Hubbard or Sadler will face long odds in November as nominee vies to become 1st member of party to win statewide race since 1994

Sean Hubbard, left, and Paul Sadler.

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

While four names will appear on the Democratic ballot for U.S. Senate, only two candidates are actively mounting a statewide campaign.

Paul Sadler, 56, is a former state representative from East Texas. Sean Hubbard, 30, of Dallas is seeking public office for the first time.

The winner of the primary will try to become the first Democrat to win a statewide race since 1994, in the race to replace retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Dallas.

“The more established part of the party is pro-Sadler,” Stonewall Democrats of Dallas President Omar Narvaez said. “Those of us who are non-conformist are pro-Sean.”

Both are solid on LGBT issues, although Sadler’s views have evolved since he first served in the House.

Former state Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt, a pioneering LGBT ally, said she’s a big supporter of Sadler. Ehrhardt said when she served in the Legislature, he was always someone she relied on for advice.

“He was a great leader,” she said. “In the early ’90s, it wasn’t popular to support hate crimes [legislation].”

Sadler was a co-sponsor of a gay-inclusive hate crimes bill in 1999 and 2001, when it finally passed.

But Sadler’s position on other LGBT issues seems to have evolved.

In a 1998 survey conducted by Project Vote Smart, Sadler answered “No” to both, “Do you believe that the Texas government should include sexual orientation in Texas’ anti-discrimination laws?” and “Do you believe that the Texas government should recognize same-sex marriages?”

But this year, according to the website On The Issues, he responded to an email questionnaire on April 20, writing, “Paul Sadler supports full civil rights and marriage equality for all Americans.”

Ehrhardt said the 1998 responses may have been geared toward his more conservative constituents, but she noted that he never voted against the LGBT community.

Hubbard said he’s the candidate who’s been consistent on LGBT issues. He calls the issue of marriage equality personal. Because his wife is Asian, he said he would have been denied the right to marry her in some states before the 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision.

“And I’m the only person who can get Democrats excited,” he said.

Narvaez called Sadler a “rock-solid guy.”

“He has the experience, works both sides of the aisle, but he comes across as stale,” Narvaez said. “The membership likes Sean because he’s very vocal on the issues.”

Narvaez said that many Democrats in Texas think they have to run as moderates, even if they’re not. Hubbard, he said, speaks his mind and he’s a liberal Democrat.

Narvaez called him a different type of candidate who’s not running a typical campaign. Stonewall was one of the first groups whose meetings he attended after he announced his candidacy in early 2011. He’s visiting college campuses across the state to appeal to young voters.

“He’s doing creative things with social media,” Narvaez said. “If he makes it past the primary, he’ll get lots of media attention.”

Hubbard compared his positions to that of the Republican candidates in the race.

“Republicans talk a lot about freedom and keeping government out of our lives — except when it comes to keeping them out of our bedrooms,” he said.

On May 2, Hubbard appeared with Sadler and the four Republican candidates in a forum sponsored by Houston Public Media and University of Houston.

“With the exception of Mayor Leppert, they’re running to be the senator of get-rid-of-Obama,” Hubbard said. “I’m running to be the senator of Texas.”

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, 66, is the frontrunner among the Republicans and has the most money. Gaining quickly in the polls is attorney Ted Cruz, 41, a tea party favorite.

Former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, 57, and former ESPN broadcaster Craig James, 51, round out the major GOP candidates.

Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas President Thomas Purdy said his group hasn’t endorsed in the primary.

“As for me — and I say this with all sincerity — I have not decided who I will vote for in the Senate race, nor do I have a pulse on a clear favorite of the chapter’s,” Purdy said.

Of the four Republican candidates, Leppert probably has offended the LGBT community the most while also having the best record on gay issues.

In addition to appearing at gay Pride twice and courting the LGBT community while mayor, his chief of staff was openly gay.

Immediately after announcing his resignation as mayor to run for Senate, however, Leppert sent out an anti-gay tweet.

“We need leaders in Washington to stand on principle of marriage between one man and one woman,” Leppert tweeted.

When asked during the Senate campaign about how his opinion of the LGBT community appears to have changed, Leppert said, “Jesus engaged every single group when he was here on earth, and I did too.”

Since then, Leppert has had to defend his participation in Pride repeatedly. At an Eagle Forum debate in Dallas in February he said he marched because he was the mayor for all citizens of Dallas, but quickly reaffirmed his opposition to same-sex marriage.

“Talk is so cheap,” Cruz said at the Eagle Forum debate. “When the mayor of a city chooses twice to march in a parade celebrating gay Pride, that’s a statement. It’s not a statement I believe in.”

All four of the major GOP candidates have indicated that they oppose both same-sex marriage and civil unions.

Purdy said while he hasn’t been surprised by the candidates’ positions on LGBT issues, “I was definitely surprised and, of course, disappointed by the tone of the rhetoric and the inaccuracies presented at some of the debates.”

After James declared during the Eagle Forum debate that he believes being gay is a choice, the San Antonio Express News polled the candidates on the issue. Leppert declined to respond.

James said, “I just believe based on my faith that the Lord created Adam and Eve, male and female, and my faith is where I draw from my conclusion that it’s a choice.”

Cruz told the newspaper, “I believe that engaging in homosexual conduct is a choice, and I do not believe that unelected judges should force States to adopt gay marriage, against the wishes of the people.”

“I am persuaded that the gay lifestyle is a choice,” Dewhurst said. “As a public policy goal, I support promoting the traditional American family, which is under assault and in need of assistance.”

Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas, said: “They’re all running so far to the right, it’s hard to see how their views on LGBT issues differ.”

But Coleman added that Dewhurst didn’t obstruct the anti-bullying bills that passed in the last session of the Legislature, and may  be the best the LGBT community could hope for from the Republican pack of contenders.

“At the beginning of his term, the former mayor courted LGBT leaders,” Coleman said. “In the campaign we see a total reversal. It’s hard to trust him.

“I have to believe what you’re hearing on the campaign trail isn’t what’s in their hearts,” he added.

Purdy said his group will reach out to the GOP nominee after the primary. He said that as advocates of equality, it’s Log Cabin’s  responsibility to try, no matter what the rhetoric has been.

“I do have hope,” he said. “Hope that the nominee would mirror the behavior of other notable Republican figures.”

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