Democratic frontrunner cites marriage amendment as example of governor ignoring real issues
Gov. Rick Perry is ignoring the real issues facing Texas to focus on things like passing the state’s 2005 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, former Houston Mayor Bill White told Stonewall Democrats of Dallas on Tuesday night, Jan. 19.
White, who’s considered the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for governor, is one of 58 local, state and federal candidates who was endorsed this week by Stonewall Democrats in the March 2 primary.
After the endorsements were finalized, White spent about 20 minutes addressing a standing-room-only crowd at Ojeda’s Restaurant on Maple Avenue. He mostly used the opportunity to criticize Perry, whom he expects to be the Republican nominee.
"Rather than pay attention to those issues that affect all Texans, he wants to pass a constitutional amendment governing who marries whom," White told Stonewall, citing things like high dropout rates, skyrocketing college tuition and rising utility and insurance costs. "I mean, instead of dealing with the real issues of state government, he’s more concerned about making up issues that don’t exist, and we need to say no to that kind of politics in our state, and we need to say no in this election."
White faces six other Democrats in the primary for governor. The only other candidate who sought Stonewall’s endorsement was longshot Dr. Alma Aguado.
A campaign spokeswoman for Farouk Shami, White’s most formidable challenger in the primary, said Shami failed to seek Stonewall’s endorsement due to an "organizational error."
"By the time we located it, it was past the deadline," Shami spokeswoman Kelly Love Johnson said of Stonewall’s invitation. "Farouk would love to have the endorsement. Unfortunately, we can’t turn back time."
Hours before White addressed Stonewall, Love Johnson released Shami’s policy statement on LGBT issues, which is nearly identical to one published previously by Hank Gilbert, a Democrat who dropped out of the governor’s race to run for agriculture commissioner.
Both Gilbert and Shami propose repealing Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage and allowing civil unions that grant gay and lesbian couples the same legal privileges and protections as heterosexual couples. The statement also proposes legislation banning discrimination in employment, insurance and public education based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Charlie Ray, Shami’s press secretary, said in a statement that "… Farouk’s stance on LGBT issues reflects a true champion for LGBT rights and not the same old ‘all hat, no cattle’ approach the LGBT community receives from other candidates. We would challenge the Stonewall Dems to revisit the endorsement with a thorough review of our policy and further, we challenge every Democrat to adopt our LGBT policy."
Stonewall Democrats President Erin Moore said the group’s endorsement of White is final, but she added that Shami will be invited to address the group’s membership at its February meeting.
Asked whether White will release a policy statement on LGBT issues similar to Shami’s and Gilbert’s, campaign spokeswoman Katy Bacon said he’s "not one to just pick up someone else’s agenda." Bacon added that she expects White to issue his own policy statement on LGBT issues in coming weeks.
"I wish I could give you a timeline, but I don’t want to give you a timeline and have it change," Bacon said.
White had a gay brother who died several years ago, and he appeared in Houston’s Pride parade in each of the years he was mayor. He previously told Dallas Voice he supports civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. While he didn’t discuss specific policy proposals on Tuesday, he expressed general support on issues such as domestic partner benefits and employment nondiscrimination.
Asked by a Stonewall member whether he would appoint openly LGBT people to state boards and commissions, White said, "I will appoint members of boards and commissions that reflect who Texas really is across the spectrum, and you can bet that I have a track record of doing so."
Asked whether he would adopt a nondiscrimination policy for the governor’s office that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, White noted that while he was mayor of Houston, an executive order was in place banning anti-gay job bias in city government.
Asked about his views on same-sex marriage, White responded that the governor can’t unilaterally overturn a constitutional amendment.
"I spoke up on my views about that constitutional amendment at the time, and I voted accordingly, and I voted like a lot of people here —we didn’t win," White said. "I was a leader when we [Houston] had a charter amendment before I was mayor against partner benefits, and I helped lead the campaign to defeat that charter amendment. We almost did, but we didn’t, we lost.
"And part of your job and part of my job is to make sure that people are registered, that they’re aware, and that people don’t think that off-year elections are minor elections and that the only real election occurs in a presidential year. Because it was in just such an off-year election that we saw that constitutional amendment passed."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 22, 2010.