Hispanic voters mobilized by anger over conservatives’ immigration reform proposals could give gay underdog a boost in election
Gay businessman Jim Foster hopes to unseat Dallas County Judge Margaret Keliher in the November election. It’s an unlikely but not impossible event, according to some local political observers.
Two years ago, local Republican Party officials probably would have scoffed at such an idea. But that was before Lupe Valdez, a Latina lesbian, won on the Democratic Party’s ticket in November 2004 to become Dallas County’s new sheriff.
Then in April hundreds of thousands of Hispanic demonstrators packed downtown Dallas streets, promising to return to the polls in November to vote against candidates who support immigration policies proposed by Congress and the president.
Pat Cotton, a longtime political consultant who is a Republican, said she doubts Foster could beat Keliher because of her strong credentials and fundraising abilities, but she still is hedging her prediction.
“We can’t take it for granted,” Cotton said. “The Republican numbers have been going down, but I just don’t think in this case it could happen.”
Cotton noted Foster, who owns Parkridge Security Inc., has no government experience and he has lost other political races in previous elections. Keliher, who was elected in 2002, has been a lawyer, a civil district judge and a prosecutor. She was a certified public accountant prior to starting her legal career.
“I just don’t think Jim is in the level there needs to be to defeat Margaret Keliher, whether you like her or not,” Cotton said.
Cotton said the one variable that could cause an upset in the election would be the Hispanic vote.
“The Hispanic vote is the big thing everybody is focused on right now,” Cotton said. “We’ll just have to see if that is as predicted or if it is as usual.”
Traditionally, Hispanic voters lean toward Democrats, but only small percentages go to the polls. Hispanic leaders have launched voter registration drives and are promising a bigger turnout this November.
The election will reveal whether the enthusiasm demonstrated by the Hispanic community during the April protest can be channeled into political activism, Cotton said.
“That will make a lot of things clear as to whether all of those people who demonstrated will get out and vote or if they are even eligible to vote,” Cotton said.
Shannon Bailey, president of Texas Stonewall Democrats, said Democrats are growing stronger in Dallas County. The general election in 2004, when four Democrats won, made that clear, he said.
“We can win county wide,” Bailey said. “I think there is a chance, but that’s a tough race.”
Foster said he is more optimistic about his chances.
“If you look at the numbers, Dallas County is going to turn Democratic in November,” Foster said. “The pendulum is swinging, and it’s been swinging in that direction for a long time.”
Foster said he believes Keliher’s performance as county judge has been lackluster, and voters want a change.
“The big problem is her inability to develop a team,” Foster said. “It’s always one battle after another battle with the members of the Commissioners Court.”
He described Keliher as a “Lone Ranger,” and said he would work more effectively with the court, which is predominantly Republican.
“I’ve always been able to work with a wide and diverse group,” Foster said. “I don’t see that this would be any different.”
Cotton said she agrees Keliher has many detractors, but Republicans are going to support her whether they like her or not.
“There was a lot of effort to try and replace her in the primary, but no one will take her on,” Cotton said. “Everybody is afraid of her fundraising ability.”
Foster said he is confident of a win, and he is considering changes that need to be made in county government.
One of those would be to include sexual orientation in the county’s anti-discrimination policy, he said.
“Discrimination of any kind should not be tolerated,” Foster said. “You wonder why that there is not such a policy so that would certainly be one of the things that would be changed.”
Keliher did not return a voice mail message left at her office seeking an interview.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 16, 2006.