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

Obama to Dems: ‘This is the time that counts’

President, other party leaders aim to fire up core constituents

LIZ SIDOTI  |  Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Democrats desperately need other Democrats — to vote.

With midterm elections in just six weeks — and Republicans fired up and ready to go — Democratic leaders are pushing issues that resonate with their constituencies, from trying to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the military to allowing thousands of young illegal immigrants who attend college or join the military to become legal U.S. residents.

Democrats also have expressed outrage over Republican-aligned, big-money shadow groups. And they’re intensifying efforts to reach out to their core backers.

“This is the time that counts,” an equally fired-up President Barack Obama told Democratic donors Monday, Sept. 20 in Philadelphia as he harkened back to the energy in his 2008 campaign. “I want all of you to remind yourselves why you got involved and why you care deeply and not lose heart. But gird yourself for a battle that’s worth fighting.”

Two days earlier, Obama urged the Congressional Black Caucus to redouble its efforts: “I need everybody here to go back to your neighborhoods, to go back to your workplaces, to go to the churches and go to the barbershops and go to the beauty shops. And tell them we’ve got more work to do.”

His appeal to the bedrock groups of the Democratic Party comes in the homestretch of an election season in which Republicans are poised to gain seats in the House, possibly seizing control, and the Senate. Polls show Democrats far less excited about the Nov. 2 elections than Republicans are, while independent voters tilt heavily toward the GOP. The onus is on Democrats to mobilize their core constituencies — minorities and die-hard Democrats among them — to show up at the polls.

“It’s going to be very hard to win if the base doesn’t turn out in big numbers,” said Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent who votes with Democrats. Given the landscape, he said: “Democrats have to try to change the minds of some independents, and that’s going to be hard. So, the main priority of Democrats, to avoid what could be a disastrous election, is to bring out the Democratic voters.”

A recent Gallup poll shows that among self-identified members of each party, 47 percent of Republicans say they were very enthusiastic about voting while 28 percent of Democrats say the same. Republicans also now have a 55 percent to 33 percent advantage among independent voters.

Efforts by Obama and his beleaguered Democrats to rallying dispirited foot soldiers have been clear over the past week.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, locked in a close race in his home state of Nevada, dangled before the party immigration legislation that Democratic-leaning Hispanics favor. And, with the White House’s support, the Democratic-held Senate forced a vote Tuesday on repealing the law banning gays from serving openly in the military, a priority for gay-rights advocates.

But neither effort went anywhere. Reid never did more than promise to try to get the Senate to act on immigration, and Senate Republicans blocked the “don’t ask, don’t tell” legislation in a defeat for Democrats and gay rights advocates.

Despite the failure, Democrats, nonetheless, sent a message to their rank and file: We’re working for you, now work for us.

Republicans painted Democrats as desperately playing election-year politics.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the committee in charge of electing Senate Republicans, accused Democrats of “a blatant attempt to score last-minute votes just weeks before an election.” He added, “These tactics are an insult to millions of Americans.”

And Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said, “In Sen. Reid and the Democrats’ zeal to get re-elected, this is a cynical ploy to try to galvanize and energize their base.”

Reid, in turn, castigated the GOP for blocking the defense legislation on which he had hoped to attach the immigration and gay-rights measures, saying, “Republicans are again playing politics with our national security.”

At the White House, Obama and his aides have spent the past week hammering Republicans anew for blocking legislation aimed at limiting the amount of money corporations and unions can spend on campaign advertising.

“It’s politics at its worst,” chided Obama in his weekly Internet and radio address last Saturday. He said Republicans want to “ride this wave of unchecked influence all the way to victory.”

White House aides have been playing off that theme, vociferously objecting to GOP-aligned outside groups with anonymous donors who are spending millions to run negative advertising in Senate races across the country without having to disclose their identities.

Democratic officials say they hope the pitch will help motivate what many Democrats acknowledge is a moribund base, and, perhaps, persuade at least some independents to vote against Republicans.

From the White House to Capitol Hill, Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her top lieutenants also have been granting interviews to black and Hispanic media as well as other outlets whose listeners and viewers are heavily Democratic.

And starting next week, the president will participate in the first of four big-city rallies in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Nevada aimed at once again firing up backers of his 2008 presidential campaign.

The efforts to stoke the Democratic base are a striking turnaround from the last two national elections, when it was Republicans who were depressed and seeking to fire up enough of their core constituents in the campaign’s final weeks to fend off Democrats. They didn’t succeed; Democrats attracted wide swaths of voters to rise to power in Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008.

—  John Wright

Bill White to appear at Gay Pride in Dallas

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bill White will appear in Dallas’ gay Pride parade on Sept. 19, according to an e-mail we received Monday night from Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. As mayor of Houston, White made a habit of appearing at Pride. And this is a smart move, because he’ll need a big turnout from the LGBT community all over the state to defeat Gov. Rick Perry. The right-wingers are going to vote for Perry anyway, and it’s doubtful that moderate Republicans and Independents will be turned off by this appearance. From Stonewall Democrats Vice President Jay Narey:

“It’s election season once again — and I have a very special announcement that I would like to make to all of you. We will have a very special guest walking with Stonewall Democrats in the Alan Ross Pride Parade on September 19th. Bill White, the Democratic Nominee for Governor of Texas will be joining us and walking with Stonewall in the Parade! We are thrilled and honored that he will join us and look forward to a very special day.”

According to White’s campaign, he’s also slated to appear at a press conference with Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez on Tuesday morning, Sept. 7. The press conference will be at 10:30 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency Dallas, 300 Reunion Blvd. The e-mail sent by White’s campaign Monday doesn’t say the reason for the press conference, but it’s possible that Valdez will be formally endorsing White.

—  John Wright