Election 2010 • Fitzsimmons looks forward to completing digital courts project

Gay district clerk wins 2nd term; Parker is 1st openly LGBT person elected judge, county’s first gay African-American elected official

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Judge Tonya Parker
Judge Tonya Parker

Two of three openly gay candidates in Dallas County won their races. Among them was District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons who was reelected to a second term in office.

He said sexual orientation did not figure into the races in Dallas County.

But now that the election is behind him, Fitzsimmons said his priority is completing his digital courts project. Filing paperwork electronically has already saved his office $1.3 million, he said, while opening new job opportunities in IT work at the county.

During the upcoming term, he expects his office with its electronic filing to become a model for the state.

“In four years we’ll be the envy of Texas,” he said.

In his first term in office, Fitzsimmons updated his employment policies to reflect non-discrimination. He was the first at the county level to do that and he said he has no tolerance for any sort of discrimination in his department.

He said that voters knew what they were getting when they elected him and expected him to carry out that policy. “Employees who can’t accept the diversity of Dallas County have no business in government,” he said.

But while sexual orientation was not a factor in the general election and hasn’t been a issue in his department, one candidate tried to make it the focus of the Republican primary. A candidate recruited by County Commissioner Ken Mayfield said that there were “moral issues in the race,” Fitzsimmons said.

That candidate was defeated in the primary and Mayfield was turned out of office in the general election after 16 years in the Commissioners Court.

While he heard from several sources that his eventual opponent had planned to use the issue, she never ran much of a campaign, Fitzsimmons said.

“Basically, she just got on the ballot,” he said.

Fitzsimmons said that mostly he works with attorneys and litigants but a quirk in Texas law allows counties to open passport offices. Those offices come under his jurisdiction. There are already three in the county and he’d like to add one in North Oak Cliff. He said that a vast number of passport applications in Dallas are from Hispanic residents but the office would also serve Oak Cliff’s large LGBT population.

“The outgoing commissioner wasn’t interested,” he said. “I’m excited to work with the new commissioner.”

Elba Garcia, who was elected on Tuesday, will represent the area.

Fitzsimmons was impressed by the lack of focus on the sexual orientation of the candidates through the election.

“Voters elected me and Tonya Parker to do a job,” he said.

On election night, Fitzsimmons watched returns from Magnolia Lounge in Fair Park with several other elected officials. Among them were County Tax Assessor John Ames who was not up for re-election and County Clerk John Warren who was. Warren also won re-election, but Fitzsimmons garnered more votes.

Parker, who was elected to serve in the 116th Judicial District Court, watched returns from the W Hotel.

Sexual orientation was not an issue in her race either. While never denying her sexual orientation, Parker preferred not to be interviewed by Dallas Voice during the campaign and stuck to issues throughout.

The Dallas Association of Young Lawyers named her an Outstanding Young Lawyer. Texas Monthly Magazine listed her as a Texas Rising Star four times over the past few years. She served on the board of directors of both the Dallas Bar Association and the J. L. Turner Legal Association.

Pete Schulte
Pete Schulte

Stonewall Democrats President Erin Moore called her one of the most eminently qualified new candidates running in this election cycle.

Parker won by a 5-point margin.

After the election, Parker left for vacation and was unavailable to comment.

Peter Schulte challenged Dan Branch for his seat in the Texas House of Representatives. Schulte blamed his defeat on the national mood. No Democrats won in challenged state House races in Dallas County and only one out of three prevailed in Tarrant County.

While his sexual orientation was not a campaign issue, Schulte had been in the news as the attorney for one of the men in the same-sex divorce case.

In that case, Judge Tena Callahan ruled that she had jurisdiction to grant a divorce to the Dallas couple who had married while living in Massachusetts.Attorney General Greg Abbott challenged the ruling and an appeals court overturned Callahan’s ruling.

Although additional counsel was retained for the appeal, Schulte continued to appear with his client. While avoiding local media, he made an appearance on Good Morning America and The Daily Show.

Schulte doesn’t believe his connection to the case affected the outcome, nor did it negatively affect Callahan. She won her re-election with about 52 percent of the vote.

Abbott, however, lost in both Dallas County and by a larger margin in Travis where a similar case involving a lesbian couple was heard.

Fitzsimmons said that he doesn’t believe sexual orientation matters to a majority of Dallas voters — competence does. He hopes he and Parker will encourage others in the LGBT community to run for office in the future.

He said that opportunities are especially good for women thinking of running. In Dallas County, six of the top 10 vote getters in contested races were women, including Parker.

