The Tea Party turns again to dirty tricks

Waxahachie Republican comes under fire from potential opponents over vote for anti-bullying bill and his connection with fundraiser for anti-bullying foundation

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TEA PARTY TARGET | Waxahachie Republican state Rep. Jim Pitts, left, talks with Waco Republican state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson during proceedings in the Texas Legislature in January, 2010. Members of the Tea Party are said to be targeting Pitts for defeat in 2012 after Pitts voted in favor of anti-bullying legislation this year, and reportedly hoped to use. (Eric Gay/Associated Press)

David Webb
The Rare Reporter

Politics just don’t seem to get any nastier than they do in Texas, judging from a group of Texas Tea Party members’ apparent plans to exploit an appearance in Dallas by an internationally known anti-bullying champion.

The Tea Party members reportedly hope a planned appearance by British rugby star Ben Cohen this month at the Dallas gay rights parade can be used as a weapon against an incumbent Texas state representative in the Republican Primary.

The legislator, state Rep. Jim Pitts, a Waxahachie Republican, is scheduled to appear at a fundraiser for Cohen’s anti-bullying StandUp Foundation on Sept. 16, prior to the rugby player’s appearance as a VIP guest at the annual Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade on Sept. 19.

Cohen, 33, retired from professional rugby in May of this year to focus on the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation he created to combat homophobia and bullying. As an athlete he represented the brands Brive and Sale Sharks. He is married to a woman and has twin children.

In November 2000, Cohen’s father Peter Cohen was killed while protecting an attack victim at a nightclub he managed in Northampton, England. He died a month later from head injuries. Three men were found guilty of the violence.

Cohen — a World Cup winner who is straight but has many gay fans — has said in interviews the stories he heard from gay people about being bullied and feeling suicidal as a result of the violence they experienced drew him to the issue years ago.

The Dallas fundraiser, organized by a gay resident, was scheduled to take place at Pitts’ Highland Park home. It was relocated after published reports created controversy, and news of the uproar reached Cohen’s representatives.

The situation nearly derailed Cohen’s planned four-day visit to Dallas, according to the organizers.

The sports star’s representatives reportedly wanted no association with Texas’ volatile political climate, made infamous in recent years by ultra-conservative, anti-gay Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Texas Tea Party members learned about Cohen’s planned appearances when Dallas Voice published a report about them online.

At one point, the agitators who had heard about the report but couldn’t find it online, erroneously claimed that the newspaper had pulled the story in an effort cover up Pitts’ involvement with the fundraiser.

The Tea Party members antics came to light when they twice asked Joey Dauben, the publisher of the conservative Ellis County Observer website, to reach out to a Dallas Voice writer he knew for information.

In the last communication, the Tea Party members wanted to know if the newspaper or any other organization would be taking pictures at the fundraiser that they would be able to obtain for use against Pitts in a campaign.

The Tea Party members’ supporters reportedly have no plans to demonstrate at the event or crash it.

Pitts reportedly is being targeted by Tea Party members because he advocated the passage of anti-bullying legislation in Texas and voted in favor of two measures backed by Equality Texas. The legislator reportedly offered the use of his home for the fundraiser because of his interest in the issue.

Although Pitts backed the anti-bullying measures, he has been criticized by LGBT advocates for voting to ban LGBT resource centers from college campuses. That has left some observers puzzled by the Tea Party members’ tactics.

Dauben said that his criticism on his blog is more motivated by Pitts’ apparent residency in Dallas when he represents Waxahachie, rather than his participation in the fundraiser.

Two Texas Tea Party members, Linda Bounds and T.J. Fabby, have announced plans to oppose Pitts, who has been in office since 1992, according to the Ellis County Observer. It appears the two candidates and their supporters are willing to do just about anything to get one of them elected.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. Email him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

—  Kevin Thomas

Pink Noise: The Dallas Voice Radio Show

 

So here it is, our first episode of Pink Noise on Rational Radio. Still a few kinks to work out — and speaking of kinks, local leatherman Hardy Haberman was kind enough to be our guinea pig guest. We talked about the controversy involving State Rep. Jim Pitts, Troy Aikman’s fighting words for Skip Bayless, Rob Schlein and Rick Perry, Chaz Bono on Dancing With The Stars, and of course Hardy’s BDSM habit. Tune in live next Friday from 4 to 5 p.m. at RationalBroadcasting.com. You can also subscribe to Pink Noise on iTunes, and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook. The video version of Friday’s show is below.

