Openly gay candidate for Arlington City Council says ‘basic issues’ key in 5-way race

Chris Hightower

Chris Hightower says sexual orientation hasn’t been a significant issue so far

TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

ARLINGTON — When Chris Hightower first started talking to family and friends about running for the District 5 seat on the Arlington City Council, the response he got, he said this week, was, “It’s time.”

“That just turned out to be the theme I was getting from everyone: ‘It’s time,’” Hightower said.

Hightower, who grew up in District 5, is the son of Paula Hightower Pierson, who represented District 5 on the City Council from 1989 to 1997, and then served in the Texas House of Representatives from 2008 to 2010.

If he wins the District 5 seat, Hightower will become the first openly gay person on the Arlington council.

Thanks to his mother’s life in government and the civic service arena, Hightower said, “I have always had civic service in my blood. I’ve thought about running for public office before, but this time, I just decided to do it. I’m not getting any younger, and I decided it was time to step up. Like everyone said to me, it’s time.

“We are a very close family, and when one person in the family is doing something, the whole family is there to support them. I would not have run for the council while my mother was still in the House. I wouldn’t have wanted to take away from her efforts. But since she lost re-election last year, I decided the time was right to run for the council. And she supports me completely,” Hightower said.

Hightower is one of four candidates challenging eight-year incumbent Lana Wolff for the District 5 seat. Also on the ballot with Hightower and Wolff are Terry Meza, Christopher McCain and Julie M. Douglas.

With five people in the race, most poll watchers expect a runoff. Apparently Wolff is among them, Hightower said, noting that the incumbent has, so far, done little campaigning.

“She expects there will be a runoff and that she will be in it, and she is saving her efforts for the runoff,” he said. “But my plan is to win outright in the general election, to avoid a runoff altogether.”

And if campaign contributions are any indication, Hightower is on his way. He said this week he expects his campaign contributions so far to significantly exceed the other candidates’ when financial statements are reported to the City Secretary’s Office this week.

So far, Hightower said, only only one person — not one of the candidates — has tried to make Hightower’s sexual orientation an issue in the race. But Hightower said he doesn’t believe the gay-baiting tactics have gotten much traction.

However, Hightower added, if he does find himself facing Wolff in a runoff, he expects the incumbent to try and make his sexual orientation a campaign issue. But he doesn’t think it will hold much sway over voters then, either.

“There are only 1,800 registered voters in District 5. This is a small, intimate community with a small town mentality. It’s not about what you are, but who you are and do people know you,” Hightower said. “The people in this district know me. When I am out walking the district, I am door-knocking my old teachers, my neighbors. I ran into my old elementary school principal. They know me; they know my family.”

When it comes to the issue of his sexual orientation, Hightower seems to be taking a page out of the playbook of the national Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund — which has endorsed him in the race — and is employing a strategy that paid off for other groundbreaking LGBT candidates in Texas, like Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns and Houston Mayor Annise Parker.

Although he has never tried to keep his sexual orientation secret, Hightower hasn’t let it become the focus of his campaign, either, focusing instead on what he sees as the basic, core issues that affect all Arlington citizens.

“I have been out my whole life. But is that an issue in this race? I shouldn’t think so,” Hightower said. “This campaign is about city issues, about the streets that need repairs, public safety issues. It’s not about personal things. That’s how I see it, and that’s how I think the voters see it, too.

“I’m not running for City Council with a gay agenda of some kind. I am running on the issues all the citizens care about,” he said.

For the past 10 years in Arlington, “it’s been all about the Cowboys and building the stadium here. That’s not a bad thing. That stadium and the Cowboys and the Super Bowl this year have done great things for our city,” Hightower said. “But now it’s time to get back to the basics. Now it’s time to focusing on fixing the streets, on code enforcement, on public safety.

“When those things are in place, people want to live here and businesses want to move here. That’s where we will get the development we need to continue to grow.”

Hightower said he sees the University of Texas at Arlington as the city’s greatest resource, and that “finding a way to engage those students in our city and make them want to stay here and open businesses and raise their families” will be integral to Arlington’s future.

“UT-A has a great engineering program, a great nursing program, a great social work program. It has many, many fantastic programs. But what’s key is the engineering programs, the technology programs. With those, you’re talking about jobs, high-paying jobs. That’s the economic engine that will really drive Arlington into the future,” he said.

Hightower said that the success of the American League Champion Texas Rangers baseball team, the new Cowboys Stadium and this year’s Super Bowl has meant that Arlington has been “fairly lucky” through the recent recession, and so is not facing the severe budget crunch other area cities now face.

Still, he added, the city has to beginning working to “get [pensions and benefits] under control” by honoring existing contracts while at the same time “doing a better job of negotiating new contracts on the front end.”

The city also has to “crank it up a notch and do a better job” of attracting new businesses and industries to the city, Hightower said. “Right now, the council’s concept is writing checks to one business at a time, to try and get them to move here. We need a comprehensive approach that makes the city more attractive to all kinds of new businesses.”

Hightower also acknowledged that the Arlington council will eventually have to address what he called the “hotly-contested” issue of mass transit.