Of the remaining four, Fitzsimmons made the list as did Stonewall Democrats member Carl Ginsberg.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

A conversation with Houston Mayor Annise Parker

PARKER IN DALLAS | In her only interview while in Dallas as the honorary grand marshal of the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, Houston Mayor Annise Parker said she doesn’t live her life just out of the closet, but out on the front lawn. Her city is competing with Moscow for a major petroleum convention, and she plans to meet up with that city’s mayor to tell him what she thinks of his treatment of gays and lesbians in Moscow. Read the complete interview with Parker online at DallasVoice.com. (Photo courtesy Steve Krueger)
Houston Mayor Annise Parker speaks during Dallas Pride on Sunday, Sept. 19. (Photo courtesy Steve Krueger)

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Houston Mayor Annise Parker said she was delighted to be asked to come to Dallas to be Honorary Grand Marshal of the Pride parade. And she was a little surprised other cities hadn’t asked her.

“It’s a little hot outside,” she said soon after arriving in Dallas. “We do our parade at night for a reason.”

Parker said she forgot to bring a hat, but she never wears hats in Houston. Her reason sounded a bit like another Texas Democrat, Ann Richards.

“My hat covers the hair,” she said. “They have to see the hair.”

Unlike many gay or lesbian politicians, she didn’t come out after successfully launching her political career. She said she started as a lesbian activist on the front lines.

“I was debating the nutballs in public,” she said.

Parker came out in high school. In college she founded Rice University’s first LGBT group and began her political career as president of the Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus.

During each campaign, the GLBT Political Caucus and her partner, Kathy Hubbard, have always been included in her literature.

“That way I owned it,” she said. “Kathy describes our relationship as not being out of the closet but being out on the front lawn,” she said.

The election received an overwhelming amount of media coverage.

“It’s unprecedented for an election for mayor of Houston to make the front cover of the Times of India,” she said. “It was difficult to slog through. It was a distraction at the beginning.”

Parker said she doesn’t think most of Texas was as surprised by her election as the rest of the country or the world. She mentioned a number of lesbian elected officials around the state including Dallas Sheriff Lupe Valdez.

She attributed her victory to a number of factors. Houston always elects moderate Democrats, she said.

Of the seven candidates running in the general election, she started with the highest name recognition. This was her eighth election and her opponent’s first.

“He made some rookie mistakes,” she said. “He got distracted. He got in bed with the right-wing hate-mongers.”

The week before coming to Dallas, Parker had been in New York and met with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

She said he joked that he was partially responsible for her win. Had he stepped aside, Christine Quinn, the lesbian who heads New York’s city council, would have probably made a bid for office.

“All the gay money across the country would have flown to New York,” she said.

Actually, most of Parker’s donations were local, and while she didn’t have the most money for her campaign, she had a greater number of donations than her six opponents combined.

Parker seems to be settling into her new position.

She strengthened the city’s non-discrimination policies by executive order. Her revisions included gender identity and expression and extended protection to all city-run facilities.

Partner benefits for city employees can only be granted by popular vote in that city. She said she expects that the LGBT community will soon begin collecting signatures to bring that proposition to a vote and said she would like to be able to include Hubbard on her insurance.

Parker said that in effect she is making less than Bill White did as mayor because she has to pay for Hubbard’s health insurance.

With 2.2 million constituents, Parker said she couldn’t be just the gay mayor, but she would continue to use her position to advance LGBT rights when possible. She helps raise money and speaks for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund around the country and said their training was extremely helpful.

And Parker said Houston has benefited from being the largest city in the world with a lesbian mayor. Her recent trade mission to China is an example.

Earlier in the year, Parker was named to Time magazine’s list of the 100 most powerful people in the world. She said she never would have made the list had she been “just another white guy.” One of China’s top trade officials was also on the list.

In August, Parker led a trade delegation to China. The Chinese trade official, she said, probably met with her because both were on the list and because of the curiosity factor. Men hold most government positions in China, she said, not out lesbians.

She said that while that was how her being a lesbian has benefited Houston, she can also use her position as a bully pulpit.

She may make a return trip to China where Houston and Moscow are competing to bring a convention to their cities. She said she hopes the mayor of Moscow is there and that Houston wins the convention over his city.

Parker said she plans on calling the Moscow mayor out on his terrible treatment of gays and lesbians. Among other things, he has canceled permits for Pride parades in the city and last weekend had his city’s best-known gay activist arrested.

With the November election approaching, Parker said she is remaining officially neutral in the state’s races.

“To represent my city I have to get along with everyone,” she said.

As mayor of the state’s largest city, Parker said she’s had more contact lately with Gov. Rick Perry than former Houston mayor Bill White.

“But I am absolutely livid that Rick Perry has an attack ad on Bill White that features me,” she said. “I don’t want to be used as a wedge in that campaign.”