—  John Wright

Fundraiser for gay Pride VIP’s foundation moved from Republican Texas lawmaker’s home

Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie

A fundraiser for British rugby star Ben Cohen’s anti-bullying foundation has been moved from the home of a Republican Texas lawmaker, after an Instant Tea post about the event stirred controversy Thursday.

Jeff Hickey, a gay Dallas resident who’s organizing the Sept. 16 fundraiser for Cohen’s StandUp Foundation, said he chose to move the event from the Highland Park home owned by State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie.

Cohen’s foundation is focused on combating anti-gay bullying, and two days after the fundraiser Cohen will be a special VIP guest at Dallas’ gay Pride parade. Rep. Pitts, meanwhile, has an anti-gay voting record and supported an effort to ban LGBT resource centers from college campuses in Texas earlier this year.

“It created a firestorm politically,” Hickey said of the Instant Tea post, written by Daniel Williams. “Within one day, it was diverting all the attention and resources.

“Within the course of just a couple hours, it made it’s way to London and Austin and all over the place,” Hickey added. “The entire message was lost, and that was extremely disappointing to a lot of people.”

Hickey said the post prompted Cohen’s representatives in London to contact him, and at one point the rugby star’s entire four-day visit to Dallas was in jeopardy.

“Ben’s got a very sensitive brand and a very popular international brand, and they’re not interested in that brand being messed up in Texas politics,” Hickey said.

HIckey said it was an “unfortunate situation” and he understands both sides of the issue, including Instant Tea’s desire to report on the issue. He also said he was “very honored” that Pitts offered to host the event and noted that the state representative voted in favor of two anti-bullying measures backed by Equality Texas in this year’s session.

Asked how Pitts came to host the fundraiser in the first place, Hickey said, “I was approached by some people that said we could possibly do it at his house.” But Hickey declined to say who those people were or elaborate. Pitts hasn’t returned a phone call seeking comment.

Hickey said the fundraiser will now be held at a private residence in Oak Cliff. Anyone interested in attending can email info@dallasstandsup.com.

—  John Wright

Is a Republican Texas lawmaker about to host a fundraiser for the VIP of the gay Pride parade?

Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie

Dallas’ LGBT Pride parade, the Alan Ross Freedom Parade, is Sept. 18. The parade’s “special VIP Guest” is English rugby star Ben Cohen, whose StandUp Foundation works to raise awareness of the long-term damaging effects of bullying. Cohen, who is straight, was inspired to create the foundation after hearing from LGBT friends about the difficulties they experienced. “I am passionate about standing up against bullying and homophobia in sports,” says Cohen, “and feel compelled to take action. It is time we stand up for what is right and support people who are being harmed.”

In honor of Cohen the week leading up to the parade, Sept. 12-16, has been declared “Stand Up Against Bullying Week” in Dallas. According to this Facebook event the week will culminate in a fundraiser for the StandUp Foundation on Friday night at the Highland Park home of Jim Pitts.

Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, is chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee and a 20-year Republican member of the House … which begs the question of whether the Jim Pitts who is hosting Cohen’s event is the same Jim Pitts who supported efforts this last session by Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, to ban LGBT resource centers from Texas college campuses.

A search of the Dallas County Central Appraisal District’s website indicates that the address given for the fundraiser is owned by Pitts 2007 Properties LTD, which is a subsidiary of Pitts Property Management LLC, which is owned by none other than Jim R. Pitts, the honorable representative from House District 10.

So it seems that Rep. Pitts is, indeed, hosting the event: for which I give him kudos. The StandUp Foundation does good work and Ben Cohen is, by all accounts, a fierce advocate for the LGBT community. Hosting the event is in keeping with Pitts’ voting record this last session, when he voted for both HB 1942 (the “super” anti-bullying bill) and HB 1386 (the teen suicide prevention bill).

I would ask, however, that Rep. Pitts consider his votes on other issues and how they affect bullying in Texas schools. It’s not enough to say that LGBT kids shouldn’t be bullied or harassed if your actions tell their tormentors that LGBT kids aren’t as deserving of respect or resources as other people. There is a direct line running through Christian’s statements on the House floor calling LGBT people disgusting and the middle school student who punches an effeminate child for being a “fag.” When Pitts fails to stand up to the former he enables the later. This inconsistency, this willful refusal to see the systemic discrimination faced by LGBT adults as the license that allows the torture of LGBT children, is, in ways both figurative and literal, killing our children — and it has to end.

Instant Tea has left a message with Pitts’ legislative office seeking to confirm that he plans to host a fundraiser for Cohen’s foundation. We’ll let you know what we find out.

—  admin

LEGE UPDATE: Highlights from the Texas House debate on Wayne Christian’s anti-gay amendment

Rep. Wayne Christian

Allies fight off effort to ban LGBT resource centers

CLICK HERE TO WATCH VIDEO OF THE DEBATE

Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, lost his fight to ban LGBT resource centers from Texas universities on Thursday night.

Christian had previously been successful in attaching an amendment to the House version of the state budget that would have required schools with LGBT resource centers to equally  fund “family and traditional values centers.” But the amendment was absent from the Senate version of the bill and is not in the final version of the budget adopted two weeks ago.

Then, on Thursday the House took up the controversial “fiscal matters” bill that, among other things, provides funding for public education in Texas. Christian took this opportunity to offer an amendment to completely ban LGBT resource centers from Texas universities.

When Christian passed his amendment to the budget back in April, it sailed through with no House members speaking in opposition, and only one, Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, asking questions. In contrast, his new amendment met with vocal opposition, as well as a threat to derail the entire fiscal matters bill if the discriminatory language was attached.

Christian began by saying that his original amendment passed with no opposition in the House (in fact, 24 members voted against it), that his new amendment was supported by the Young Conservatives of Texas and that the Texas A&M Student Senate had passed a resolution in support, although he didn’t mention that the resolution was vetoed by the Student Body President Jacob Robinson.

—  admin

UPDATE: Amendments targeting LGBT resource centers blocked, but threat remains

Rep. Wayne Christian

After seven hours of debate the House passed Senate Bill 1811 just after 1 a.m. today. SB 1811 is part of a series of “fiscal matters” bills that compliment the state budget. On Friday, Instant Tea reported that Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, pre-filed two amendments to the bill designed to defund LGBT resource centers from Texas universities and prevent schools from housing them on campus. (Read the full text of Christian’s proposed amendments to SB 1811 by going here and here.)

Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, sponsored SB 1811 in the House. Before bringing the bill to the floor Pitts met with both the Republican and Democratic caucuses and explained that he would only support amendments that he deemed to be “perfecting” amendments. The sponsor of a bill can “accept” amendments, which usually means that they pass without a vote. The sponsor cannot block amendments, but other members often vote against amendments a sponsor opposes out of respect.

Pitts stuck by his guns, opposing all but 11 “perfecting” amendments. Although the House did pass some mostly Republican-sponsored amendments over his objections, for the most part they respected his opposition. Toward the end of the evening Pitts’ resolve began to fade and several amendments were allowed with the assumption that they would be removed later in the process.

While the House was considering SB 1811 the Senate passed Senate Bill 1581, another of the “fiscal matters” bills — this one dealing exclusively with education. Considering the late hour several of the members, including Christian, removed their proposed amendments to SB 1811 that dealt with education, assuming that the amendments could be offered to SB 1581, which is scheduled to be brought up in the House this weekend.

In addition to SB 1581, there are four additional fiscal matters bills still to be considered by the House: SB 7, SB 8, SB 22 and SB 23; any of which could be a vehicle for Christian’s amendments.

Students for Inclusive Resources is encouraging Texans to call their state representatives and ask them to oppose any attempt to defund or ban state universities’ LGBT resource centers. To look up contact info for your representative, go here.

—  admin