Early voting starts Monday; LGBT vote split in races between Duncan, Jenkins and Cortes, Villarreal
Dallas County voters will decide two races of significant LGBT interest in Democratic Primary runoffs April 13.
Early voting in the runoffs runs Monday, April 5 through Friday, April 9.
In the Dallas County judge race, civil attorney Clay Jenkins faces Dallas County Schools President Larry Duncan as they vie to replace openly gay incumbent Jim Foster, who finished last in the primary and failed to make the runoff. The winner will face Republican Wade Emmert in November.
In the runoff for Precinct 5 constable, incumbent Jaime Cortes faces challenger Beth Villarreal. Precinct 5, once represented by openly gay Constable Mike Dupree, includes Oak Lawn as well as heavily LGBT areas of East Dallas and Oak Cliff.
There is no Republican in the race.
Erin Moore, president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, noted this week that voter turnout in runoffs is typically very low, which means that if enough LGBT voters go to the polls, the community could have a major impact in both races.
"In the primary, I told people that their vote counts for 10 people," Moore said. "I think during the runoff, it’s going to be more like 25 people. So if you need a power rush, go vote."
Stonewall Democrats has endorsed Duncan for county judge and Cortes for constable. But the LGBT community as a whole is sharply divided in both races.
Jenkins, a political newcomer who’s reportedly spent a record half-million dollars on his campaign, fell only a few votes short March 2 of capturing the 50 percent needed to win the primary outright and avoid a runoff. Duncan finished second with 30 percent, and Foster finished third with 20 percent.
But neither Jenkins nor Duncan is putting too much in stock those results.
Both candidates pointed to the 2008 race for Dallas County tax assessor/collector. John Ames finished second to Diana Lackey by almost 20 percentage points in the primary, but Ames won the runoff a month later.
"It’s a brand new ballgame," Duncan said this week. "The score’s nothing to nothing."
Jenkins agreed, saying he’s not taking anything for granted. He said Duncan has higher name recognition since he’s appeared on the ballot in Dallas County more than a dozen times.
"We look at it to a certain extent like we’re the underdog," Jenkins said. "We’re working as hard as we can to get our voters back out to the polls."
On LGBT-related policy issues, both Jenkins and Duncan have said they’d support adding gay and transgender protections to the county’s employment nondiscrimination policy. Both have also said they’d support offering benefits to the domestic partners of county employees.
Moore said Stonewall endorsed Duncan based on "his long history not only in Dallas, but with the gay community." Jenkins, who’s from Waxahachie, says he moved to Dallas in 2001, but he voted in Ellis County until 2006.
"I don’t know Clay Jenkins," Moore said. "I’ve met Clay Jenkins … but I don’t know Clay Jenkins, and we know Larry Duncan."
Moore added that Stonewall is "not even considering" two major votes cast by Duncan against the LGBT community when he was a Dallas city councilmember in 1992.
"We want people to become educated about the community," Moore said. "We want people to understand our issues, and however they get there is how they get there."
As first reported by Dallas Voice last month, Duncan voted against a proposal to overturn the city’s ban on hiring gay and lesbian police officers. He later voted to appeal a judge’s decision striking down the ban on gay officers.
Duncan has called the two votes "a huge mistake" and said he’s since become a supporter of full LGBT equality, including same-sex marriage. In 1995, Duncan voted in favor of adding sexual orientation to city employment protections.
"When brought up, I addressed it squarely, and you have all that," Duncan said of the two anti-gay votes in 1992. "I have a solid track record but for that, so there’s nobody else that I can think of who has a comparable record for as long a period of time, albeit not perfect."
Some Duncan supporters have said privately they felt the Voice’s article about his anti-gay votes was a "cheap shot" or a "hit piece."
But Jenkins supporters say the article revealed that Duncan, who’s campaigned as a longtime LGBT ally, has misrepresented himself.
Openly gay Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons, who’s backing Jenkins, has called on Stonewall to reconsider its endorsement of Duncan.
"Larry stands on his record," Fitzsimmons said. "I think the GLBT community needs to consider all of his record before casting its vote."
Jenkins was the top-vote getter in the county’s nine most heavily LGBT precincts, despite past allegations by Duncan supporters that he "isn’t comfortable with the gay lifestyle."
Jenkins has dismissed the allegations, saying he served as best man at a gay wedding, vacations with gay friends, had a gay roommate in college, and has stood up for the civil rights of minorities as an attorney.
"I’m quite comfortable around gay and lesbian people," Jenkins said.
Precinct 5 constable
Cortes, appointed by the Commissioners Court to replace Dupree in 2007, easily defeated Villarreal when she ran against him in the 2008 primary.
But this time, the embattled Cortes outpaced Villarreal by only a few hundred votes, with Mike Orozco finishing third.
A commissioners court investigation released in February accuses Cortes of abusing his office. But Cortes denies any wrongdoing and says he’s the victim of a witchhunt led by Foster, a longtime friend of Dupree’s. He also blamed Republican commissioners and The Dallas Morning News.
"To me this investigation was a sham, it was a farce," Cortes said. "It was solely done as a personal vendetta against me. I think if anybody else had been appointed constable, Jim Foster wouldn’t have a problem with it. It turned it into a personal thing with him."
Cortes said it’s been difficult at times to combat a perception in the LGBT community that he isn’t gay-friendly. He said the perception is based on false allegations of gay-baiting made by Dupree, who defeated Cortes in the 2004 and 2006 primaries.
Cortes, who’s been active in groups like Stonewall Democrats and the gay LULAC Council since taking office, said he’s also hired four openly LGBT employees, including three deputies.
"I think I’ve earned the respect of the LGBT community by my actions," he said. "I’m not just talking. I’ve gone out and been visible in the community, and I will continue to do so."
Moore praised Cortes for his involvement in Stonewall. She said in addition to attending meetings, he’s often volunteered for events.
"For a Latino straight man to do that, that’s pretty remarkable," Moore said.
But Villarreal and her supporters allege that Cortes’ interest in the LGBT community is politically motivated.
"When it’s to his advantage to run against us, he runs against us," said David Morris, the openly gay co-manager of Villarreal’s campaign. "When it’s to his advantage to be for us, he’s for us."
Villarreal was the top vote-getter in seven of the nine most heavily LGBT precincts in the primary, and she said she wouldn’t have made the runoff without the community’s support.
Villarreal said she was unable to interview for the Stonewall endorsement due to a family emergency.
But she said she’s a member of the Young Stonewall chapter as well as Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).
Villarreal said she raised a now-20-year-old gay son.
"Whatever he faced, we faced together," Villarreal said. "My heart is truly in this community, because my son is part of this community."
Early voting will be from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, April 5-9. For more information or for a list of early voting locations, go to www.dalcoelections.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 2, 2010.