Parker said that Perry used a quote of something she said while controller. She said it was not out of context and might have even been impolitic to say at the time. But she described her relationship with White as a good working relationship despite a disagreement on a particular issue at one time during their three terms in office together.

Parker maintains a high popularity rating in Houston and said she thinks her city is getting used to their new high-profile mayor. Among the reasons, she said, is that she is the only mayor of a major American city who hasn’t had to lay off any workers.

Parker did admit just one area where Dallas beats Houston — light rail. However, she said the two cities are working together to get a high-speed rail link built between them.

In January, Parker and Hubbard will celebrate their 20th anniversary.

Parker said one thing Hubbard did not share with her was the parenting gene. It took several years before she convinced Hubbard they should be parents.

They have raised three children together. Their foster son was an openly gay teen who they took in at age 16. Later, they adopted their two daughters at ages 12 and 7. Their younger daughter is 15 now and still at home. Her son, who is now 34, rode in the car in the parade with her.

Houston’s mayors serve two-year terms so Parker will be running for re-election next year.

—  Kevin Thomas

Letters and comments

Candidates owe voters a debate

Texans will decide who will lead the state for the next four years in the Nov. 2 General Election. To cast an informed ballot, voters must learn the views of those vying for office and are ill-served when candidates are unwilling to debate or to participate in processes the public relies on for information about candidates and issues.

The League of Women Voters of Texas calls on all candidates, in races from governor on down the ballot, to be available to the public and to the media, without imposing arbitrary conditions, so that Texans can cast an informed ballot in this election.

According to LWV-Texas President Karen Nicholson, “Voters are turned off and don’t vote when those running for office aren’t available, and voter turnout in recent Texas elections has been disappointing. Texas was 46th among the states in turnout of voter eligible population in the 2008 election. We must do better, and candidates who make themselves available to voters are crucial to improving voter turnout.”

The League of Women Voters has been agitating and educating for active, informed public participation in government for all of its 90 years. There is no more important form of public participation than voting, which must be encouraged, not suppressed.

From The League of Women Voters of Texas


‘To shop or not to shop at Target?’ (DallasVoice.com, 8/27/10)

Boycotting is a tough thing to do. I haven’t been to a Cinemark theater since 2008 when Alan Stock donated $10,000 to Yes on 8, and the company refused to make any real amends besides a token meeting with CCGLA, from which we’ve heard nothing since. But how many people went to see the movie “Milk” elsewhere, but have quietly returned to Cinemark?

If you decide to boycott, and that is totally up to you, it’s important to let management know that 1) you are indeed boycotting, and 2) the specific reasons for the boycott. Also, it helps to send a reminder from time to time, like a note or Christmas card telling them you’re still boycotting their store.

Simply griping on blogs for a week or a month isn’t enough. If folks decide that boycotting in the way to go, they must stay dedicated to their stance until the company proves otherwise. PR firms tell companies just to bide their time and issues like these will blow over. Without continuing pressure from the community, they do and will.

If companies are hurt enough in the almighty wallet, sooner or later they’ll think twice about donating to anti-gay causes and candidates.

Justin Nichols


‘St. Vincent’s dean defends school’ (DallasVoice.com, 8/27/10)

While you and the other parents are certainly entitled to your personal opinion, please tell me where in the Bible Jesus Christ says that a faithful, lifelong relationship can only be between a husband and wife.

The closest reference I can find is, “I give you a new commandment. Love one another,” which obviously refers back to the woefully misquoted and mistranslated strictures from Leviticus, having to do with Jewish and non-Jewish behaviors and mores.

Meanwhile, please don’t misuse Jesus to justify homophobia. That would be called, “bearing false witness,” not to mention “taking the name of God in vain.”

I thought Christian values were about inclusion, not exclusion. It’s also interesting to note that per Wikipedia, St. Vincent “was renowned for his compassion, humility and generosity.”

The sexual part is really none of your business, or that of the other parents, now is it?

The school should be teaching tolerance and acceptance, not promoting misinformation. The little girl and her parents should be welcomed with open arms. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Thank you for an opportunity to respond. God bless us everyone!

Maurice

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TO SEND A LETTER  | We welcome letters from readers. Shorter letters and those addressing a single issue are more likely to be printed. Letters are subject to editing for length and clarity, but we attempt to maintain the writer’s substance and tone. Include  your home address and a daytime telephone number for verification. Send letters to the senior editor, preferably by e-mail (nash@dallasvoice.com). Letters also may be faxed (214-969-7271) or sent via the U.S. Postal Service (Dallas Voice, 4145 Travis St., Third Floor, Dallas TX 75204). All letters become the property of Dallas Voice.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens