Lesbian politician looks forward to day when Harris County is no longer dominated by “‘far right fringe’ of Republican Party
HOUSTON Annise Parker has witnessed firsthand how LGBT people are often treated in Harris County courtrooms.
When Parker, a lesbian who is now Houston’s second-ranking public official, sought to adopt two girls from foster care four years ago, a judge refused the proceeding. Finally, after hours of painstaking uncertainty, Parker’s attorney was successful in pleading for an alternate judge to perform the adoption.
Now, Parker and other gay Democrats in Houston say they’re poised to fix the problem. With some 4 million residents, Harris County is third-largest in the nation, but there is not a single Democrat in countywide elected office.
“It’s not just that every single officeholder in Harris County is Republican, it’s that the party has been dominated by the far right fringe,” said Parker, who’s in her second term as Houston’s controller. “It’s not a fair or pleasant experience going through the courts, so we are really focusing on restoring some balance.”
With dozens of judgeships as well as the district attorney, county attorney and sheriff’s races on the ballot this year, some Houston Democrats say they’re hoping to replicate what took place in Dallas County in 2006.
“We expect a clean sweep,” said Ray Hill, a longtime activist who is known as the father of Houston’s gay-rights movement. “We expect the Democrats to win every contested race countywide in Harris County. We expect to do a Dallas County on them.”
Hill and others said one of the keys to this year’s elections will be Houston’s LGBT community, which was energized by three recent city council runoffs in which the gay vote played a significant role.
City government has long been considered progressive and gay-friendly. Parker served six-years in an at-large City Council seat before being elected controller, where she acts as Houston’s chief financial officer.
Parker plans to run for mayor in 2009, and another lesbian at-large member of the City Council, Sue Lovell, was recently named vice mayor pro tem.
But Houston is spread across three counties and accounts for only about half of Harris County’s population.
Harris County voters favored George W. Bush over John Kerry by a margin of 52-48 percent in 2004.
In 2008, though, Democrats expect a more favorable presidential contest for Texas. And while it has been difficult to recruit Democrats to run in Harris County in the past, this year there are several contested Democratic primaries.
“Top to bottom, there are a lot of problems on the Republican side in this cycle that certainly were not there in 2004,” said Richard Murray, director of the University of Houston’s Center for Public Policy.
Murray said one of the biggest problems has been controversy within Republican ranks. Most recently, longtime Republican Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal was pressured into withdrawing his name from the re-election ballot by fellow members of the GOP.
Rosenthal, a conservative Christian who unsuccessfully defended the state’s sodomy statute before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003, is under investigation by the Texas Attorney General for e-mails containing racist jokes, sexually explicit videos, political campaign material and love notes to his secretary.
Of course, the controversy surrounding Rosenthal is extra sweet for gay Democrats “We were sort of joking last night that we ought to send out a press release in support of him because he did such a bad job of defending [the sodomy statute] that it was overturned,” said Jack Valinski, director of operations for the Houston GLBT Political Caucus.
“It’s just absolutely incredible,” Valinski added of the allegations against Rosenthal. “The Democrats don’t really have to do anything. They’re just falling apart without the other side doing anything.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 25, 2008