A good sign for Texas’ LGBT community

Log Cabin Dallas President Rob Schlein

Joe Straus’ re-election as speaker of the House proves that social conservatives no longer can control the Republican political agenda

ROB SCHLEIN  |  Special Contributor

Unless you’re “wired in” to the inside baseball of Texas politics, you may not know there was a cantankerous fight for the position of Texas House speaker.

House Speaker Joe Straus, a Republican from San Antonio, showed himself to be a moderate on social issues last session. Yet, after a momentous midterm election where a slight Republican majority turned into a Republican supermajority in the House, calls for a “true conservative” to be elected speaker started to ring louder and louder among social conservative activists who regularly attend GOP party functions.

Many of these people are the same individuals that helped create the Republican Party of Texas platform that we all know too well includes the language on “homosexuals” revealed and discussed right here in Dallas Voice every election season.

State representatives who had already pledged to support Straus were being lobbied hard to reverse their support, via a war of words on Facebook, by those who changed their profile pictures with logos that declared “Oust Straus,” with statewide e-mail campaigns, and large, organized visits to field offices.

Precinct chairs in Harris, Denton and Dallas counties — perhaps others — convened during the holidays to pass resolutions demanding the election of a “conservative speaker,” implying that Joe Straus wasn’t conservative enough because of his social views.

Activists made threats to “primary,” which means to find someone to run in the next election season primary, against any Republican representatives that didn’t go along with their desire for change in leadership. Their bullying was amplified when hundreds of them descended on Austin on Jan. 10 to observe a caucus gathering of Republican representatives.

The caucus was demanded by the activists as a strategy to replace Straus by forcing a unified Republican vote, because last session Straus took over from Tom Craddick as speaker when Straus garnered the votes of all Democrats and just a handful of Republicans.

What the activists didn’t know was that the caucus would vote solidly for Straus, and after 70 votes were cast (representing more than two-thirds of the caucus present), voting was suspended and the choice was clearly made.
The social conservatives didn’t like the outcome and contradicted themselves about the process, first calling for an open ballot so they could see who voted for whom, and then complaining later that it should have been done in secret because the outcome might have differed.

The social conservatives were perplexed when their chosen candidate, Rep. Ken Paxton of McKinney, dropped from the race after assurances he would stay in, and after the other candidate, Rep. Warren Chisum of Pampa, switched his support from Paxton to Straus.

On Jan. 11, when the formal selection of a House Speaker was concluded, calls for a recorded vote were made and approved, and more than 130 representatives voted for Joe Straus for speaker, with 15 “No” votes or abstentions — handing the social conservatives a serious defeat.

So, what does this mean for the LGBT community?

It means that there is a continual and growing disconnect between the hard-line social conservatives who are a part of the Republican Party of Texas, the average Republican voter and the actual Republican legislators who govern our state. This is good news for the LGBT community, which often fears possible legislation that could be put forward by the extreme elements of our party.

The selection of Joe Straus as speaker means that Republicans will focus most of their time and energy on balancing a state budget that is some $24 billion short over the next two years due to the slowdown of our economy, and will spend considerable effort reviewing programs that automatically sunset every session.

I would be quite surprised if the legislature spends much time on any social items.

Log Cabin Republican members spent considerable time getting to know their local state representatives. We offered direct support and encouragement for their initial pledges to Joe Straus, and were in continual contact by e-mail and very open in our Facebook rebuttals, asking them to stay loyal to their pledges.

Now our direct interaction with Republican elected officials is paying dividends in less anti-gay rhetoric in campaigns and no anti-gay legislation being proposed in this session that we are aware of.

The election of Joe Straus as speaker means that the impact of the Republican Party of Texas platform on legislation continues to be muted. Social conservative activists always complain that the legislators “never govern by the platform.”

So, when you ask gay Republicans about the platform, or if you point to the passages in the platform about “homosexuality,” understand that the re-election of Joe Straus confirms what we have been saying for some time now: The platform isn’t used as a legislative vehicle and only expresses the opinions of a small minority of people in the party who are loud, but not in the majority among everyday Republicans.

