"It’s kind of like you’re the belle at the ball," said Darlene Ewing, chair of the Dallas County Democratic Party. "You like to be courted and wooed by all the suitors. Some suitors you respond to, and some suitors you would just as soon continue down the reception line. It’s a wonderful problem to have."
Ewing and others agreed that candidates with Republican histories who are running as Democrats this year should be evaluated on an individual basis.
For those who’ve already held public office, like Creuzot and England, one can simply look at their records. But for others, it’s not always so clearcut.
Unlike in many states, Texans don’t declare a party affiliation when they register to vote. Instead, they can vote in whichever primary they choose, and their decision becomes a matter of public record.
Beyond that, one can look at financial contributions and other party ties, but for some candidates, voters may ultimately have to rely on their gut instinct.
While the race for the presidential nomination between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton has been getting most of the media attention, there are 14 other contested races on the March 4 Democratic primary ballot. And with a record turnout expected, Ewing said she hopes voters will exercise due caution.
"Now they have choices," Ewing said of Democrats. "They didn’t used to have choices. I am worried that the voters may not know enough about these candidates, and that these opportunists could get elected."
Political newcomer Pete Schulte is one of three Democrats challenging embattled incumbent Sheriff Lupe Valdez for the party’s nomination.
Schulte was hired as a prosecutor by former Dallas County District Attorney Bill Hill, a Republican. Records show Schulte also voted in the Republican Primary in 2006, the only time he has cast a primary ballot in Dallas County.
Valdez has voted in 10 party primaries in Dallas County, all Democratic, records show. Unlike Schulte, Valdez also gave thousands of dollars to the county Democratic Party in 2006 and 2007, according to the Federal Elections Commission.
"I would absolutely consider him [Schulte] a Republican," said Valdez’s campaign manager, Kirk McPike. "He obviously made a conscious choice to identify himself as a Republican through his primary voting."
Schulte maintains he’s a proud Democrat.
"It’s a ploy by the Valdez campaign because they’re grasping at straws," said Schulte, who recently received the endorsement of The Dallas Morning News. "We have momentum in this campaign. … This is something that she’s been trying to use since the summertime, and it’s obviously not sticking."
Both Valdez, who’s openly lesbian, and Schulte are members of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, the largest LGBT political group in North Texas. On Tuesday, Feb. 19, Stonewall Democrats voted to endorse Valdez.
Schulte, 29, said he was raised Republican but became a Democrat in 2004. He said he voted in the Republican Primary in 2006 in part because he felt Democratic candidates in the race for the district attorney’s office where he worked were qualified, while some Republicans were not.
"I was not worried about what was going to happen on the Democratic side," said Schulte, who is now in private practice.
Schulte also said he feared repercussions if he didn’t support Republican candidate Toby Shook, who was Hill’s heir apparent but who lost to Craig Watkins in the general election.
"I was what I would call a closeted Democrat in a very Republican office," Schulte said.
Ewing, the Democratic Party chairwoman, said it might be unfair to draw conclusions about a candidate based on only one ballot cast in a Republican Primary.
But Larry Baraka, who’s running as a Democrat for criminal district judge, court No. 2, has voted in 14 consecutive Republican primaries dating back to 1988, records show. Baraka also was a Republican when he served 12 years on the bench before losing the party’s primary in the mid-1990s.
"He’s purely an opportunist," Ewing said.
Baraka’s opponent, incumbent Don Adams, said he’s a longtime Democrat who’s served as a precinct chair and convention delegate.
When he was elected in 2004, prior to the sweep of 2006, Adams became the county’s first Democratic judge since 1992.
"As far as I’m concerned, he’s a Republican," Adams said of Baraka. "If that’s what the voters want, that’s fine. But there is a difference."
Adams said he believes Baraka is also trying to capitalize on possible confusion among voters due to the similarity between his last name and the first name of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
Baraka, meanwhile, said he believes judicial races should be nonpartisan. But he said the Democratic Party is more reflective of his views than the Republican Party.
"It’s cyclical," he said. "Trust me, at some point in time it’s going to go back to the Republicans. I can see that there’s been a voting change in Dallas County, and I have a desire to be district judge, and if I want to do that, I have to run as a Democrat. … If the Republican Party were still in power, I wouldn’t bother to run again."
Ewing, for one, isn’t buying Baraka’s argument in favor of nonpartisan races.
"No one was talking about nonpartisan judges when Republicans controlled the courthouse," she said.
Stonewall Democrats of Dallas has endorsed Adams in the race.
U.S. House, District 32
In the three-way race for the Democratic nomination in U.S. House District 32, candidates Steve Love and Dennis Burns have attacked opponent Eric Roberson for voting in every Republican Primary from 1996 to 2006.
Roberson says he was a moderate Republican and even admits to supporting President Bush. But he said he decided to become a Democrat two years ago, well before he decided to run for Congress.
"The Republican big tent has shrunk and left me out in the cold," Roberson said.
"I voted for him [Bush]. Like a lot of people, I’ve been greatly disappointed by the fact that he hasn’t done what he said he was going to do. That’s one of the main reasons I’m a Democrat."
Burns has billed himself as a lifelong Democrat, but apparently that’s not the case. It recently came to light that Burns was registered as a Republican for six years while living in Oregon.
"I’ve been very honest about my past," Roberson said. "If Mr. Burns wants to use the idea that he’s the legitimate Democrat, then he should have been honest about it from the beginning."
Burns, who’s never voted in a primary locally, said he’s always leaned Democratic.
"To the best of my recollection, I’ve supported two Republicans in my life," he said.
"An Oregon Republican and a Texas Democrat probably aren’t that far apart on most things."
Love said he’s only strayed from the Democratic Party once, when he qualified to run as a write-in candidate in 1998.
"To some people, party loyalty doesn’t mean anything, and for others it’s important, and I’m one of those who thinks it ought to count for something," Love said.
Whoever wins the nomination will face Republican Pete Sessions in November. Stonewall Demcorats opted not to make an endorsement in the race.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 22, 2008