County judge candidates wooing Stonewall

Posted on 10 Dec 2009 at 6:10pm
By John Wright | News Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

Gay incumbent Foster expects endorsement; Duncan, Jenkins also have supporters in LGBT political organization


Jim Foster, Larry Duncan and Clay Jenkins.

In a sign of the LGBT community’s growing political clout, all three Democratic candidates for Dallas County’s highest elected office in 2010 are actively courting the gay vote.

Openly gay Dallas County Judge Jim Foster, the incumbent who chairs the Commissioners Court, is seen as vulnerable but confirmed this week that he plans to seek re-election, even though he hadn’t filed to run by Wednesday, Dec. 9. The filing period for March primaries began last week and ends Jan. 4.

Dallas County Schools President Larry Duncan, a longtime straight ally of the LGBT community, and Highland Park lawyer Clay Jenkins have filed to run and will challenge Foster for the Democratic nomination.

Foster, Duncan and Jenkins all attended Stonewall Democrats of Dallas’ annual holiday party at the Round-Up Saloon this week, and all three said they would seek the group’s endorsement next month.

"Obviously the county judge race is going to be interesting," Stonewall Democrats President Erin Moore said. "I know all three of them have supporters in the group."

Moore added that Stonewall Democrats gives consideration to the fact that a candidate is openly LGBT only if "all other things are equal."

Stonewall Democrats, one of the county’s largest Democratic organizations, will hold its endorsement meeting for the primary the weekend of Jan. 14-16. And the race for county judge is one of several in which multiple gay-friendly candidates will vie for the group’s backing.

Local Democratic primaries have become more competitive in recent years as the party has solidified its majority in Dallas County.

"We’ve got a lot of friends running against each other, so it’s going to be a tough endorsement process," Moore said.

Foster was endorsed by Stonewall Democrats when he ran unopposed in the primary in 2006. A relative unknown outside the LGBT community at the time, Foster pulled a shocking upset of Republican Margaret Keliher in the general election as Democrats swept countywide races for the first time in decades.

Since then, Foster has been referred to as the "accidental judge" and widely criticized for his job performance, including by fellow Democrats and some LGBT leaders. Interviewed this week, Foster dismissed speculation that he’ll opt not to run.

"I think the news of my demise has been greatly exaggerated," Foster said. "Not only am I running, but I intend to win this election."

Asked whether he anticipates that he’ll again receive Stonewall Democrats’ endorsement, Foster said, "I don’t see how it could go to anyone else.

"I’ve spent my entire adult life working for the betterment of this community," he added.

Duncan, a former Dallas city councilman and longtime party activist, also has solid LGBT credentials.

Duncan’s résumé as an ally stretches back to the 1980s when he served as president of the Dallas Homeowners League, which endorsed Bill Nelson, the first openly gay candidate for City Council.

Duncan remains one of the most active non-LGBT members of Stonewall Democrats and was a finalist for the group’s Pink Pump Award this year.

"The others [Foster and Jenkins] were there last night, when it’s time to have a party," Duncan said a day after the event at the Round-Up. "I didn’t just show up with my hat in my hand when I want folks to support me because I’m running for election. I’ve been there month in, month out for years."

Asked whether he thinks he has the inside track for Stonewall’s endorsement, Duncan said: "I don’t take anything for granted, but a very sizeable number of the active community [leaders] have endorsed me."

Jenkins is perhaps the least well known of the three in LGBT political circles. But he has raised the most money and has been endorsed by numerous Democratic elected officials, including openly gay District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons.

Asked about LGBT issues, Jenkins noted that he was the voting rights attorney in Texas for the Obama campaign last year.

"I believe the issues that are important to the GLBT community are the issues that are important to everyone in Dallas County," Jenkins said this week. "I became a lawyer to protect people’s rights and to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and equally."

Both Duncan and Jenkins said they support expanding the county’s employment nondiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Foster said during his 2006 campaign that he would seek to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the policy, but he now says it’s been impossible due to opposition from other commissioners.

"I’m the only member of that court who supports it, and until we get some new gay-friendly members on that court, you will not see a change," Foster said.

The Commissioners Court currently has a 3-2 Republican majority, but in addition to Foster, two of the Republicans are up for re-election.

All three Democratic candidates for county judge also support offering domestic partner benefits to county employees, but Jenkins added that he would first want to study the cost.

On the Republican side, Cedar Hill councilman Wade Emmert is the only person who’s filed to run for county judge, although former Dallas City Councilman Mitchell Rasansky has been rumored as a possible candidate.

Log Cabin Republicans President Rob Schlein said Emmert has attended multiple Log Cabin meetings in recent months and is a "great guy."

"He’s a self-professed right-winger, but I think the role of county judge probably is more budgetary than it is community-issue specific," Schlein said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 11, 2009.

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