Gay Democrats focusing efforts on helping gay-friendly challenger defeat anti-gay incumbent in Texas House District 108
State Rep. Dan Branch’s district includes roughly half of Dallas’ "gayborhood" in Oak Lawn.
District 108 also encompasses other areas of the city that are home to many gays and lesbians, such as Uptown, Old East Dallas and downtown.
But LGBT political activists say Branch, a Republican from Highland Park, has a decidedly anti-gay voting record during his six years in the Texas Legislature. And while Branch publicly campaigned in support of a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in 2005, his constituents opposed the measure at the ballot box by a margin of 58 percent to 42 percent.
"This is right in our backyard," said Jesse Garcia, president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. "Where does this guy get off treating us like this? I just want the gay community to know how hostile this guy is. He obviously has a problem with gay people."
Stonewall Democrats, North Texas’ largest LGBT political organization, has endorsed Branch’s opponent in the November election, Democrat Emil Reichstadt, and the group has identified the District 108 race as one of its top priorities in 2008.
As the city continues to trend Democratic, Garcia said he believes the district is "in play" this year.
"We’re so pumped up by our primary numbers," Garcia said. "This is the year because it’s a presidential year, and the momentum is with the Democrats."
On May 17, Stonewall held a fundraiser for Reichstadt at Havana, a gay nightclub that’s situated in District 108 on the Cedar Springs strip. It marked one of the few times Stonewall has hosted a fundraiser for a specific candidate, and Garcia said the group, with nearly 400 members, is out to demonstrate that it has the ability to swing a race.
Garcia said Stonewall has raised nearly $4,000 for Reichstadt’s campaign to date.
Reichstadt, a family law attorney who’s lived and worked in the district for the last three decades, said he’s honored to have Stonewall’s backing. Reichstadt became a member of the group in January.
"It seems to me that running for office, I can be of service to them, because when it comes to the Constitution, I come down on the side of the Constitution every time," Reichstadt told Dallas Voice. "I think discrimination, in any form, against anyone, is contrary to what the Constitution allows. I think it’s reprehensible the way the LGBT community is being treated."
Reichstadt also criticized Branch for voting against the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, for supporting school vouchers, for voting to impose new taxes on small businesses, and for an "appalling" record on the environment.
"I think he’s on the wrong side of many issues," Reichstadt said. "I think he’s moved away from his constituency."
Branch didn’t respond to repeated requests for an interview with Dallas Voice. His chief of staff, Candice Shapiro, e-mailed a statement from Branch that didn’t address LGBT issues.
"It’s a privilege to represent the heart of Dallas in the Texas legislature," the statement read in part. "I remain grateful for the strong crossover support I’ve received from Democrats and Independents in the past. Elections are like job interviews, I look forward to putting my results-oriented record and my vision for Texas’ future before the voters in November."
Reichstadt and his supporters are encouraged by election results from District 108 over the last several years.
In 2002, Branch defeated Democrat Malcolm Dade by a margin of 66 percent to 34 percent. In 2004, Branch defeated Dade again, but only by a margin of 63 percent to 38 percent.
In 2006, Branch defeated openly gay Democrat Jack Borden by 56 percent to 40 percent, with Libertarian Evan Fisher capturing 4 percent of the vote. However, Borden didn’t do much campaigning and wasn’t seen as a viable candidate.
Borden won the Democratic nomination after another openly gay candidate, Tom Malin, admitted that he’d worked as a male escort. Stonewall Democrats rescinded its endorsement of Malin as a result of the controversy.
Paul Scott, executive director of Equality Texas, said although District 108 includes the Park Cities, it’s less socially conservative than many predominantly Republican districts. Equality Texas is the statewide LGBT equality group that works closely with the Legislature.
"I think this is one of the races that people are looking at in the North Texas area that’s a potential race to keep an eye on as it moves forward," Scott said.
Equality Texas is nonpartisan and doesn’t make endorsements in political races. However, Scott confirmed that Branch has consistently opposed the group’s causes.
According to a December 2005 article in the Christian Chronicle, a newspaper for members of the Church of Christ, Branch worked with church leaders in educate them about Proposition 2, Texas’ anti-gay marriage amendment. Branch is a member of Preston Road Church of Christ.
"Branch said a last-minute phone campaign by the opposition threatening ‘false consequences if the amendment passed’ had concerned him," according to the Christian Chronicle.
"No one would address the main issue, which was one man, one woman defining marriage," Branch told the newspaper. "In the end, though, we prevailed."
Branch also voted in favor of a failed measure that would have banned gays and lesbians from being foster parents, Scott said. And he voted to table an amendment that would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools.
"We’ve kind of seen that consistently, he’s not been with us on any of our key issues, and that district is probably a district where he’s not representing his district to the fullest extent," Scott said. "There’s really nothing that he’s voted for that would be in support of any of the LGBT equality issues."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 30, 2008.