Democrat was only candidate to respond to interview request; others quiet on LGBT issues
As Texas’ four gubernatorial candidates prepare this week for their only scheduled debate in the November election, only one seems to be willing to discuss LGBT issues.
Democratic Party candidate Chris Bell granted a telephone interview this week, but requests for interviews with Rick Perry and Carole Keeton Strayhorn went unanswered. Kinky Friedman’s press secretary responded, but Friedman never called.
Although nothing is being discussed about gay issues, Bell said the candidates’ stances seem clear, based on what happened when a gay political group in Houston wanted to screen all of the candidates. Bell said he was the only governor’s candidate to agree to be screened.
“I think that sends a pretty clear message where they line up in terms of issues important to the GLBT community,” Bell said.
Of the four candidates, only Bell and Friedman have publicly sought the gay vote.
Friedman was interviewed by the Dallas Voice last year, and at that time he said he opposed the anti-gay-marriage amendment, Proposition 2, which passed in November 2005. The entertainer-turned-politician said he also supported gay marriage. The only problem with Friedman’s two statements, according to Texas Stonewall Democrats President Shannon Bailey, is that Friedman failed to vote in the election.
The Friedman campaign failed to respond to an e-mail message asking for a comment about Bell’s and Bailey’s criticism.
Michael Doughman, president of the Dallas Tavern Guild, said that the Friedman campaign registered as an entry in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, but the candidate did not show up. Instead, a man wearing a Kinky-like hat and smoking a cigar drove a car in the parade.
Bell said that he believes Friedman’s and Strayhorn’s candidacies might help him win the election. He notes that some polls have shown him in second place, hovering only about 10 points behind Perry. Others show him trailing Perry by more than 20 points and behind Strayhorn.
“It was a forgone conclusion early on that Kinky Friedman would hurt me, and now given a lot of the stands he has been taking in the last few weeks I think who he really is going to end up hurting is Rick Perry,” Bell said. “I think he is sending Democratic votes back to me in droves.”
Friedman has been quoted saying he attributes a spike in crime in Houston to minority New Orleans residents who relocated there after Hurricane Katrina, and it was revealed that some of old comedy routines were viewed as insensitive to some minorities.
“We’ve been saying it for a long time, but I think people are beginning to see it is three Republicans versus one Democrat,” Bell said. “I like the way that math works.”
Bell said he is uncertain why LGBT issues are not being discussed by any of the gubernatorial candidates.
“Usually, those are put forth as wedges used by the Republicans,” Bell said. “I don’t know what will happen in the closing weeks of the campaign.”
Bell said he believes that voter dissatisfaction with the Iraq war and other Republican policies will draw a greater turnout on Election Day than in previous years.
“I think things going on the national front always have an impact on statewide elections,” Bell said. “Anyone who pretends differently really hasn’t paid much attention over the years.”
Bell said the turnout he is seeing on the campaign trail and at rallies convinces him people are more engaged this election year.
“In places that aren’t considered Democratic strongholds at all, large crowds have been showing up,” Bell said. “It certainly appears a lot of people are coming of the woodwork and are now willing to stand with the Democratic Party that probably weren’t just two to four years ago.”
Although Bell said he is being overwhelmingly outspent by Perry and Strayhorn on campaign advertising, he believes he can still win the race. He currently is advertising on cable television and plans to move to broadcast television in the final weeks of the campaign.
“Our strategy is different,” Bell said. “We know who we need to bring over, and it is not as expensive of a thing to do.”
Bell said he believes voters in Texas are beginning to understand that change is necessary to improve state government, particularly in the area of public education.
“Texas is just about the worst position in way too many categories, and there’s no excuse for that,” Bell said. “We’re not going to be able to get out of the ditch unless we have new leadership.”
Although Bell does not support gay marriage, he is in favor of civil unions that would grant same-sex couples partner rights.legislation that would ban gay adoptions or foster parenting.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, October 6, 2006.