“People don’t have an answer yet, but we do all understand that we don’t live in a microcosm. You may live in Arlington, but work in Dallas or Fort Worth, and you need to have a way to get there,” he said. “We have to have some sort of regional transit system, and not just a municipal system.”

Hightower said that while various city programs that receive federal funds already include nondiscrimination policies that include LGBT protections, there is not citywide ordinance protecting LGBTs from discrimination.

While such an ordinance is not a No. 1 priority for him at this time, Hightower said he believes it will happen eventually.

“I do believe that the people of Arlington of fair-minded people, overall, who would frown on any kind of discrimination. And I believe that kind of [nondiscrimination] ordinance will be a natural fit here,” he said.

—  John Wright

Ed Oakley: ‘What is [Tom Leppert] smoking?’

Ed Oakley is shown alongside Tom Leppert during a runoff debate in 2007.

Turns out we aren’t the only ones concerned about the potential negative impact of Tom Leppert’s gay-loving past on his bid for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2012. From a Dallas Morning News article Sunday about Leppert’s chances, which appeared under the headline, “Ex-Dallas mayor Tom Leppert faces tough odds in U.S. Senate run”:

There are photos of Leppert participating in Dallas parades celebrating gay pride, which could cause angst for conservative voters, as well. …

But Leppert says he’ll be able to convince voters that he has the tools.

“I’m a conservative Republican and I always have been,” he said. “What our issues have to be is building a tax base. What you’ve got to do is grow the economy. I want to make a difference on those national economic issues.”

Leppert said he’s guided by his faith on social issues like abortion and gay marriage. He’s a member of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. He’s against abortion and believes marriage is between a man and woman.

“On the fiscal issues, on the spending issues, you’re going to find me as conservative as anybody,” he said. “On the social issues, I view those as faith issues. I’m comfortable talking about them, but I don’t want to lose sight on what’s going to make a difference.”

Leppert, of course, never mentioned his anti-LGBT views while serving as mayor. In fact, when we asked Leppert about marriage equality in 2008, he told us he was undecided on the issue. But don’t feel bad, because the LGBT community isn’t the only thing Leppert was for before he was against it. In a separate article on Sunday, the Morning News reported that Leppert, who championed the Trinity River Project as mayor, is now suddenly opposed to funding the project with earmarks. The article quotes openly gay former City Councilman Ed Oakley, who was defeated by Leppert in the mayor’s race in 2007:

—  John Wright

Nowlin would be Dallas’ 1st gay council member since Oakley stepped down in 2007

In Friday’s Voice we reported that gay business owner and attorney James Nowlin is planning to run for the District 14 seat on the Dallas City Council, assuming that incumbent Angela Hunt steps down to run for mayor.

If he wins the seat, Nowlin would become the city’s first openly gay council member since Ed Oakley, who vacated his District 3 seat in 2007 to run for mayor – a race he lost to Tom Leppert in a runoff.

Oakley’s departure meant that for the first time since 1993, the council didn’t have an openly gay member. But thanks to some strong allies on the council, as well as Leppert’s openly gay chief of staff, the sky hasn’t fallen.

Still, with 14 representatives plus the mayor on the council in the nation’s ninth-largest city, it makes sense for Dallas to have at least one openly gay councilperson. And Nowlin certainly seems like a qualified and viable candidate.

Among other things, we’re impressed with Nowlin’s candidness about his sexual orientation. He hasn’t at all shied away from interviews with the Voice, and he states plainly on his campaign website that, “James and his partner, John, live in Lakewood Heights and attend Cathedral of Hope as well as Unity Church of Christianity.”

Anyhow, following our story, Nowlin sent out an e-mail on Saturday formally announcing his candidacy and requesting donations. We’ve posted the full text of the e-mail after the jump.

—  John Wright

Business Week on Annise Parker, lesbian

Annise Parker at Dallas Pride.

Business Week ran a story this week about Houston Mayor Annise Parker.

She told the magazine that when she first started running for office, it was as if “lesbian” was her last name.

When Craig McDaniel sat on the Dallas city council, he used to jokingly refer to himself as Craig McDaniel, F.O.G. Those initials, which stood for First Openly Gay, came from every reference to him by the Dallas Morning News, even when the story was about something completely unrelated. If the story was about the opening of the State Fair, it would have read, “Mayor Ron Kirk, council member Chris Luna and First Openly Gay Councilman Craig McDaniel were at the State Fair today….”

Parker’s office forwarded me a link to the story from Business Week. After rereading my own story about Parker from last week, I noticed I used the word “lesbian” 10 times. Once was referring to Christine Quinn, who heads the New York City Council, so that doesn’t count; and once referred to Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, so neither does that one. The others were mostly quoting her, though. And I never called her “Annise Parker, Lesbian.”

But during our conversation, I did ask about some of the issues she’s passionate about — like fixing the flooding problems in South Houston and other infrastructure problems. And we talked about her trade mission to China.

I think I was clearer about why she actually won — most people in Houston got past the whole lesbian thing and voted for the person they thought would do the best job. Her opponent in the runoff was a good guy who would have made a decent mayor but she had a lot more experience than anyone else running and people just like her. Her approval rating has soared since the election.

