Openly gay candidate runs for chair of Denton County Democratic Party

John McClelland serves on water board, founded chapters of Drinking Liberally and Stonewall Democrats

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IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED | John McClelland lost races for Dallas City Council and Texas House before winning a seat on the local water board. Now he’s running for Denton County Democratic Party chair.

DANIEL VILLARREAL  |  Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

DENTON — When he got elected to the district board of the Denton County Fresh Water Supply in March 2010, John McClelland says he became the first openly gay elected official in the county’s history.

This year he’s running for chair of the county’s Democratic Party with the hopes of finally turning Denton — and possibly the whole Lone Star State — blue.

And it all started with a drink.

When President George W. Bush got re-elected in 2004, McClelland consoled himself with the thought that things in the U.S. couldn’t really get much worse. Then in 2005, they did.

The state’s voters passed Proposition 2, an amendment banning both same-sex marriage and civil unions in the Texas Constitution.

McClelland had identified as a Republican during his college days, but gradually came to feel like he couldn’t be gay in the GOP.

He spent time making phone calls, marching on the Capitol and organizing voters against Prop 2. But in the end it still passed with 76 percent of the vote. And by the time it was all over, all McClelland wanted was a drink.

He’d read about Drinking Liberally, a group of New York progressives dedicated to discussing politics over drinks, so he decided to start his own

Addison chapter. He placed an ad on Craigslist and seven people showed up, mostly wondering why he’d even bothered organizing a progressive meeting in such a conservative state.

“Most of the people just wanted a place to sit down, talk and air their grievances, kinda like

Festivus [the made-up holiday celebrated on TV’s Seinfeld], just without the pole and the wrestling match,” he said.

But as the meet-ups continued, McClelland felt he couldn’t just sit around without doing something to make the world a better place. So in 2007, he decided to run against Ron Natinsky for the Dallas City Council District 12 seat.

Natinsky got 4,452 votes. McClelland got 979.

Undeterred, he decided to run against Republican incumbent Myra Crownover in the 2008 race for Texas House District 64.

Crownover received 40,758 votes and McClelland only received 28,195. But considering that Crownover had raised $216,471 for her campaign and McClelland had only raised $28,134, McClelland considered it a worthwhile achievement.

“Being an openly gay, Democrat in a red district in Denton County, that’s pretty good.”

Though he admits that having Barack Obama at the top of the ticket certainly helped, McClelland feels that voters didn’t care that he was a Democrat or gay; they just wanted new leadership and knew that McClelland was qualified.

Though he kept hanging out with the Drinking Liberally crowd, after Obama got elected in 2008, their national outlook became more optimistic.

Instead of complaining about Bush all the time, they complained about the Republicans controlling the state Legislature.

Likewise, McClelland himself had changed. Not only had he run two local races, he had also founded the Stonewall Democrats of Denton County, the national gay political organization’s fifth chapter in North Texas.

“It’s important for LGBT people to have that sort of thing, to be around one another and educate the people that you’re dealing with in the grand scheme of the big tent,” McClelland says. “There are a lot of people who don’t even know what Stonewall means. A lot of people think it refers to Stonewall Jackson, the war general, instead of Stonewall bar.”

He continued acting as his Stonewall chapter’s president after he got elected to the district board of the Denton County Fresh Water Supply in March 2010. But after three years in the office, he has stepped down and refocused his efforts on becoming Denton County Democratic Party chair.

Typically, a county Democratic Party chair supports Democratic campaigns by working closely with candidates, conducting primary elections and helping precinct chairs get out the vote.

But McClelland thinks that the Denton County Democratic Party can do a lot more to help make this happen. As chair, he would train precinct chairs on how to use voter databases to contact voters and host events, fundraise through local donors who normally give to the Democratic

National Committee but not to their local party (“the money doesn’t trickle down,” he says) and prepare future candidates and party organizers through a county program called “Project Farm Team.”

Right now he has 2,000 hangers sitting on his floor just waiting to grace the doors of potential voters.

“I want to get Democrats elected, that’s the main reason I’m doing this, that’s the goal,” McClelland said. “Without Denton or Collin county, it’s gonna be a pretty tough spot getting a Democrat elected, like a governor or a U.S. Senator. Getting Denton County to turn blue is one of the keys to getting the entire state to turn blue.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 10, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Goodbye LCR; hello again Metroplex Repubs

Gay GOP group’s officers offer a reasoned response to the breakup with Log Cabin Republicans and the myths surrounding it

There are times in life when we must evaluate our relationships with others to determine mutual benefit. And so it goes for political affiliations.

