Group overrides committee, backs John Wiley Price, Eric Johnson
ANNA WAUGH | Staff Writer
Stonewall Democrats of Dallas’ endorsement process came under fire this week after a committee failed to make recommendations in four races during its April 13-15 screenings.
Stonewall’s general membership eventually voted to endorse in the four races Tuesday, April 17, but not before some controversy.
Internal squabbles over the Dallas County Commissioners Court District 3 race and the state House District 100 race were most heated.
About 150 Stonewall members crammed into Ojeda’s on Maple Avenue for the general meeting to vote on the committee’s proposed slate and any changes. The slate minus the four races passed.
After sometimes-fiery speeches from supporters of the candidates, the membership then voted to endorse incumbents Commissioner John Wiley Price and State Rep. Eric Johnson, as well as Dominique Collins for Criminal District Court No. 4 and Sean Hubbard for U.S. Senate.
Openly gay Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons, a founder of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, was noticeably angry at the start of the meeting. He distributed letters written by himself and by pioneering lesbian activist Louise Young in support of Price. The letters mentioned Price’s support for adding LGBT protections to the county’s nondiscrimination policy and the commissioner’s vital role in highlighting the importance of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the ’80s.
Fitzsimmons called the personal views of those against Price “disgraceful” and “political madness” in his letter, later telling Dallas Voice that the recommendation failed to pass the committee because of abstentions from people who still hold a grudge against Price for sending a mailer six years ago in support of Republicans for county office.
Saying he understands the outrage that Price didn’t support the Democratic straight ticket, Fitzsimmons added that people need to put aside those feelings and recognize what Price has done for the gay community and what he will continue to do in the future by supporting domestic partner benefits for county employees.
Fitzsimmons said members who hold grudges and show up for endorsement committee meetings skew the result because it doesn’t represent the feelings of the entire membership, which he said could be changed if all members had a final vote on each race.
“We, the gay community, are very vulnerable. We need leaders like John Wiley Price to fight for us,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury of putting petty partisanship before the issues at hand.”
The issue with Johnson was that he opposed precinct chairs who didn’t support him when he ran in 2010 by finding supporters to run against them, Fitzsimmons said.
Johnson did that because, in the event that incumbent Rep. Terri Hodge dropped out, the precinct chairs would vote on the nomination. In the end,
Hodge resigned before the primary and Johnson won the election, but Fitzsimmons said some Stonewall members are still angry.
Juan Ayala, an openly gay Stonewall member and a spokesman for Johnson’s campaign, said although Johnson is unopposed in both the primary and general election, past bad feelings resulted in no recommended endorsement instead of recognizing Johnson’s support for the LGBT community.
“It appears that some people are interested in using Stonewall and the endorsement process to settle personal vendettas,” Ayala said. “Instead of focusing on what’s best for the gay community and the Democratic Party, there’s some people who want to push their personal agenda.”
Collins said she earned the endorsement for Criminal District Court No. 4 because she was “judged by the quality of my experience, not my quantity.”
She said the vote was split at the committee meeting Friday, April 13, when about 30 people showed up for her screening and were unsure whether her 12 years in the Air Force and seven years as an assistant district attorney were enough to convince the group.
However, Cook’s arrest history, with DWIs in the ’80s, is what put her in the good graces of Stonewall, she said. Cook, an associate judge for the 304th and 305th districts, responded by addressing his DWIs to Stonewall at the general meeting, Collins said. But the vote tipped in her favor.
“I think it’s about your heart, your gut instinct and doing the right thing,” she said.
Hubbard said he was “honored to have the endorsement of my local Stonewall chapter and that they think I’m the best candidate to fight for their equality.”
Stonewall political chair Tracy Clinton said he spoke in favor of Hubbard at the general meeting because of his energy and straight ticket support. Clinton said the committee’s decision not to make a recommendation in the race was the result of the uncertainty between Hubbard and Salder.
As for the other races that brought heated speeches and hard feelings, Clinton said he’d rather have informed members than ones with little knowledge about candidates.
“I would rather have a passionate, contentious meeting than a boring, lifeless meeting,” he said. “People spoke their piece and people were respectful of the process, especially with the races that were deadlocked.”
Although the group’s endorsement of Domingo Garcia for the 33rd Congressional District wasn’t discussed at the general meeting, there was some anger from other candidates in the race because Garcia had paid staffers that joined and voted on the committee’s recommendation.
Stonewall President Omar Narvaez said those who attended the screenings were checked to verify they had been members at least 30 days prior to the screenings. He said new members who are Garcia supporters were in attendance but was not sure how many of the roughly 50 people who voted in the District 33 race were working for his campaign.
Colin Strother, a spokesman for Garcia’s campaign, said the campaign followed Stonewall’s bylaws and a few staffers were present at the screenings to vote for Garcia.
Strother said those members had been members for a while.
Calling the screening process “fair and open,” Narvaez said the bylaws outline that anyone who is a paid member that met the time limit is allowed to vote, including those who work on campaigns.
“We uphold our bylaws. They’re on our website,” he said. “We’re open about them.”
Narvaez said that while pettiness from the past may have prevented endorsement recommendations in some races, the membership “overwhelmingly” voted to back Price and Johnson at the general meeting, recognizing their efforts on behalf of the community.
“For the good of the organization, we need to support people who have supported us,” Narvaez said. “We know as an organization that we have to put our personal views aside.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 20, 2012.