After the (political) storm

Posted on 18 Mar 2016 at 6:56am

‘Queer’ candidate Huey Fischer wants to step away from politics after losing his bid for the legislature, but he doesn’t regret the effort

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Huey Rey Fischer, the 23-year-old Democratic candidate for House District 49 in Austin, says his campaign was about giving all gay and Latino communities a voice in the state legislature. (Photo by Alejandra Zavaleta Melara)

 

Joanna Cattanach  |  Contributing Writer
nash@dallasvoice.com
AUSTIN – Huey Rey Fischer, the 23-year-old liberal candidate for state office, the queer son of a once-undocumented mother from Mexico and a Jewish father from Brooklyn, isn’t sulking or hiding after his third place finish in this month’s primary. But he does want a break from politics.

“I definitely ran to win,” said Fischer said of his campaign for the District 49 seat in the Texas Legislature. But “this isn’t the launching pad for another campaign,” he said.

The college grad turned politician pulled 12-hour shifts, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., during early voting. He had listed his cellphone number on his campaign literature and would get several calls a day. He knocked on doors. He block-walked with volunteers.

“I’m glad I ran,” said Fischer, adding that he is not quite sure what’s next. He’s thinking about traveling, or maybe going to law school.

He’s trying not to think about why he didn’t win.

“I don’t think we screwed up,” Fischer said of his campaign.

Behind the black frame glasses, you can see frustration in his face. You can hear the hurt in his voice. Huey really wanted to win. And he really didn’t win. And it sucks.

Fischer said he only cried twice in the campaign: once on Election Day when he struck up a conversation with a female voter whose mother was also undocumented, and again when he received a phone call from opponent Heather Way the day after the election.

Way came in second in the seven-way primary race, winning 19 percent of the vote. She praised Fischer — who earned 14 percent of the vote — for running a good race.

Gina Hinojosa, an Austin lawyer and school board trustee, ultimately won the race with 57 percent of the vote.

Had Fischer won, he would have been one of the youngest candidates ever elected to the state legislature. Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett was elected to the legislature at 27, Patrick Rose at 24 and Ben Barnes at 21.

But it wasn’t just Fischer’s age that caught national attention it was his campaign style — including the use of the word queer — and the use of dating apps Tinder and Grindr to help garner support.

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Huey Rey Fischer used social media sites such as Tinder and Grindr to connect with potential voters many of whom he connected with online. Fischer said not all candidates should use the social media sites but for a 23-year-old millennial campaigning at the University of Texas at Austin, the move made political sense. (Photo by Alejandra Zavaleta Melara)

Scrolling dating profiles for voters wouldn’t be appropriate for most candidates. But for a 23-year-old fresh college graduate whose campaign grounds included the University of Texas at Austin, the move made sense.

“We were careful about it,” said Fischer, who used traditional social media platforms and campaign materials, too. “We, as millennials, know how to use [these sites] without turning off voters.”

Fischer wasn’t the only candidate to use the word queer as part of his campaign. Democrat Park Cannon, 24, of Atlanta became “the youngest queer woman of color to take office in the Georgia State House!” her website proudly claims. Cannon is only the third gay candidate to win office in Georgia.

The use of the word queer — once a slur, but now, Fischer said, reclaimed by the gay community, at least the younger generation — was difficult for some supporters to accept. One official told Fischer to stop repeating the phrase “the queer son of an undocumented mom” because “people don’t care about that,” and focus more on his agenda rather than his complicated, outsider identity.

Fischer didn’t agree. Running for office as a real person, the real face of Latino voters in Texas, of the gay community, “I just decided to embrace it,” he said.

But Dallas County Sherriff Lupe Valdez doesn’t agree with Fischer’s campaign message. Valdez, also the daughter of immigrant parents, sought advice prior to running for office from former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, then a city controller, who told Valdez not to run as just a gay candidate.

“People don’t want to see you wrap the rainbow flag around yourself,” Valdez said. “That doesn’t take away from who you are,” she stressed, noting that she wouldn’t campaign as a “queer candidate for Dallas,” but rather as “the best candidate for Dallas.”

Still, Valdez said she hopes Fischer will stay in politics. She suggested he learn from successful gay candidates, mature a bit and realize that polarizing an electorate won’t get things done.

“If you do stuff to separate yourself, you’re going to be separated,” Valdez said.

Fischer said he learned an important lesson in his campaign: The gay community isn’t one progressive party, one voice, one issue. He campaigned in “the most liberal district in Texas” and yet he heard people within the gay community denounce illegal immigrants, the

Black Lives Matter movement and other progressive movements. Some, he said, supported social issues but remained “fiscally conservative” on others.

Jarod Keith is digital communications manager with the non-partisan Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which supports LGBTQ candidates at all levels across the country. He said his organization expects to see more candidates use the term “queer” as part of their campaigns — but probably not in Texas.

The Victory Fund only endorsed six candidates in Texas this election cycle. Those six included Fischer. That’s a far cry from other locations where gay candidates are running against each other, places like Palm Springs where two gay men and a lesbian ran for mayor.

Democrat Mary Gonzalez from El Paso, the first openly pansexual in the Texas Legislature, was another one of six. She won her bid for re-election but “there’s been years when we didn’t have [any openly LGBT people] running for the [Texas] state legislature,” Keith said.

“We’re non-partisan,” Keith said of GLVF, adding that he hopes to see more LGBT candidates running in Texas. Electing anyone that supports LGBT rights “is going to drive the conversation,” he said.

But Fischer wants a break from the conversation. The former government and Latin American studies major has spent a lot of time talking politics and now he’s eager to return to “the life of a 23-year-old.”

“You don’t have to be in elected office to be a voice for the queer community,” Fischer declared. But he does have this advice for other candidates thinking about running for office including queer Mexican millennials like himself: “They should [run]. It’s exhausting. It’s expensive. It’s totally worth it.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2016.

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