Houston Democrat says education, healthcare are priorities as she tries to beat GOP incumbent who voted to ban LGBT resource centers


OUT ON THE TRAIL | Ann Johnson, left, and partner Sonya Cuellar are shown at a July fundraiser for Johnson’s campaign at Stoneleigh P in Dallas. They have been together for two years. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)




ANNA WAUGH  |  Staff Writer

Time is of the essence for Ann Johnson. The Houston child advocacy attorney has the November election in sight while she aims to reach more voters every day.

Johnson, an out lesbian, ran unopposed in the Democratic Primary in Houston’s House District 134. She will face one-term Republican incumbent Sarah Davis in November. Johnson told Dallas Voice this week that her challenge is reaching voters and informing them of the differences between her and Davis.

If Johnson is elected, she would join El Paso Representative-elect Mary Gonzalez, who identifies as pansexual, giving the Texas Legislature two openly LGBT representatives — the first since Austin’s Glen Maxey left the House in 2003.

“The challenge is the time,” Johnson said. “I’m trying to connect with as many people as possible and I hope everyone in the district will have an opportunity to know what I’m standing for, what I promise to do in representing 134 and to know my opponent and her history.”

Davis is a personal injury lawyer for the national firm Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, LLP, where she defends individuals, local businesses, and Fortune 500 companies, according to her biography on her Texas House of Representatives webpage. Her office did not respond to requests for an interview.

Davis voted in favor of anti-bullying legislation but also supported efforts to ban campus LGBT resource centers at Texas universities.

She also supported defunding Planned Parenthood, something Johnson has stood firmly against.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in late August that Texas can cut off funding for Planned Parenthood clinics, but Johnson said she’s focused on refunding the organization because it helps more than 130,000 women gain access to healthcare.

“There is critical care that needs to happen,” Johnson said. “We need to be able to use the resources that can provide that care, and Planned Parenthood is one of those organizations that provide that care.”

Part of Johnson’s passion for healthcare funding comes from the time the 38-year-old spent battling thyroid cancer seven years ago. She said she was fortunate to live near M.D. Anderson and receive advanced treatment to beat the cancer, but she feels more research funding is needed to help discover cures for more diseases.

“I benefited from that kind of medical care,” Johnson said. “I want other people to have the same opportunity that I have had for my particular diagnosis with any future diagnosis that they may come up against.”

El Paso’s Gonzalez has campaigned for Johnson after meeting her recently. She said Johnson’s passion and knowledge of state policy issues make her a “dynamic leader.”

“She’s exactly the kind of person Texas needs to make sure we’re moving forward,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said having Johnson alongside her in the House would provide additional diversity and have more impact than just Gonzalez’s presence.


BACKING GAY RIGHTS | Johnson expressed support for a Texas ENDA and same-sex adoption legislation. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

“I think that in order for there to ever be true diversity in the Texas House, we need to have more than just one person. We need to have difference across the table,” she said. “This is a great opportunity for those of us in the LGBTQ community to support another candidate and to really make a difference in this year’s November elections.”

Johnson comes from a political family. Her father, Jake Johnson, was a state representative in the ’60s. Johnson’s mother is former Civil District Judge Carolyn Marks Johnson. While she attributes her values and passion for public service to her family, she said the issues of healthcare and education inspired her to run for office.

“I have an incredibly supportive family. My partner’s incredibly supportive,” Johnson said. “They understand the importance of this election and all of us are working very hard to try to make sure the voters know the option that they have available in 134.”

As for education, Johnson’s main focus is making sure every Texas child has a quality learning experience. She applauded the anti-bullying legislation H.B. 1942 that went into effect this September.

“I think any effort that can be done to provide children the tools to help one another and schools the resources to provide a safe environment for children is absolutely needed,” she said. “I think the most essential thing is to provide an environment that is tolerant and gives children an opportunity to learn from one another and not to be in a position to want to harm one another.”

Although the bill does not provide LGBT protections for students, Johnson said she would support adding them.

“I would support protecting all children and if that is needed to make sure that all children feel safe to go to school and feel like they’re in a welcoming, learning environment, then that needs to be the priority of the Texas Legislature,” she said.

Chuck Smith, interim executive director of Equality Texas, said adding LGBT protections to the bill is not “high up on our agenda” because the bill is still new. He said he expects lawmakers to go forward to try to add the protections in the new session, an effort Equality Texas would support.

Smith said an endorsement is in the works for the District 134 race, but the organization may also end up not endorsing in the race.

“It is in play. We’re still working on it,” he said.

The Washington, D.C.-based Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund has already endorsed Johnson. A Victory Fund endorsement typically means a candidate has a decent chance of winning.

Smith said Johnson has completed Equality’s Texas’ candidate questionnaire but Davis has not, though both have expressed an interest in working with the organization. Equality Texas worked with Davis on the recent anti-bullying legislation.

“We have a working relationship with the incumbent in that race. We are looking and analyzing both candidates,” Smith said.

“As an organization that is actively seeking to make equality a bipartisan issue, we’re looking for opportunities to work with Republicans and Democrats.”

Smith said Equality Texas would decide in the coming weeks whether to endorse in the race, but Davis would need to complete a candidate questionnaire to gain the endorsement.

“We’re evaluating the answers on the questionnaire and evaluating the status of our relationship with the incumbent,” Smith said.

Johnson said that she also supports a statewide Employment Non-Discrimination Act and adoption legislation for same-sex couples, two priorities for Equality Texas in the upcoming session.

“Any efforts that are being put out there to try to help everybody feel safe and protected under the law, of course I would support them,” she said, adding that issues of equality are not her main focus. “The issues that I’m most concerned about right now and will deal with next session is making sure every kid has access to education and healthcare.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 14, 2012.