Patrick’s win puts a question mark over the Senate, but is the House getting friendlier?
Texas remains red and Texas Democrats have a severe case of the blues following midterm elections on Tuesday, Nov. 4, in which Republican candidates swept all the statewide races.
But Daniel Williams, field organizer and legislative specialist for Equality Texas, said this week the outlook for Texas LGBTs may not be as bleak as some think.
State Sen. Wendy Davis, the Fort Worth Democrat who made national headlines in 2013 when she successfully filibustered draconian anti-choice legislation, had been a beacon of hope to most of the LGBT community — and other progressive Texans — when she decided to run governor.
Although she didn’t have campaign coffers as deep as Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, