House GOP caucus endorses Straus for speaker; LGBT community breathes sigh of relief

Although more conservative factions in the state had been calling for the ouster of Rep. Joe Straus as speaker of the Texas House, the House Republican Caucus today endorsed Straus — known as a moderate Republican — for the seat.

Rep. Joe Straus

That news comes as something of a relief for LGBT advocates who had feared that someone further to the right would be chosen as speaker and given the chance to control the legislative agenda. Back in November, Reps. Warren Chisum of Pampa and Ken Paxton of McKinney both announced they were running for speaker. Chisum has long been known as one of the most anti-gay members of the House, routinely introducing and/or supporting bills on such topics as preventing LGBT people from becoming foster or adoptive parents. Chisum also was the primary author of the constitutional amendment passed in 2005 to ban same-sex marriage in Texas. Paxton was a co-author of the amendment and also voted in favor of banning LGBT foster and adoptive parents.

Among those fighting the hardest to defeat Straus’ bid for another term as speaker were leaders of the anti-gay Texas Eagle Forum, who had warned lawmakers the group would base half its score for legislators on who they supported for speaker. Others who have been outspoken in opposing Straus are Liberty Institute President and CEO Kelly Shackelford, Heritage Alliance President Richard Ford and Texas Eagle Forum founder Cathie Adams.

And in December, The Texas Observer reported that John Cook, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee, said he was campaigning against Straus — who is Jewish and attends a synagogue that supports LGBT rights — because, “I got into politics to put Christian conservatives into office.” Cook also accused Straus of being pro-choice and pro-gay rights.

The Houston Chronicle reported today that 70 of the 100 lawmakers attending the House Republican Caucus meeting today voted to back Straus for speaker. The Chronicle report noted that the caucus vote is non-binding but “virtually guarantees Straus’ re-election Tuesday when the Texas Legislature opens a new session.”

—  admin

If one of these nutjobs defeats Joe Straus for House speaker, we could be in deep doo-doo

Rep. Joe Straus is shown alongside Rep. Senfronia Thompson after being elected speaker in 2009.

If Rep. Joe Straus is ousted as speaker of the Texas House, it’s safe to say it will not be a good thing for the LGBT community. Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas, confirmed the obvious yesterday when he told us the statewide gay-rights group is sincerely hoping Straus can hang on to his post.

One of Straus’ challengers, Rep. Warren Chisum of Pampa, is among the biggest homophobes in the Texas Legislature. Chisum was the primary author of Texas’ 2005 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and he’s also been behind efforts to outlaw gay foster and adoptive parents.

Another candidate for speaker, Rep. Ken Paxton of McKinney, who entered the race this week, doesn’t appear to be much better than Chisum on LGBT issues. Paxton was a co-author of the marriage amendment and voted in favor of a ban on gay foster parents in 2005.

Straus, meanwhile, voted in favor of the marriage amendment — not to do so might have been political suicide  — but he did not sign on as an author. He also voted against the gay foster parent ban, which was actually killed by socially moderate Republicans like himself. Straus attends a gay-affirming synagogue that performs same-sex marriages in San Antonio. Read more about all that here.

But if you really want to know why we should be pulling for Straus to remain speaker, all you have to do is consider who’s behind the effort to oust him. It’s a who’s who of nutjobs, and they’ve all signed an open letter posted on the website of Empower Texans. Prominent signatories include people like Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of Plano-based Liberty Institute; Richard Ford, president of the Heritage Alliance; and Cathie Adams, founder of the anti-gay Texas Eagle Forum. Any of those names ring a bell? The list goes on and on, but the bottom line is that if these groups are successful in ousting Straus, we’ll be at much greater risk of anti-gay legislation in the 2011 session. And with a two-thirds Republican majority in the House, our best and only defense may be distractions like redistricting and the budget shortfall.

According to its website, Empower Texans is conducting its anti-Straus campaign under the guise of fiscal conservatism. But since Straus is pretty darn fiscally conservative, we suspect there are other motives. Surely these right-wing groups don’t like the fact that Straus was elected speaker two years ago thanks to support from Democrats, which he continues to enjoy. They also don’t like the fact that he’s socially moderate — on abortion, immigration and yes, gay rights.

The speaker of the House is arguably the most powerful position in state government, and right now, Joe Straus may be the LGBT community’s best friend in the Texas Legislature. That being said, we aren’t sure there’s much the the community can do at this point to help Straus hang on to the post, except maybe pray.

