Rob Schlein running against Homer Adams for Republican precinct chair
Forget about Gov. Rick Perry vs. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison vs. Debra Medina.
The most intriguing matchup in the March 2 Texas Republican Primary — at least from a local LGBT standpoint — may be the race for chair of Far North Dallas’ Precinct 1800.
That’s where Rob Schlein, the openly gay president of the Dallas chapter of Log Cabin Republicans, is challenging incumbent Homer Adams. Adams is the husband of former Texas Eagle Forum president and current state Republican Party Chairwoman Cathie Adams, one of the leading anti-gay voices in Dallas over the last few decades.
In some ways, the Schlein-Adams race might seem like an epic battle in the ongoing GOP civil war between right-wing social conservatives and moderates who espouse a "big tent" philosophy.
But both Schlein and Dallas County Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Neerman, who’s himself been criticized by Cathie Adams for welcoming gays into the party, are downplaying the symbolism of the contest — at least for now.
"It’s just a precinct chair race, and I don’t want to make it bigger than it is," Schlein said. "I think maybe the result could speak to something bigger, but you’ll just have to wait and see. If I kick his ass in a significant way, then maybe we can say it’s epic, but it’s just a precinct race."
Neerman called it "unfortunate" and "incredibly ironic" that Schlein and Adams happen to live in the same precinct.
"I don’t know that I would elevate it to this epic, all-out war between ideologies," Neerman said.
Contacted on his cell phone this week, Homer Adams said he was vacationing in Hawaii and couldn’t talk about the race. Cathie Adams, who stepped down after 16 years as president of the Eagle Forum to become state party chairwoman in 2009, didn’t respond to a message left on her cell phone.
It’s not the first time Schlein has sought to take over the position from Adams.
In 2008, after Adams missed the filing deadline for re-election, Schlein was encouraged by Neerman to throw his name in the hat. Adams then expressed his desire to keep the position, leading to a vote by the Republican Party’s Executive Committee, which is made up of all the precinct chairs.
The committee voted for Adams by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent.
"He gave his speech, I gave my speech, and he won but not by very much, which kind of surprised everybody in the room," Schlein said.
Schlein added that he likes his chances even better this year, when the race will be decided by voters instead of party activists. His sexual orientation shouldn’t come as a surprise to those in the precinct because he and his partner knocked on doors in 2005 prior to the vote on Texas’ constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Schlein said he’s prepared to mount an aggressive campaign, including direct-mail pieces, and he accused Adams of not doing his job.
"If he does run any kind of campaign, it’ll be the first time he’s reached out," said Schlein, who’s lived in the precinct for the last six years. "He’s really neglected Precinct 1800, and I’m running against him to get it more engaged, and I think he’s having a tough time letting go, or he doesn’t want to make it easy for me, one or the other."
Neerman said he’s unsure how long Adams has been precinct chair, but added that anyone who’s served longer than two terms tends to be less effective.
Neerman acknowledged that he "certainly didn’t discourage" Schlein from running two years ago, adding that he thinks Schlein would make an "excellent precinct chair."
"We’re always looking for people who are willing to get out and knock on doors, make phone calls, walk the streets and make that direct contact," Neerman said.
"I think it’s more an issue of an established precinct chair versus someone who wants to get involved as a precinct chair for the first time. We see that struggle every cycle. … It’s much less an idealogical struggle than it is a struggle of new versus establishment."
Neerman said it’s unclear whether Schlein would be the first openly gay precinct chair in the Dallas County Republican Party. The Dallas County Democratic Party has long had openly LGBT precinct chairs.
"I know this will surprise you, but I don’t have little notes next to every precinct chair saying these are the Jewish people, these are the Catholic people, these are the gay people, but I think it’s safe to say he would be the highest-profile gay precinct chair," Neerman said.
Schlein has served as president of Log Cabin for the last three years, a period when the group has grown significantly and made major strides within the party, receiving visits from the likes of Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and Congressman Pete Sessions.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 5, 2010.