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

Mayfield, who likened gays to prostitutes and drug users, attacks Fitzsimmons for being short

Ken Mayfield

Earlier we quoted openly gay Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons as saying that County Commissioner Ken Mayfield is “the most homophobic elected official in Dallas County.”

Now Mayfield, a Republican, has responded by attacking Fitzsimmons, a Democrat, for being short.

The Dallas Morning News picked up our report and sought a comment from Mayfield. According to the DMN, Mayfield responded by calling Fitzsimmons “a little man with a little mind.”

Mayfield also insisted he’s not anti-gay and challenged Fitzsimmons to give examples of his allleged homophobia. Well, allow us to share just one:

In 1995, Mayfield and two other commissioners wrote a letter to 43 local doctors urging them to support the county’s ban on distribution of condoms by the Health Department to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. Here’s what Mayfield and the two other commissioners wrote, according to an article that appeared in The DMN on Friday, June 16, 1995.

“We don’t want anyone, especially anyone in authority, telling our children or future grandchildren that it’s an approved or acceptable lifestyle to be a homosexual, a prostitute or a drug user,” the three commissioners wrote. “And, we don’t intend to be the vehicle through which others are given this message.”

Mayfield continued to support the condom ban until last year, when he opposed a measure that successfully lifted it.

Mayfield’s Democratic opponent this year, Dr. Elba Garcia, helped push through two major pro-equality measures during her time on the Dallas City Council. The first was a citywide ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, and public accommodations. The second was benefits for the domestic partners of gay and lesbian employees.

—  John Wright

Regardless of Tuesday’s outcome, this poster featuring local gay Dems will be a collector’s item

Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons, who happens to be gay, sent over this poster that will reportedly be going up around town in the next few days. It’ll also be part of an ad in this week’s Voice, we think. We can’t seem to get in touch with Fitzsimmons to ask him how it all came about — and how they managed to get all these folks in one room at the same time — but in some ways the poster speaks for itself. Fitzsimmons also mentioned that he can make extra copies, so you’d like one, call his campaign headquarters at 214-948-8700.

UPDATE: We finally spoke with Fitzsimmons, and he said the photo shoot for the poster was put together hastily on Monday afternoon in response to rumors that some in the LGBT community may stay home from the polls this year over disappointment with President Barack Obama and Congress, for failing to fulfill their promises on things like “don’t ask don’t tell.”

“The major thing here is that the Democratic Party in Dallas County has done very well by the gay community,” Fitzsimmons said. “A lot of folks may be disappointed in the pace of progress in Washington, but when you look at the Democratic Party in Dallas County, we’ve kept our promise to the LGBT community.”

Fitzsimmons pointed to people like District Judge Tena Callahan, a straight ally who’s up for re-election after last year declaring Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

“If we’ve got Democratic elected officials putting their asses, their careers, on the line for the gay and lesbian community, then the least we can do is stand up for them on Election Day,” he said.

Fitzsimmons said he’s “bullish” about Democrats’ chances in Dallas County on Tuesday and feels they will win most countywide races, including his own. But he said he’s concerned about races like the one for the District 4 seat on the Commissioners Court, which pits Republican incumbent Ken Mayfield against Democratic challenger Dr. Elba Garcia. Fitzsimmons called Mayfield “the most homophobic elected official in Dallas County” and “a sworn enemy of the gay community,” whereas Garcia is a proven friend.

“That race may be decided by less than 50 votes,” he said, noting the District 4 includes heavily gay neighborhoods in North Oak Cliff. “You can be dissatisfied with Washington, but this election is about what’s going on in Dallas County.”

—  John Wright