—  John Wright

STATE: LGBT issues not prominent in most area House races

Several strong allies of the LGBT community are unopposed, but others face tight races

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

Most of the Dallas County LGBT community’s strongest allies in the Texas Legislature are running unopposed in the Tuesday, Nov. 2 midterm election.

But at least one incumbent who has voted favorably on LGBT issues is facing a close race in a swing district, and several potential allies are challenging incumbents that oppose LGBT equality.

Senate
LGBT issues have not been a priority in any of the state Senate races in Dallas County, and Chuck Smith, deputy director of the LGBT advocacy organization Equality Texas, said his organization has not been active in either race.

District 2
Republican incumbent Sen. Robert F. Deuell, a family doctor from Greenville, is running for his fifth two-year term, with Democrat Kathleen Shaw of Cedar Hill, trying to unseat him as the state senator from District 2.

Neither candidate discusses LGBT issues on their website. However, Deuell supported the positions of the Heritage Alliance, a conservative organization known to oppose LGBT rights, 80 percent of the time on votes on social issues in 2009, according to Project Vote Smart. But he sided with Texas Eagle Forum, another right-wing, anti-gay group, on only 32 percent of his votes in 2009, according to Project Vote Smart.

According to FollowTheMoney.org, Deuell’s campaign has raised more than $505,300 to-date, and his largest donor is Houston-based homebuilder Bob Perry, who has donated frequently to opponents of LGBT equality.

FollowTheMoney.org lists two donations from Bob J. Perry totaling $25,000, and two donations from Bob J. and Doylene Perry, also totaling $25,000.

Shaw, an insurance agent, has raised $4,200 for her campaign, more than half of that total coming in a $2,600 donation from the Texas Democratic Party.

The Democrat is a graduate of Prairie View A&M who serves an alternate representative on the Advisory Council of House District 109. She has been a chair of Dallas County Precinct 4109 and community coordinator of the Parkway Subdivision in Cedar Hill. Shaw ran for Cedar Hill City Council in 2005.

On her campaign website, Shaw lists transportation, infrastructure, the environment, education and immigration reform as her top priorities.

District 8
Republican incumbent Sen. Florence Shapiro of Plano has been in the Texas Senate since she was first elected in 1992, and throughout her tenure has never been considered an ally of the LGBT community.

According to Project Vote Smart, Shapiro in 2009 supported the interests of The Heritage Alliance 70 percent of the time on social issues, and the interests of Texas Eagle Forum 48 percent of the time. Shapiro’s campaign website does not specifically mention LGBT issues.

According to FollowTheMoney.org, Shapiro’s campaign has raised a little more than $140,600.

Shapiro, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, is a former schoolteacher who served on the Plano City Council and as mayor of Plano before being elected to the Senate. She authored “Ashley’s Laws,” a series of bills to protect children from sexual predators, but she also twice voted against a needle exchange program — in 2007 and in 2009 — promoted by AIDS activists as a way to combat the spread of HIV.

Shapiro’s challenger in the Nov. 2 election is Libertarian Ed Kless of Allen, a senior director with Sage North America who describes himself as a rational Roman Catholic.

According to his answers to a Project Vote Smart questionnaire, Kless does not believe marriage should be restricted only to male-female couples. He supports civil unions and LGBT-inclusive state laws prohibiting workplace discrimination.

Kless said he does not, however, support enhanced penalties for those convicted of hate crimes.

According to FollowTheMoney.org, Kless has raised a little more than $3,700 for his campaign.

District 107
Democratic state Rep. Allen Vaught’s re-election battle against Republican Kenneth Sheets is one of the races being most closely watched by the LGBT community.

Vaught has been endorsed by Equality Texas and is considered an ally to the community who is facing a difficult re-election bid, Smith said.

“We also endorsed him in 2008,” Smith said of Vaught. “He is in a conservative district, but he was still a joint author of Rep. Marc Veasey’s hate crimes study bill.”

Vaught is an attorney with Franklin, Cardwell and Jones, and an Army veteran.

According to records on file at TEC, Vaught has raised more than $134,780, and has spent more than $119,680 on his campaign.

Sheets, whose latest TEC filings show more than $159,200 in campaign donations and more than $187,290 in campaign expenditures, is a Marine Corps veteran who, according to his website, supports pro-life and “traditional marriage” policies.

“I believe life begins at conception and government policies should protect innocent life. I also believe the definition of marriage should always remain as the union between one man and one woman,” Sheets says on his website.

Libertarian Brandon Parsons is also running in District 107.

He works as a verification engineer with Hewlett-Packard.

District 102
One of the most hotly-contested Texas House races is going on in District 102, where Democratic incumbent Carol Kent is trying to fight off a challenge from Republican Stefani Carter in one of what is a handful of districts that will determine which party controls the House.

The contest has featured attacks by both sides: Kent has accused Carter of plagiarizing part of a speech by President Obama and padding her resume from her days as a prosecutor in Collin County. Kent supporters have also used unfavorable portions of a 2007 performance review from when Carter worked in Collin County.

Carter has focused much of her attacks on what she calls Kent’s “double-dipping” — the practice of accepting a per diem stipend from the state to cover living expenses while in Austin and using campaign funds to also help pay those bills, as well. Leaders from both sides of the partisan aisle, however, have said the practice is both legal and widely accepted.

Kent — who helped give Democrats a leg up in 2008 when she defeated longtime Republican incumbent Tony Goolsby — was endorsed by Stonewall Democrats of Dallas in both 2008 and again this year. She is also endorsed this year by The Dallas Morning News, and even has been endorsed by Richard “Dick” Sayles and Mark Werbner, cofounders of the Sayles Werbner law firm where Carter works.

Equality Texas’ Smith noted that in her first term, Kent was a member of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, and voted in favor of a measure — included on Equality Texas’ legislative agenda — that would have created a study on the effectiveness of the state’s hate crimes bill.

“Equality Texas did not endorse Carol Kent this year, but she has been an ally. She was very supportive” in hearings on the hate crimes study bill, Smith said.

Kent has been the director of The Baylor Network since 2003 and has worked previously as a communications studies lecturer at Baylor University, public information officer for the Irving Independent School District and adjunct faculty at Richland College. She was also on the Richardson Independent School District board of trustees.

According to her website, Kent’s priorities in the Legislature are lowering utility rates, lowering homeowners insurance rates, improving Texas educational system and protecting people’s retirement savings.

According to FollowTheMoney.org, Kent has raised more than $471,000 in this campaign. Of that, $41,275 came from Annie’s List, a statewide Democratic organization that raises money for women candidates, and $23,200 came from the House Democratic Campaign Committee.

Neither candidate’s website includes information on LGBT issues. Carter’s focuses primarily on conservative issues like reducing government spending, fighting illegal immigration, keeping taxes down and fighting the federal health care reform law.
Carter’s website describes her as having been “born and raised a pro-life Catholic.”

Carter has raised slightly more money than Kent in the campaign with a donation total nearing $500,000. More than $100,000 of that came from Texans for Lawsuit Reform, while Bob J. and Doylene Perry donated $80,000 and Bob J. Perry donated another $40,000.

District 101
Incumbent state Rep. Robert Miklos in District 101 is another Democrat who won a narrow victory in 2008 in what is considered a conservative and traditionally Republican district, defeating former Rep. Mike Anderson by a 51-49 margin.

This year, Miklos is facing a stiff challenge from Republican Cindy Burkett as he campaigns to keep his seat in the House.

Miklos is a prosecutor who lives in Mequite. Like Kent has been endorsed by Stonewall Democrats and Dallas Morning News. Smith said that Equality Texas has not endorsed Miklos, but that the Democrat did vote in favor of the hate crimes study bill in the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. Miklos’ website says his priorities include rolling back tuition rates at state universities, capping utility rate increases and reprioritizing the state budget to increase education spending.

Burkett is co-owner and vice president of Highline Enterprises, which owns and operates five Subway sandwich shop franchises. She worked as a legislative aide for Sen. Robert Deuell from 2004 to 2006. She has been endorsed by the Texas Alliance for Life, Texas Right to Life and Concerned Women of America, and according to her website, Burkett’s priorities are creating smaller government, decreasing taxes and stemming illegal immigration.

District 105
Incumbent Republican Rep. Linda Harper-Brown of Irving “has not been an ally on any issue we work on,” Smith said.

Harper-Brown — who has been dogged by questions over alleged ethical lapses involving accepting gifts including a Mercedes Benz from a company that did business with the Texas Department of Transportation — was first elected to the House in 2002. Since then she has gotten high marks from conservative groups including the Texas Heritage Alliance, Texas Eagle Forum and the Christian Coalition. Harper-Brown was given a score of 0 from Texas Freedom Network, an organization advocating for progressive issues, including LGBT rights.

According to Ballotopedia.com, Harper-Brown’s largest donation this year was $50,000 from J. Ralph Ellis Jr., the owner of Ralph Ellis Power Co. that also donated to Texans for Rick Perry.

