LGBT advocate vows to work with GOP in Texas House, says LGBT equality ‘not a partisan issue’

Posted on 04 Nov 2010 at 9:49pm

Log Cabin Dallas president urges not to just automatically assume Republican lawmakers are anti-gay

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

Log Cabin Dallas President Rob Schlein
NO ASSUMPTIONS | Log Cabin Dallas President Rob Schlein believes there are Republicans in the Texas House who will support certain LGBT issues.

Republicans across the country rode a wave of voter unrest into office at all levels on Election Day, and that includes the Texas House of Representatives, where Democrats lost 23 seats, giving Republicans a two-thirds majority.

In a state where the GOP party platform calls for the sodomy law to be reinstated and for anyone performing a same-sex wedding to be jailed, that Republican landslide seems — at least at first glance — to be a disaster for the LGBT community.

But Chuck Smith, deputy director for Equality Texas, said this week that Republicans are likely to have far too many pressing issues piled high on their plates when the Legislature convenes in January to spend any time on anti-LGBT measures.

“These legislators are going to be too busy trying to balance the budget,” Smith said. “Gay bashing is notgoing to rise to the level of anyone’s top priority.”

And Rob Schlein, president of Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas, suggested that Democrats shouldn’t be too quick to judge GOP lawmakers as anti-gay, anyway.

“It’s a little early to be prognosticating about what’s going to happen,” Schlein said. “I would recommend that these activists not be so quick to project that all these Republicans are so anti-gay. You don’t know that. Just take a deep breath and deal with the landscape as it exists today. Get your issues together, find out who can stand behind them, and move ahead with them one at a time.”

Smith said that when the 2011 legislative session opens, there will be 100 Republicans and 50 Democrats in the Texas House, compared to the 2009 session when there were 77 Republicans and 73 Democrats.

Of those 150 lawmakers, 37 will be new to the Legislature, and of those six will be Democrats and 31 will be Republicans. Of those 31 Republican newbies, Smith said, “only four made any mention at all of being pro ‘traditional marriage’ or pro ‘family values’ in their campaigns or on their websites.”

Those four, Smith said, were Erwin Cain in District 3, Connie Scott in District 34, Four Price in District 87 and Kenneth Sheets in District 107.

Cain, whose website says he believes “that marriage is between one man and one woman,” owns a real estate investment company. He defeated incumbent Democrat Mark Homer by a 15-point margin. Cain lives in Como, and attends First Baptist Church in Sulphur Springs.

District 3 encompasses the suburban and rural area north and east of Dallas, including Paris, Sulphur Springs and Mt. Pleasant.

In District 34, Scott defeated Democratic incumbent Abel Herrera by an 8-point margin. On her website, Scott said she supports “preserving family values” and that she opposes gay marriage. She co-owned and operated a small pipeline construction company for 10 years, and now lives in Robstown. She is a member of River Hills Baptist Church.

District 34 encompasses primarily Nueces County, including Corpus Christi, on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Four Price, who swamped Democratic candidate Abel G. Bosquez by a 58-point margin in District 87, described himself on his website as “pro-family/pro-life,” and said he opposes gay marriage. He is an attorney and co-managing shareholder in Irwin, Merritt, Hogue, Price & Carthell, P.C.

District 87 is located in the Texas Panhandle, with Amarillo — where Price lives — on the district’s southern edge.

Sheets defeated LGBT ally and Democratic incumbent Allen Vaught by 5 points in District 107, located on the west side of Dallas County. Sheets’ website describes him as “supporting pro-life and pro-traditional marriage policies.” He wrote, “I also believe the definition of marriage should always remain as the union between one man and one woman.”

Sheets is an attorney who served in the Marine Corps in Iraq, and he is active in the St. Thomas Aquinas community.

Despite their inclusion of anti-gay stances on their websites, Smith said, “None of them ran campaigns on supporting bullying in the schools or bashing gay people. Like everyone else, they focused on the economy, jobs and the deficit.”

Smith said, “The turnover we saw [Tuesday night] was based on the economy and on jobs and on spending. Certainly, it was sad to see any of the members with whom we have had good working relationships in the past not be re-elected.

“But equality should be a non-partisan issue, and we will be looking to work with” lawmakers of both parties.”

Smith said Equality Texas’ No. 1 priority in 2011 will be anti-bullying legislation, and that he believes there are Republicans in the state House who will support such a measure.

“We have to pass this bill so that not one more child is ever left to feel hopeless and consider taking their own lives,” Smith said. “We had bipartisan support for [Rep. Mark] Strama’s anti-bullying bill in 2009, and I think we can have that support again in 2011. This is a child welfare issue, and not one more child should die before the state of Texas deals with it.”

Schlein said he also believes there are Republicans in the House who will support anti-bullying measures, including District 108 Rep. Dan Branch, who defeated gay candidate Pete Schulte by 32 points to be re-elected.

Schlein said he had spoken with Branch’s campaign coordinator, telling him that there are “some real problems in the gay community than can be solved, things like hospital visitation and passing property between partners.

“And he told me they had been looking at the bullying issue. So I think we should approach them and start there.”

Schlein also agreed with Smith that the budget would be everyone’s top priority.

“I don’t think denying gays any rights is really high on the agenda for Republicans. Actually, I am hearing more and more activists within the party saying that the [anti-gay elements of the state platform are] hurting us, and we need to fix it. I am hearing them say the party needs to be a lot more open to minorities,” Schlein said. “I just think people need to not be so quick to judge. That hurts our chances of being successful when you just do that automatically.”

Smith and Schlein also both said they believe that moderate Republican Joe Straus is likely to be re-elected as speaker of the House, despite Warren Chisum’s plans to run for the position. Chisum, who represents District 88 in the Panhandle and lives in Pampa, has in the past often spear-headed attempts to pass anti-gay legislation, including bills that would have prevented lesbians and gays from being foster or adoptive parents.

“I think Strauss will win it again, even though a lot of the Republican activists are hoping for someone more conservative. Strauss seems to be a pretty pragmatic guy,” Schlein said.

Even if Chisum were to win the speaker’s seat, Smith predicted, “we would still come back to the budget deficit being the No. 1 issue. He [Chisum] still wouldn’t have any more time to deal with the kinds of social issues he is on record as supporting.”

Despite his pledge that Equality Texas will work with House Republicans, Smith acknowledged that the LGBT community did lose a number of allies in the midterm elections — and those could have been prevented if Democratic turnout had been higher.

“Twenty-two seats in the House flipped from Democrat to Republican, and 10 of those 22 flips were decided by less than 2,000 votes,” Smith said.

In North Texas, three allies of the LGBT community — Kirk England, Robert Miklos, Paula Pierson and Allen Vaught — lost by narrow margins, he noted.

“If there had been just a little bit more turnout, those flips wouldn’t have happened,” Smith said. “It all comes down to people not taking voting seriously.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

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