Governor’s race should draw gay voters to polls

Posted on 14 Sep 2006 at 6:34pm
By David Webb Staff Writer

Candidates mum about stances on LGBT issues for now; deadline for voter registration is Oct. 10

The cooler weather that arrived after Labor Day was accompanied by a hot blast of political campaign advertising.

Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Perry and independent Carole Keeton Strayhorn unleashed $1 million-a-week TV advertising blitzes, while Democrat Chris Bell and independent Kinky Friedman were forced to kick off more frugal campaigns. Newspapers across the state became ripe with stories about the candidates to be considered for governor on Nov. 6.

Local Democrats, counting on a backlash from the Iraq war and changing demographics in Texas, are hoping to make inroads. Republicans, locally and nationally, are hoping to hold on to their advantage.

For the politicos those ardent volunteers for the two major political parties and the independent candidates the hubbub couldn’t start soon enough. They’ve been twitching all summer because they already know how they’re voting and they want to get on with it.

But for some of us, it’s a time to assess the candidates and decide where a vote would best be cast. And there may be more of that going on in the governor’s race this year because of all of the high-profile candidates.

Some political activists are wondering even counting on how the presence of two well-known independent candidates who have strong bases could affect the outcome of the election.

They believe it could cause a crack in Perry’s powerful conservative base.

Almost anything can happen in an election, and in case anyone thinks that no gay or lesbian person in their right mind would vote for Perry don’t be so sure.

The governor organized pastors across the state last year to encourage voter turnout for Proposition 2. The measure passed, adding a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

And Perry said if gay veterans returning from Iraq wanted to get married to same-sex partnersthey should find a more liberal state to make their homes. Prior to the gay marriage issue, he opposed new state hate crime legislation that added sexual orientation as a protected class.

Carla Halbrook, a straight woman who is a national board member for the gay political group Log Cabin Republicans, said she believes most of the organization’s members in Texas would vote for Perry, despite his record.

“He’s not our favorite Republican, and he’s said some things we don’t like, but we have more in common with him on other Republican issues,” Halbrook said.

Halbrook noted that Perry appears to be staying away from gay issues now, as all of the other candidates are.

“Apparently gays don’t figure in this election at all,” Halbrook said.

“I haven’t found anybody making a comment or anything on any Web sites about any gay issue.”

Earlier in their campaigns Bell and Friedman made supportive statements about gay issues. Strayhorn appears not to have been outspoken on gay issues, although she has some gay and lesbian support.

Shannon Bailey, president of Texas Stonewall Democrats, said that gay issues appear not to be on the radar now, but he believes that will change in the coming weeks.

“It will come out,” Bailey said. “The Republicans will use us again as a pawn, I think, to generate their turnout.”

Paul Scott, executive director of Equality Texas, said the governor’s race is a critical one to the state’s LGBT community because the governor is the “face of Texas.”

“We would advocate for anyone who is going to be pro-equality,” Scott said. “We need to have that in that position so the LGBT community can be protected. We are nonpartisan, but we are always for candidates who understand what our issues are and will advocate on our behalf and realize that we are contributing members of society.”

Most gay leaders now believe the gay rights struggle will succeed by gaining the support of political allies, rather than through protests. It seems like a good time for people who have not voted in the past to register and start.

But remember, if you aren’t registered to vote, you won’t have the opportunity to take part on Election Day. The last day to register to vote is Oct. 10.

The passing of former Gov. Ann Richards, who was recognized this week by gay leaders as a politician who had done more for LGBT society than any governor before or since her, reminds us of just how important it is to exercise our right to vote.

E-mail webb@dallasvoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, September 15, 2006.

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