What matters to most Republican voters and legislators are the true principles of conservatism, meaning government stays out of our pockets and our bedrooms!

Rob Schlein is president of Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 21, 2011.

—  John Wright

Removal of Iowa judges may inspire similar efforts

MICHAEL J. CRUMB and NOMAAN MERCHANT | Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa — Emboldened by the success of a ballot initiative to oust Iowa judges who supported gay marriage, conservative activists are looking for new ways to use the power of the vote to strike back against the courts.

Judicial-removal campaigns have generally been difficult to sell to the public. But now some groups view them as a potential tool to influence the judiciary on gay rights, abortion and other divisive social issues.

Organizers of the Iowa campaign had several important advantages: a well-funded TV campaign, a grass-roots structure and an electorate that was receptive to their message.

“For those who impose what we perceive as an immoral agenda, we’re going to take them out,” said David Lane, executive director of AFA Action, the political arm of Mississippi-based American Family Association, which contributed about $100,000 to the Iowa campaign. He said the group would do so again wherever judges “impose their will on free people.”

Iowa was one of at least four states where groups sought to remove judges in last Tuesday’s election, but it was the only place where the effort succeeded.

The anti-abortion group Kansans For Life failed to remove four Supreme Court justices for their decisions regarding abortion clinics.

In Colorado, three high court members withstood a removal campaign focused on their tax decisions. And in Illinois, a Supreme Court justice survived an attempt to oust him because he overturned a cap on medical malpractice damages.

“There’s a very small number of extremely emotional issues that can cause voters to weigh in and take judges off the court,” said Charlie Hall, spokesman for Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan group that campaigns to keep the courts impartial. “For the most part, it’s still the rare exception.”

Hall said gay marriage rulings are likely to cause the biggest backlashes in any future elections, but that abortion also could motivate many voters.

Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, said earlier referendums in California and Maine, plus the Iowa campaign, prove that gay marriage is an issue that will motivate voters to act.

In Maine, voters overturned the Legislature’s passage of a bill legalizing gay marriage. And in California, voters approved Proposition 8 banning gay marriage, but that measure is being appealed.

Brown, whose group spent $235,000 on the Iowa effort, said the effort succeeded because it involved extensive TV ads, campaign phone calls, a 20-city bus tour, and outreach at churches and other venues.

“People do care that judges are forcing their will on people,” he said.

Brown said the group may organize future campaigns to remove the other four Iowa justices involved in the same-sex marriage ruling. And they might take on judges in other states, too.

Brown said his group’s focus is now to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot in Iowa to give voters a chance to overturn the court’s decision and redefine marriage as being between one man and one woman.

Lane, of AFA Action, said the distribution by conservative churches of 200,000 voter guides was a big factor that will be effective in future judge-recall efforts.

“No question it would work,” Lane said.

Troy Newman, president of the Wichita, Kan.-based anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, said Iowa’s vote could be a model for more challenges around the nation. He said his group plans to get involved in other state judicial races but has not decided which ones to target.

Operation Rescue, which also opposes gay marriage, made phone calls and sent volunteers to lobby Iowa voters, Newman said. He predicted that judicial challenges, especially over gay rights and possibly abortion, would happen more frequently due to rising voter anger.

“2010 was the beginning of the beginning,” Newman said.

Gay rights groups and some legal experts do not expect a wave of judge removals, but they worry the Iowa case was meant to intimidate other courts.

Kevin Cathcart, executive director of New York-based Lambda Legal, which pursued the challenge of Iowa marriage laws that led to the court’s decision, said he sees the campaign as “a warning shot across the bow of judges.”

Lamda Legal will not stop pursuing its goals in the courts, Cathcart said, but the organization needs to examine what can be done to prevent more removals.

“I still believe the courts have been our community’s best avenue to extending civil rights and moving closer to equality,” he said. “While it is definitely a huge bump in the road … we need to figure out how to do better through voter education.”

Next time a removal effort begins, he added, Lamda Legal might wage a campaign to explain to voters the importance of an independent judiciary.