I’m surprised Business Week missed one important business piece of the story — she’s the only big city mayor who hasn’t had to lay anyone off, mostly because she’s been good at managing the budget.

She’s advanced the image of gays and lesbians as being hard-working average Americans. In my talk with her she said her family and friends were surprised when she ended up running for public office because she was more of a nerdy policy wonk.

She told Business Week, “I’m a middle-aged soccer mom and I appear in public with my spouse of 20 years and my kids. It’s hard to make me scary.”

But the line I really love is, “I take a lot of credit for raising Houston’s coolness factor.”

She’s right. We love Houston’s mayor, but Dallas has always been much cooler.

—  David Taffet

Gonzalez leading Chavez in Texas House race

Back on April 4, John Wright pointed out here on Instant Tea the gay-baiting going on in the Democratic Primary runof race in District 76 between incumbent Rep. Norma Chavez and challenger Naomi Gonzalez, where Chavez decided to try and give herself an edge by declaring Gonzalez to be a lesbian.

Well, it looks like it didn’t work:  As of 11:30 tonight, the Texas Secretary of State’s Web site was reporting that with 30 of 37 precincts reporting, Gonzalez is ahead, 52.49 percent to 47.50 percent. I’m not positive about this, but I don’t think the Democratic nominee will face a Republican challenger in the general election; at least, I didn’t find any Republican candidates listed in that district on the Secretary of State Web site.

And as John pointed out earlier, Gonzalez never said she wasn’t a lesbian, so …… Maybe the Lone Star State will finally have an LGBT person in the Legislature again? Of course, Gonzalez hasn’t said she is a lesbian, either, so the position of “openly LGBT legislator” remains, at this time, empty.сайтраскрутить сайт раскрутка сайта оптимизация

—  admin

Dallas could elect 1st gay judge

Judicial candidates John Loza, Tonya Parker among 4 LGBTs running in local races in 2010

By John Wright | News Editor wright@dallasvoice.com
IN THE RUNNING | Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons, clockwise from top left, County Judge Jim Foster, attorney Tonya Parker and former Councilman John Loza are LGBT candidates who plan to run in Dallas County elections in 2010. The filing period ends Jan. 4.

Dallas County has had its share of openly gay elected officials, from Sheriff Lupe Valdez to District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons to County Judge Jim Foster.
But while Foster, who chairs the Commissioners Court, is called a “judge,” he’s not a member of the judiciary, to which the county’s voters have never elected an out LGBT person.

Two Democrats running in 2010 — John Loza and Tonya Parker — are hoping to change that.

“This is the first election cycle that I can remember where we’ve had openly gay candidates for the judiciary,” said Loza, a former Dallas City Councilman who’s been involved in local LGBT politics for decades. “It’s probably long overdue, to be honest with you.”

Dallas County’s Jerry Birdwell became the first openly gay judge in Texas when he was appointed by Gov. Ann Richards in 1992. But after coming under attack for his sexual orientation by the local Republican Party, Birdwell, a Democrat, lost his bid for re-election later that year.

Also in the November 1992 election, Democrat Barbara Rosenberg defeated anti-gay Republican Judge Jack Hampton.

But Rosenberg, who’s a lesbian, wasn’t out at the time and didn’t run as an openly LGBT candidate.

Loza, who’s been practicing criminal law in Dallas for the last 20 years, is running for the County Criminal Court No. 5 seat. Incumbent Tom Fuller is retiring. Loza said he expects to face three other Democrats in the March primary, meaning a runoff is likely. In addition to groups like Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, he said he’ll seek an endorsement from the Washington, D.C.-based Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which provides financial backing to LGBT candidates nationwide.

Parker, who’s running for the 116th Civil District Court seat, declined to be interviewed for this story. Incumbent Bruce Priddy isn’t expected to seek re-election, and Parker appears to be the favorite for the Democratic nomination.

If she wins in November, Parker would become the first LGBT African-American elected official in Dallas County.

Loza and Parker are among four known local LGBT candidates in 2010.
They join fellow Democrats Fitzsimmons and Foster, who are each seeking a second four-year term.

While Foster is vulnerable and faces two strong challengers in the primary, Fitzsimmons is extremely popular and said he’s confident he’ll be re-elected.

“I think pretty much everybody knows that the District Clerk’s Office is probably the best-run office in Dallas County government,” Fitzsimmons said. “I think this county is a Democratic County, and I think I’ve proved myself to be an outstanding county administrator, and I think the people will see that.”

Randall Terrell, political director for Equality Texas, said this week he wasn’t aware of any openly LGBT candidates who’ve filed to run in state races in 2010.

Although Texas made headlines recently for electing the nation’s first gay big-city mayor, the state remains one of 20 that lack an out legislator.

Denis Dison, a spokesman for the Victory Fund, said he’s hoping Annise Parker’s victory in Houston last week will inspire more qualified LGBT people to run for office.

“It gives other people permission really to think of themselves as leaders,” Dison said.

The filing period for March primaries ends Jan. 4.


This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 18, 2009.
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—  admin