Texas’ only openly LGBT legislative hopeful takes on Dan Branch in November general election
Texas officially has an openly gay candidate for state Legislature in 2010.
Pete Schulte, a Democrat who’s running for the District 108 House seat, confirmed this week for the first time publicly that he’s gay. Schulte said he recently attended candidate training from the national Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, and he’s seeking the group’s endorsement.
Schulte faces Republican incumbent Dan Branch in November. Branch, who represents heavily gay areas of Dallas, has an anti-LGBT voting record during his eight years in the Legislature.
When Schulte challenged Sheriff Lupe Valdez in the Democratic primary in 2008, he didn’t respond to questions from the media about his sexual orientation. But Schulte said that’s because it was a Democratic primary, and given that Valdez is a lesbian, he didn’t want the race to become a "battle of the gays."
"Anybody who’s known me knows that I’ve never hidden who I was," said Schulte, who was unopposed in this year’s primary and has been endorsed by Stonewall Democrats of Dallas.
"I’ve never been in the closet, so to speak, personally," he said. "When it was in the media, we just never talked about it. But now that it’s the general election and it’s a Democrat versus a Republican, either I bring it up or you know the Republicans will. I just want both sides to understand that I will be an advocate for all Texans in the district, including the GLBT community."
Schulte, former police officer and prosecutor, has made headlines recently as an attorney for the plaintiff in a same-sex divorce case. He’s hoping the LGBT community will rally behind him despite the fact that he challenged Valdez, the nation’s only openly lesbian Latina sheriff.
Schulte said he ran a clean campaign in the 2008 primary that ultimately helped Valdez become a stronger candidate in the general election.
"I hope people go back and look at what I did after she won [the primary]," he said. "I went and saw her in her office, congratulated her, I gave her money, and I supported her in November. She became such a strong candidate that she helped lead the ticket to victory."
Schulte is the only known openly gay candidate for Texas Legislature this year.
Texas is one of 20 states that lack an out legislator. The only openly LGBT legislator in the state’s history, Glen Maxey, represented an Austin district from 1991 until 2003.
According to the Victory Fund, no significant pro-equality legislation has ever passed in a state that lacked an out legislator. But Schulte said LGBT issues won’t be his main focus — either during the campaign or if he’s elected.
"I don’t want this to be gay Pete versus straight Dan," he said. "This has got to be on the issues, and if it’s ever brought up in a debate or what not, I’m always going to say, ‘Look, I’m not going to be going down to Austin to focus on one slate of issues.’ Those [LGBT] issues are important, but they’re not the top priority right now. … What’s important right now is trying to fund our schools, trying to do criminal justice reform, trying to keep the jobs in Texas."
At the same time, Schulte said, Branch has been "awful" on gay rights. The incumbent campaigned in support of Texas’ constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and he voted in favor of a proposed ban on gay and lesbian foster parents.
"Dan has completely alienated a large portion of his constituency," Schulte said. "The biggest thing that I’ve heard from talking to people in the district, is that it’s become very clear now that this is a stair step for Dan Branch. He’s raised a lot of money to run for attorney general. Obviously [Sen.] Kay Bailey Hutchison didn’t hold her word and resign like she promised she would, and that didn’t allow the shuffle. But if anybody thinks that Dan Branch doesn’t have his eyes set on higher office, they’ve got another think coming. When politicians are looking to move up and stair step into a higher office, they’re not going to hold their neck out for anything, and that’s just not the type of legislator I’m going to be."
In 2008, Stonewall Democrats targeted the 108 seat, going after Branch and rallying behind Democrat Emil Reichstadt. Despite having Barack Obama at the top of the Democratic ticket, Reichstadt captured less than 40 percent of the vote in the general election.
Schulte acknowledged that it will be an "uphill battle" to turn District 108 blue. In addition to portions of Oak Lawn, Uptown, downtown and East Dallas, the district includes the conservative Park Cities. But Schulte said Reichstadt’s campaign wasn’t run as well as it could have been.
"If you look at this district, it’s a Democratic district, it’s just that they don’t vote, and that is going to be our main focus, is to get people to the polls," Schulte said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 19, 2010.
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