in sometimes-raucous factions.

In Arizona and Nevada, libertarian-leaning Republican activists took over conventions. In Arizona’s case, party leaders shut the convention completely down.

That is not the case in Texas, however, where a very socially conservative base still commands the party’s mantle.

“An interesting development occurred in 2010,” Riddlesperger said, “when Hutchison ran against incumbent Gov. Rick Perry in the Republican primary.” While Perry was deeply unpopular in the state, he went to the grassroots and reached out to the party activists. He crushed Hutchison in the primary and won re-election that year against Democratic candidate Bill White, the former Houston mayor.

Hutchison retired in 2012, leaving Texas with a rare open Senate seat. While the party’s preferred pick, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, was seen as the front-runner, underdog candidate Ted Cruz roused the grassroots across the state. Cruz pushed Dewhurst into a run-off, and ultimately secured the party’s nomination and won the general election.

Earlier this year, Dewhurst was defeated by conservative state Sen. Dan Patrick in the run-off for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor.

So while conventions may be limited in their appeal to a variety of voters, the grassroots voter influences those conventions and the non-binding platforms.

Over the past six years, Riddlesperger said support for same-sex marriage and the LGBT community has grown. “Even President Obama said in 2008 he didn’t support same-sex marriage,” he noted.

As public opinion in favor of same-sex marriage grows in favor in Texas and elsewhere, “fewer and fewer Americans want to entangle themselves” in the issues, Riddlesperger said. While many voters may struggle reconciling their beliefs and faith at the polls, the party must progress on social issues and minority outreach at the same time, he said.

Earlier this year, a federal judge struck down Texas’ same-sex marriage ban. A recent Texas Tech poll showed support for same-sex marriage in the state on the uptick.

Nationwide, young people are more likely to support LGBT rights as a whole.

Meanwhile Munisteri has to deal with the party in its current state.

When the Texas convention ended, he received a flurry of phone calls from people angry about the inclusion of reparative therapy in the platform, he told Texas Public Radio. “And I just make the point for anybody that thinks that may be the possibility: Do they think they can take a straight person to a psychiatrist and turn them gay?”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 5, 2014.

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