A good sign for Texas’ LGBT community

Log Cabin Dallas President Rob Schlein

Joe Straus’ re-election as speaker of the House proves that social conservatives no longer can control the Republican political agenda

ROB SCHLEIN  |  Special Contributor

Unless you’re “wired in” to the inside baseball of Texas politics, you may not know there was a cantankerous fight for the position of Texas House speaker.

House Speaker Joe Straus, a Republican from San Antonio, showed himself to be a moderate on social issues last session. Yet, after a momentous midterm election where a slight Republican majority turned into a Republican supermajority in the House, calls for a “true conservative” to be elected speaker started to ring louder and louder among social conservative activists who regularly attend GOP party functions.

Many of these people are the same individuals that helped create the Republican Party of Texas platform that we all know too well includes the language on “homosexuals” revealed and discussed right here in Dallas Voice every election season.

State representatives who had already pledged to support Straus were being lobbied hard to reverse their support, via a war of words on Facebook, by those who changed their profile pictures with logos that declared “Oust Straus,” with statewide e-mail campaigns, and large, organized visits to field offices.

Precinct chairs in Harris, Denton and Dallas counties — perhaps others — convened during the holidays to pass resolutions demanding the election of a “conservative speaker,” implying that Joe Straus wasn’t conservative enough because of his social views.

Activists made threats to “primary,” which means to find someone to run in the next election season primary, against any Republican representatives that didn’t go along with their desire for change in leadership. Their bullying was amplified when hundreds of them descended on Austin on Jan. 10 to observe a caucus gathering of Republican representatives.

The caucus was demanded by the activists as a strategy to replace Straus by forcing a unified Republican vote, because last session Straus took over from Tom Craddick as speaker when Straus garnered the votes of all Democrats and just a handful of Republicans.

What the activists didn’t know was that the caucus would vote solidly for Straus, and after 70 votes were cast (representing more than two-thirds of the caucus present), voting was suspended and the choice was clearly made.
The social conservatives didn’t like the outcome and contradicted themselves about the process, first calling for an open ballot so they could see who voted for whom, and then complaining later that it should have been done in secret because the outcome might have differed.

The social conservatives were perplexed when their chosen candidate, Rep. Ken Paxton of McKinney, dropped from the race after assurances he would stay in, and after the other candidate, Rep. Warren Chisum of Pampa, switched his support from Paxton to Straus.

On Jan. 11, when the formal selection of a House Speaker was concluded, calls for a recorded vote were made and approved, and more than 130 representatives voted for Joe Straus for speaker, with 15 “No” votes or abstentions — handing the social conservatives a serious defeat.

So, what does this mean for the LGBT community?

It means that there is a continual and growing disconnect between the hard-line social conservatives who are a part of the Republican Party of Texas, the average Republican voter and the actual Republican legislators who govern our state. This is good news for the LGBT community, which often fears possible legislation that could be put forward by the extreme elements of our party.

The selection of Joe Straus as speaker means that Republicans will focus most of their time and energy on balancing a state budget that is some $24 billion short over the next two years due to the slowdown of our economy, and will spend considerable effort reviewing programs that automatically sunset every session.

I would be quite surprised if the legislature spends much time on any social items.

Log Cabin Republican members spent considerable time getting to know their local state representatives. We offered direct support and encouragement for their initial pledges to Joe Straus, and were in continual contact by e-mail and very open in our Facebook rebuttals, asking them to stay loyal to their pledges.

Now our direct interaction with Republican elected officials is paying dividends in less anti-gay rhetoric in campaigns and no anti-gay legislation being proposed in this session that we are aware of.

The election of Joe Straus as speaker means that the impact of the Republican Party of Texas platform on legislation continues to be muted. Social conservative activists always complain that the legislators “never govern by the platform.”

So, when you ask gay Republicans about the platform, or if you point to the passages in the platform about “homosexuality,” understand that the re-election of Joe Straus confirms what we have been saying for some time now: The platform isn’t used as a legislative vehicle and only expresses the opinions of a small minority of people in the party who are loud, but not in the majority among everyday Republicans.

What matters to most Republican voters and legislators are the true principles of conservatism, meaning government stays out of our pockets and our bedrooms!

Rob Schlein is president of Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas.

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

—  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.

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

LGBTs have a choice to vote Republican

The midterm election cycle presents many options for gays and lesbians all across the country: whether to pull the lever for a party that claims to stand for equality while defending “don’t ask, don’t tell” in court, a party which chooses sweeping healthcare mandates over achieving tax equity for domestic partners, and a party which failed to even bring up employment non-discrimination for a vote — or voters can choose a party that stands for lower taxes, a stronger national defense and fiscal policies that will stimulate small business and put Americans back to work.

This is a strange dynamic for many gays and lesbians, as 2008 was supposed to send a “fierce advocate” to the White House, end DADT and rapidly pass legislation ensuring equal protection under the law.

Instead, what voters got was a Democratic National Committee chairman who directed Maine voters to help out with elections in New Jersey, rather than oppose a ballot referendum on marriage equality; a White House senior advisor who labeled being gay as a “lifestyle choice” and an administration that believes DADT is constitutional and worth zealously defending in court.

Considering this sub-par record of Democratic achievement, it is time for gay and lesbian Americans to re-examine why they vote so often for candidates who fail to deliver solutions to the issues challenging their community.

As is the case for so many Americans right now, gays and lesbians should be looking for candidates supporting a legislative agenda focused on creating jobs, lowering taxes, halting runaway government spending and reducing an incomprehensible national debt.

After four years of liberal majorities in Congress, which they have used to vastly increase government’s role in the market and impose new burdens and uncertainty on America’s business owners, expecting Democrats to do an about-face and encourage any kind of economic opportunity is an exercise in futility. Whatever your sexual orientation, this economy hurts us all. It is time for a change.

R. Clarke Cooper is executive director of Log Cabin Republicans. E-mail him at rccooper@logcabin.org.

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

—  Kevin Thomas