Low turnout in May 29 primaries could amplify LGBT vote in key races

Posted on 10 May 2012 at 7:28pm

As early voting starts, Equality Texas is hoping for state’s 1st out legislator since 2001, and gay Dems in D-FW will help pick a new ally in Congress

Mary Gonzalez and Dennis Coleman.

ANNA WAUGH  |  Staff Writer

This year’s election cycle could give North Texas another staunch LGBT advocate in Congress, as well as the state’s first lesbian representative in Austin.

With early voting beginning Monday, May 14 ahead of the May 29 primary, LGBT voters need to know what’s at stake in key races, said Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas.

Along with hopes that one of the four openly gay candidates for the Texas Legislature will be successful, there’s the nail-biting race for the new Congressional District 33.

A statewide Employment Non-Discrimination Act could be passed in the next legislative session, Coleman said, calling a Texas ENDA’s his organization’s No. 1 priority.

“What I think this election is really going to be about it the economy,” Coleman said. “One of the things we can stress in the economy is making sure people are safe in their jobs.”

Mary Gonzalez is one of four openly gay candidates for Texas Legislature and the one that has emerged as most likely to be elected.

One of three Democratic candidates in El Paso’s District 75, Gonzalez is vying to replace Rep. Chente Quintillia, who is vacating his seat.

Texas hasn’t had an openly LGBT representative in Austin since former Rep. Glen Maxey left the Legislature in 2001.

Coleman said Equality Texas is excited about Gonzalez’s chances in the primary, even more so because there’s no Republican candidate she would face in November. Gonzalez is the only one of the four out state legislative candidates who is endorsed by the national Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.

“It would put an LGBT person at the table when LGBT issues are coming up,” Coleman said. “I think that her being there is definitely going to be an asset for us.”

The highly contested race for the new 33rd Congressional District spanning Tarrant and Dallas counties has brought 11 Democratic and three Republican candidates, but the seat is destined to go to a Democrat.

Many experts believe the race will come down to a runoff between state Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth and former state Rep. Domingo Garcia of Dallas. Fort Worth Councilwoman Kathleen Hicks and former Dallas Councilman Steve Salazar are also contenders.

Veasey was elected in 2004 to represent House District 95, a majority of which is in the new Congressional District. He voted against a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in 2005. He also voted against an amendment that would have banned gay foster-parenting and spoke out against banning university LGBT resource centers.

During his time on the Dallas City Council in the early 1990s, Garcia played an integral role in overturning the Police Department’s ban on hiring gay officers.

Later, as a legislator, he voted for an LGBT-inclusive hate crime bill in 2001.

Omar Narvaez, Stonewall Democrats of Dallas president, said the District 33 race and the Dallas County Commissioners Court races are vital, as well as those for Criminal District Court No. 4 judge and162nd Judicial District Court judge, the latter of which features six Democratic candidates.

Theresa Daniel, Gloria Levario and Daniel Clayton are the Democrats vying for the Commissioners Court District 1 seat, while four Democrats are running in

District 3: incumbent John Wiley Price, Micah Phillips, Bennie Brown and Betty Culbreath.

Narvaez said electing LGBT-supportive commissioners is key to passing domestic partner benefits for county employees. He also predicts voter turnout in the primary will be low, giving LGBT voters more of a say in who will represent them.

“LGBT votes are going to be even more important because if turnout is in the low teens or anything below, each of those votes will be weighted even more heavily,” he said. “So it’s huge that we get out and vote and make our voices heard.”

Rob Schlein, president of the gay GOP group Metroplex Republicans, predicted the U.S. Senate race will come down to a runoff between Lt. Gov. David

Dewhurst and Ted Cruz, though Schlein has not decided who he will support.

Cruz “came down on [former Dallas Mayor Tom] Leppert pretty hard” for appearing in the gay Pride parade, and Dewhurst has been “pushing his Christian credentials” but not waving the “anti-gay flag,” Schlein said.

While a runoff in the Senate race is more than likely, Schlein said voter turnout will be extremely low July 31 if Dewhurst wins the May 29 primary outright.

Low turnout would also hurt his chances of winning precinct chair for Far North Dallas’ 2041 precinct race against Homer Adams, husband of Eagle Forum President Cathie Adams. Precinct chair races are at the same time of runoff elections because of redistricting, he said.

Coleman said the important thing to remember for the primary is to get out and vote and encourage others to follow suit in the key races.

“These races are very important because they will determine who will go on next and who would face a challenger,” he said.

“If you want a candidate, don’t sit on the sidelines,” Coleman said. “You need to be voting in the primary.”

For a list of early voting locations and times, go to DalCoElections.org or TarrantCounty.com/evote.

Other key local races of LGBT interest include:

• Lesbian Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez is facing Charlie Thomas in the Democratic Primary in her quest for a third term. Thomas, who works as a security guard and a valet, is a certified peace officer who, at 23, said he is confident he has the qualifications to serve as sheriff. Valdez is the county’s first female, first Hispanic and first lesbian sheriff. During her two terms in office, she has brought the jail up to state standards and lowered the number of inmates by working with judges to help process cases more efficiently. Former Dallas police officer and security businessman Kirk Launius is seeking the Republican nomination.

• Democratic U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson faces a serious challenge for the first time in Dallas’ Congressional District 30. State Rep. Barbara Mallory Caraway is the better known of Johnson’s two challengers, but attorney Taj Clayton has been successfully raising money and secured an endorsement from The Dallas Morning News. The 10-term congresswoman has been a steadfast supporter of the LGBT community and is a sponsor of a variety of bills that would benefit the LGBT community, including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. Clayton has said he also supports both of those bills.

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Municipal elections Saturday

Municipal elections are Saturday, May 12. While Stonewall Democrats of Dallas often endorses in the nonpartisan races for the Dallas Independent School

District’s Board of Trustees, president Omar Narvaez said that the late primary was too close to the municipal elections for the group to have enough time to focus on the races. DISD races in District 1, 3 and 9 are contested.

Only one known openly gay candidate is on the ballot in Texas on Saturday. Scott Sherman, endorsed by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, is seeking re-election to the Pearland City Council. Along with Fort Worth’s Joel Burns and Houston’s Mike Laster, Sherman is one of only three known openly gay city council members in Texas.

— Anna Waugh

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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 11, 2012.

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