Moore says LGBT group focused on financial accountability, progressive thinking in backing Blackburn, Cowan, White
Early voting continues through Tuesday, May 4 in the Dallas Independent School District board of trustees election, and Stonewall Democrats of Dallas have endorsed candidates in all three Dallas school board races.
Stonewall President Erin Moore said that all three candidates in the District 5 contest requested Stonewall’s endorsement, as did two of the three candidates in the District 4 race and two of the three candidates in the District 7 race.
The candidates were screened by the Stonewall endorsements committee on April 17, and the endorsements were ratified by the membership at the monthly Stonewall meeting on April 20, Moore said.
Moore said members of the LGBT political group "asked some pretty tough questions" of the school board candidates seeking Stonewall’s endorsement.
"Considering all the financial problems the district has had, we wanted to know where the candidates stand on accountability in funding. And we were looking for candidates who are progressive thinkers, given the controversy over textbooks in Texas," Moore said.
"We weren’t looking for people who would cause dissent on the board just for the sake of dissent, not by any means. But everyone agrees that there are issues in the school district that need to be fixed, and we were looking for candidates willing to stand up and try to do something to fix those things," Moore said. "We were looking for someone with the spine to stand up and fight for what’s right."
Stonewall endorsed incumbent Lew Blackburn in District 5 in what Moore said was "a very tough one to call."
"One of the three candidates in that race really impressed us with her intentions and her enthusiasm, but she seemed rather unprepared [for the realities of serving on the school board.] The other one was extremely prepared, and it was a really close call between that candidate and Blackburn," Moore said.
Considering the turmoil that has beset DISD and its board of trustees in recent years, Moore said that being an incumbent was not necessarily an advantage in this election. But it was for Blackburn.
"Blackburn has been a strong voice on the board and has not been afraid to stand up and speak truth to power. So we felt he would be the best candidate in that race," she said.
In the District 4 race, Stonewall endorsed Camile White over incumbent Nancy Bingham. Jesse Diaz, the third candidate, did not show up for the candidate screenings, Moore said.
"Nancy Bingham has been on the board for a long time and has lots of experience there. But that may have worked against her this time," Moore said. "The big question was, why hasn’t she done more to fix some of the problems with the board and the school district already."
In the District 7 race, candidate Eric Cowan "really just blew us away," Moore said, explaining why Stonewall endorsed him over Louis Trujillo.
"Cowan is a very, very strong candidate. He doesn’t have any experience with DISD, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He is very smart, and he gets that people should have a voice in what happens with the board and the school district. Even if he doesn’t agree with what you say, he seems willing to at least listen."
The third candidate in the race, Olegario Estrada, did not screen with Stonewall. The District 7 incumbent, Jerome Garza, is not running for re-election.
Moore said that while school district elections sometime slip under the radar in the LGBT community, the school board makes decisions all the time that can impact LGBT individuals.
"First of all, more and more LGBT people and couples are having children. And if you have children in the school district, you care about the school board elections. Because the school board makes decisions that affect your child," she said.
But even LGBT people who don’t have children have a stake in the school board elections because "we all pay school taxes, whether we have children or not," Moore said.
But perhaps the primary interest the LGBT community has in school board elections lies in the safety and welfare of LGBT youth attending DISD schools, Moore continued.
"We asked the candidates where they stand on the bullying legislation in the Texas Legislature and Congress. We asked about the nondiscrimination policy that’s already in place in DISD but isn’t being enforced," she said. "The LGBT kids in these Dallas schools need our help, and without open-minded, progressive people on the school board, those kids won’t get the help they need."
Although Stonewall Democrats is a partisan political group, Moore said it is not unprecedented for the group to endorse candidates in nonpartisan races like the school board elections.
"We have endorsed candidates in mayoral races and city council elections in the past. But it was always done at the whim of whomever was in charge [on Stonewall] at the time," Moore said.
But last year, she added, "we sat out the city council elections to rework our bylaws and give the process some structure. We’re very big on consistency, and the new rules give us consistency" in how Stonewall handles endorsements in nonpartisan races.
"One of the first questions we ask every candidate in nonpartisan races is, ‘Are you a Democrat?’ They don’t have to answer, of course, and even if they do, it doesn’t mean they are running as a Democrat in that particular race," Moore said. "But we ask the question anyway."
She said that, according to its bylaws, Stonewall is only restricted from endorsing a Republican who is running as a Republican in a particular race. So technically, Stonewall Democrats could endorse a Republican candidate, as long as the candidate is running in a nonpartisan race and does not openly declare him or herself a Republican.
"It is possible," Moore said. "Possible, but not at all likely. I think it would be obvious."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 30, 2010.