Gay Fort Worth city councilman acknowledges he’s thought about 2014 campaign in District 10 if incumbent runs for governor
FORT WORTH — LGBT Democrats in North Texas now have yet another good reason why state Sen. Wendy Davis should run for governor in 2014.
While Democrats across Texas eagerly await Davis’ announcement about her future plans, gay Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns confirmed this week that he’s thought about running for Davis’ Senate seat if she runs for governor.
Amid the growing support from the Texas Democratic Party and Battleground Texas urging Davis to run in a new “We Want Wendy” campaign, Burns told The Dallas Morning News he’s been approached by operatives about seeking Davis’ District 10 seat.
“It’s something that I have thought about,” Burns told the Morning News. “But until she decides what she wants to do, I can’t give it more than that.”
Davis recently became a favorite possible Democratic candidate for governor after she shot to stardom for her 12-hour filibuster to block the passage of a restrictive abortion bill on the Senate floor. She has said she’ll decide whether to run for governor by Labor Day with an announcement soon after.
But Davis represents a swing district in the Senate, so Burns or another Democrat would face a tough battle in the general election. Three candidates already are seeking the GOP nomination.
Burns said if he decides to run for the office, he could use his experience on the council to build coalitions among voters on key issues.
“Anyone who has shown a history of forging coalitions and can talk about the main street issues facing Texas has a leg up,” Burns said.
Chuck Smith, executive director of statewide advocacy group Equality Texas, said he was “certainly excited to hear that [Burns is] considering it” and said he could see him following Davis’ path again.
Davis appointed Burns to the city Zoning Commission and he later went on to run and win her seat when she left the council to run for the Senate in 2007. He was re-elected earlier this year to a third full two-year term.
Although an openly gay Democrat running in a Republican-leaning district would be a challenge, Smith said Burns’ history of success in Fort Worth and his dedication to his council district would be an asset to the state Senate.
“Yes, Joel Burns is a gay man, but he’s also proven to be a damn good council person,” Smith said. “That’s the kind of service that makes someone a good public servant and that ability and talent would translate to service in the Senate.”
And though Texas has had two out state representatives, it has never had an out state senator. Smith said having one would help advance equality.
“I think it’d be a step forward for the state of Texas to have an openly gay state senator,” he said. “And I think he’d make a great one.”
Davis has been a longtime LGBT ally since her days on the Fort Worth Council. Smith said the organization has worked with her in the past and hopes to continue to do so in whichever office she decides to run for.
“She is a very valued ally and we’re very happy to have her represent Senate District 10 and would be happy working with her in that capacity or in another capacity,” Smith said.
Burns gained national attention when he became a star among the LGBT community for his “It Gets Better” speech he delivered before the council in 2010, sharing his experiences of being bullied when he attended Crowley High School. A video of the speech posted on YouTube has been viewed almost 3 million times.
Felipe Guttierez, president of Tarrant County Stonewall Democrats, said Burns is already the favorite among people in Tarrant County.
“We’re hopeful that Sen. Davis will run for governor,” he said. “And in considering possible candidates to replace her in SD 10, I think Joel is the strongest candidate.”
He said Burns’ work on the council and within the community has made him a dedicated leader with the power to create change. He said his popularity locally and nationally would help him fundraise for the tough fight against Republicans who want to reclaim the seat.
“Not only does he have name recognition, but he has the ability to raise the kind of money to win in the district,” Guttierez said. “He’d be a great candidate and a great replacement in Senate District 10.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 16, 2013.