Rachel Paine Caufield, a law professor at Drake University in Des Moines, said the Iowa ruling could have a “really chilling” effect on judges nationwide. She speculated that some potential judicial candidates will opt against seeking jobs on the bench.

Connie Mackey, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council’s political action committee, said the group contributed $60,000 to the Iowa campaign and was eager to challenge justices in Iowa or elsewhere whose decisions are out of line with the group’s agenda.

“Where we can play a role, and where we feel we can have a shot at taking those judges out, we certainly will jump in,” she said.

—  John Wright

Conservatives warn of backlash if Target gives in to gay pressure

MARTIGA LOHN  |  Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Conservative activists said Friday, Aug. 13 that Target Corp. won’t quell the controversy over its corporate donations if the retailer gives in to demands from the left to renounce involvement in political campaigns or to help gay-friendly candidates.

Charlie Weaver, a leader of a political organization supporting a conservative Republican gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota, said the pressure from gays and liberal organizations on Target amounts to “thuggery.”

“This is simply an attempt to intimidate companies from doing what the Supreme Court said they’re entitled to do, exercise their free speech,” said Weaver, treasurer of MN Forward, a campaign group that got $150,000 from Target last month.

A GOP state lawmaker said the controversy, including protests and calls for a boycott by gay leaders, has put Target in a bind.

“They’re darned if they do something and they’re darned if they don’t,” said Rep. Marty Seifert, a Republican from Marshall.

Contributors to a conservative Facebook page on the controversy also warned the company of a backlash from the right.

“I will not boycott Target unless they crater to the demand of the gay activists,” said one writer. The page grew exponentially on Friday from fewer than 500 fans to more than 9,000 as the controversy moved into its third week.

The conservatives’ admonitions come as liberal groups demand that Target balance the earlier donation that helped GOP gubernatorial nominee Tom Emmer, an outspoken critic of gay marriage. Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel’s issued a statement of apology last week, and gay and liberal organizations have been negotiating with corporate officials for an equal donation or another concession.

Protesters have kept the pressure on by rallying almost daily outside Target’s Minneapolis headquarters or its stores since the donation became known.

The flap has revealed new implications of a recent Supreme Court ruling that appeared to benefit corporations by clearing the way for them to spend company funds directly on political campaigns. Target’s donation to a business-oriented group supporting Emmer was one of the first big corporate contributions to come to light after the decision.

The retail chain has gone from defending the donation as a business decision to apologizing and saying it would carefully review its future giving.

“Target is receiving criticism and frustration from their customers because they are doing something wrong, and that should serve absolutely as an example for other companies,” said Ilyse Hogue, director of political advocacy for the liberal group MoveOn.org, which is pressing Target to formally renounce involvement in elections.

Criticism has also come from local government officials in San Francisco, one of the urban markets where Target plans to open new stores.

The company is in talks with the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights organization. The group is also demanding donations from electronics retailer Best Buy Co., which gave $100,000 to the same group backing Emmer.

Fred Sainz, the group’s vice president for communications, said he is optimistic both companies will respond. Target has long cultivated a good relationship with the gay community in Minneapolis, and its gay employees have protested the political donation.

“The repair has to be consistent with the harm that was done,” Sainz said.

MN Forward is staffed by former insiders from Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s administration and has also backed a few Democratic legislators. The group has continued to collect corporate money after the backlash against Target, bringing in $110,000 through Tuesday from businesses including Holiday Cos. gas stations and Graco Inc., a maker of pumps and fluid handling equipment. Weaver said the group’s sole focus is job creation, not social issues.

A Target spokeswoman said the company had nothing to add to Steinhafel’s statement of apology. Emmer has said he views the Target giving as an exercise in free speech and wants to keep his campaign focused on economic issues.

Conservatives are watching to see whether Target bends to the pressure, said Kelly O’Keefe, a brand expert at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va.

“They’re likely to raise the ire of a different constituency of customers and get themselves in a never-ending cycle of alienating people,” he said. “A better thing is for them to swear off any future investment in elections.”

—  John Wright