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Rob Schlein

Log Cabin Republicans Dallas pondered for years whether the association with LCR was a good “marriage” for many reasons. We did not undertake this evaluation lightly or in haste.

A couple of weeks ago, we were once again at a crossroads in evaluating that relationship. We were prepared to ask the Log Cabin national board for a hearing so that we could air our grievances and long-held concerns because a clear majority of our local board wanted a resolution that would keep us under the LCR-umbrella.

Instead, they pre-empted us by abruptly “de-certifying” our group, and “re-certifying” one with leadership of their choosing. Rather than wait two months for elections (we’ve been pushing for new leaders to come forward for years) they hand-selected their new president.

Merit or not, other Log Cabin Chapters should be, and are, very alarmed at what has happened with the lack of due process.

Last week, Log Cabin Republicans headquarters issued press releases — before we received our legal notice — that resulted in media articles that were factually untrue. ”Lie” might be too strong a word to write for a political organization, but “if the shoe fits” … .

There was no due process, and no formal warnings or notifications to the members of the chapter leadership.  There was no probation period … absolutely nothing!

From Chapter of the Year in 2008 to Chapter Death Sentence in 2011, you might ask, “What happened?”

We suspect that inviting leaders from another nationally known gay conservative organization to speak to a gay Republican group was,

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Rudy Oeftering

in their view, an LCR National “emergency.” If true, it would reveal a near childish jealousy.

Was it the rumor we heard about the executive director’s displeasure with the Dallas Voice op-ed stating that Gov. Rick Perry is a better choice than President Obama? Was it Rob Schlein’s interview with Michael Signorile where he made a less than artful statement regarding minority politics vs. the common good?

Or perhaps it was the failed scheme of the inexperienced LCR executive director, R. Clarke Cooper, to pin blame on the local chapter for failures with a major donor that were clearly his responsibility.

Maybe the action was to deflect attention from LCR National’s embarrassing failures and list of “no-show” speakers at the national convention held in Dallas this past spring.

We may never know the answer to these questions, since our de-chartering is yet another example of the national office’s continued bumbling. Remember: No warning, no communication, no policy, no due process — absolutely nothing!

One of our most senior board members from the de-chartered local chapter wrote an email a few days ago to all of the national Log Cabin directors. It included this sentence: “I have in front of me one of the most incomprehensible pieces of fiction I’ve ever read in the form of a letter from the National LCR attorney laying out the reasoning for our de-chartering.”  He concluded, “The actions of the board were completely out of proportion to the problem at hand and were driven by personality conflicts, continued confusion in the national office, false accusations and half-truths.”

Their silence in response has been deafening.

In some ways, the actions of Log Cabin National, while immensely hurtful, made our decisions easy. We have always been one of the largest chapters in the LCR network. At over 30 years old, we started as Metroplex Republicans, and then chose to affiliate with Log Cabin in 1995.

As in marriage, sometimes the parties need to separate. And so it is now. We have come full circle, returning to our Metroplex Republicans roots. But in dropping the association with Log Cabin, we will have opportunity to reach further into the Dallas County party to affect positive change.

While a new Log Cabin chapter was technically chartered, it appears that even to the shell leadership, what comes next is hazy. Some feel the Log Cabin label is important, and may transition their membership to the infant chapter. Many are already suggesting reconciliation.

What is certain is that all are welcome to enjoy the continuity and quality of programming we have had in place for many years, formerly as Log Cabin and now as Metroplex Republicans.

Our years of experience have taught us what it takes in organization, dedication and quality programs for any volunteer organization to succeed. We have everything we need to grow and prosper.

We see the events of last week as an opportunity to reach more Republicans in Dallas. We intend to include Republicans of all varieties and will reach out to all non-traditional Republican allies. We believe correctly defined conservative principals benefit all and oppose the “gimme mine” politics of political sub-grouping at the expense of liberty and freedom.

Our next functions include a Preview Social for the Grand Ol’ Party on Oct. 22, the regular monthly meeting on Oct. 24, and the Grand Ol’ Party on Nov. 5.   Please visit our website, MetroplexRepublicans.com, for details and to sign up on our email list.

Robert Schlein is president and Rudy Oeftering is vice president of Metroplex Republicans, formerly known as the “original” Log Cabin Dallas Chapter.

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

—  Kevin Thomas