Democrat Loretta Haldenwang, an Irving business consultant and previous senior executive of the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, is challenging Harper-Brown and has won endorsements a long list of Democratic organizations and officeholders, including Stonewall Democrats of Dallas and gay Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons.

The largest single donor to Haldenwang’s campaign, according to Ballotopedia.com, has been Annie’s List.

Libertarian Cecil Anthony Ince is also running for the District 105 House seat. According to TEC records, Ince’s campaign has no donations. Ince describes himself on his website as a “Jeffersonion” who advocates for smaller government and no taxes unless approved by voters.

District 106
Democrat Kirk England of Grand Prairie, an independent insurance agent for State Farm, was first elected to the House in 2006 as a Republican, but switched to the Democratic Party in 2007. He has been endorsed by former Democratic Congressman Martin Frost, and by current Congress members Chet Edwards and Eddie Bernice Johnson. He has also been endorsed by the Dallas/Fort Worth Democratic House Delegation, and by former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk.

England is being challenged by Republican Rodney E. Anderson, vice president of Commerce Title Company, who has been endorsed by Texas Right to Life, and by Libertarian Gene Freeman of Grand Prairie, a self-employed management consultant who co-owns Oakwood Consulting.

District 108
Gay Democrat Pete Schulte has Stonewall Democrats’ endorsement in his campaign to replace incumbent Republican Dan Branch in District 108. But Schulte, the attorney who previously ran for Dallas County sheriff against Lupe Valdez in the 2008 Democratic primary, and who is the attorney representing the plaintiff in the Texas gay divorce case in Dallas County, is seen as a long shot in the race.

Branch, who lives in Highland Park was first elected to the House in 2002, “has not been supportive on our issues, even though his district is,” said Smith. “His district actually voted against the anti-gay-marriage amendment in 2005, but Dan Branch has never supported us on anything.”

Branch, an attorney and shareholder for Winstead, Sechrest and Minick, is on record with Project Vote Smart is being against same-sex marriage and against an LGBT employment nondiscrimination bill.
Libertarian Jarrett R. Woods is also running in District 108.

Other races
In District 112 Libertarian Troy Camplin is challenging Republican incumbent Angie Chen Button. In District 113, Democrat Jamie Dorris of Frisco is challenging conservative Republican incumbent Joe Driver of Garland. In District 114, Democrat John Wellik has Stonewall Democrats’ endorsement in his race against incumbent Will Hartnett. Smith said that from Equality Texas’ standpoint, Hartnett “is not a hater, but he’s not an ally, either. There have been some areas where we were able to work with him.”

In District 115, Libertarian David W. Bell of Farmers Branch is challenging conservative Republican incumbent Jim Jackson of Carrollton.

Democrats who are unopposed in the general election are Reps. Eric Johnson in District 100, Rafael Anchia in District 103, Roberto Alonzo in District 104, Helen Giddings in District 109, Barbara Mallory Carraway in District 110 and Yvonne Davis in District 111.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 29, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

Rick Perry's first anti-gay campaign robo call

I received an e-mail this morning from former Plano City Council candidate Justin Nichols, a gay Republican. Nichols said he received a robo call yesterday from Gov. Rick Perry’s re-election campaign, and he’s uploaded the audio to YouTube, which I’ve reposted above.

“With the president making homosexuality a protected class by signing the hate crimes bill, and Congress poised to vote on socialized health care, do you feel it is critical for more people to earnestly pray for our leaders? If yes, press 1. If no, press 2,” the woman’s voice on the robo call states.

Nichols said that unfortunately he wasn’t home to receive the call, so he was unable to find out what happens if you press 1 or 2. But that’s probably a good thing because I’m assuming that if you press 2, your telephone will explode. In any case, Nichols says he’ll be supporting Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the Republican gubernatorial primary against Perry in March.

The robo call goes on to talk about Perry’s upcoming appearance at a Nov. 23 luncheon sponsored by the Heritage Alliance and East-West Ministries. The call says those who attend the luncheon will receive free calendars so they can pray daily for their leaders, and directs them to the Web site www.txpray.com. According to the Web site, the luncheon will be at the Westin Galleria .

I’ve put a call in to the Perry campaign to find out whether they’re willing to take responsibility for this call, but I suspect that they will claim they had nothing to do with it and blame it on the Heritage Alliance. Where have we heard that before?

UPDATE: Mark Miner, a spokesman for the Perry campaign, denies that the campaign is responsible for the calls.

“We have nothing to do with those calls at all,” Miner told me. “I had not heard about it until somebody saw your posting.”

—  John Wright