Conventional wisdom says Sen. Hutchison is more moderate than Gov. Perry, but what about on gay rights?
A picture may say a thousand words, but in this case, it’s a little unclear what those words actually are.
Members of Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas were photographed alongside U.S. senator and likely GOP gubernatorial candidate Kay Bailey Hutchison following a press conference here last month to announce her fundraising lead over the incumbent, Gov. Rick Perry.
Log Cabin President Rob Schlein, who later submitted the photos to Dallas Voice, said a field representative for Hutchison’s gubernatorial campaign, Emily Cornell, invited him to the press conference knowing that he heads the gay Republican group.
But Jonathan Neerman, chairman of the Dallas County Republican Party, which hosted the press conference, cautioned against reading too much into the invitation or the photos.
"I think you would be overstating it if you were to say that the Log Cabins were specifically invited to this press conference," said Neerman, himself an advocate for welcoming gay Republicans into the GOP. "I don’t think you’re going to see someone cower away [from a photo]."
Contacted about the invitation to Schlein, Cornell said: "There were all sorts of supporters there. They [Log Cabin members] attended, but it was open to everyone."
Cornell declined to discuss the matter further, referring additional questions to Hutchison’s campaign office in Austin. Campaign spokesman Hans Klingler didn’t return multiple phone calls from Dallas Voice seeking comment.
In any case, Schlein said he intends to support Hutchison if she challenges Perry in the March primary. Hutchison recently announced her resignation from the Senate, and she’s expected to formally announce her candidacy for governor later this month.
"I’ve never talked to her about gay issues, but my impression is she wants to be more open-minded and inclusive [than Perry]," Schlein said.
Indeed, it’s widely perceived that Hutchison is moderate compared to Perry — particularly on social issues like abortion rights — and in recent weeks she’s been preaching a "big tent" philosophy to broaden the party’s base.
However, Hutchison hasn’t specifically said whether her "big tent" includes LGBT Republicans, and local gay Democrats are quick to point out that her record on gay rights in Congress is abysmal.
"Kay Bailey has been moderate on a lot of counts that give us hope, but I don’t think either one of them is going to be good on our issues," said Erin Moore, president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. "It’s like choosing between the guillotine and the rack. We’re in a position to not be any worse off, but we’re pretty bad off to start with."
Nevertheless, Moore said it’s possible some gay Democrats would cross over to vote for Hutchison in a Republican Primary against Perry, given that the GOP nominee would be the clear favorite in the General Election.
Although Texas is trending Democratic, Moore acknowledged that 2010 may be too soon for the party to win a statewide race, and she said she’s unimpressed with the only legitimate Democratic candidate for governor thus far, former State Rep. Tom Schieffer of Fort Worth.
Candidates’ records are equally poor
Paul Scott, executive director of Austin-based Equality Texas, said Perry’s only act in favor of LGBT equality in nine years as governor was signing the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act of 2001, which includes "sexual preference" instead of "sexual orientation."
"I guess you could say that someone could be worse [on LGBT issues], because they could have opposed the Hate Crimes Act," Scott said.
Neither Perry’s campaign nor the Governor’s Office responded to a request for an interview about LGBT issues.
According to news reports, Perry actually attempted to derail the Hate Crimes Act as it moved through the state Senate, but quickly signed it under political pressure once it reached his desk.
In 2003, Perry signed Texas’ Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the recognition of civil unions and other same-sex relationships from out of state. And in 2005, he would become a vocal supporter of Proposition 2, Texas’ constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Perry hosted a ceremony at a Fort Worth church to sign the resolution placing the amendment on the ballot even though his signature was not required, and he overtly used Prop 2 to try to build support among conservative evangelical voters in advance of his 2006 re-election campaign.
Perry once called Texas’ anti-sodomy statute "appropriate," and, asked during the Prop 2 fight what he would tell gay and lesbian veterans returning from Iraq who wanted to wed, he said, "If there is some other state that has a more lenient view than Texas, then maybe that’s a better place for them to live."
"He’s not known as a champion of LGBT rights in any way, form or fashion," Scott said.
But neither is Sen. Hutchison, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign.
The 16-year senator from Dallas has received a zero, the lowest possible score, on each of the last three biennial Congressional Scorecards compiled by HRC. The Congressional Scorecard rates members of Congress according to their support for federal LGBT legislative causes.
Hutchison has twice voted against federal hate crimes protections for LGBT people, most recently this year, according to HRC.
She voted against the Employment Nondiscrimination Act in 1996, when it came within one vote of passage in the Senate.
And she backed the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have enshrined a ban on same-sex marriage into the U.S. Constitution.
"We certainly can say that Sen. Hutchison’s record has not been supportive," said David Stacy, a senior public policy advocate for HRC.
LGBT issues ‘too delicate’ for primary
Regardless of Hutchison’s poor record on LGBT issues, one expert said he believes she may try to subtly court the gay vote during the gubernatorial primary.
Bruce Buchanan, a political science professor at the University of Texas, said he doesn’t expect either candidate to discuss LGBT issues publicly. But he said inviting Log Cabin members to the recent press conference may have been indicative of Hutchison’s strategy.
"Part of what she may be doing is trying to create something of an outreach without actually doing it," Buchanan said. "I think she’d like your [the LGBT community's] votes, but she can’t ask for them because it’s poisonous within the Republican Primary.
"It’s too delicate for a Republican primary," Buchanan said. "It’s too touchy an issue."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 14, 2009.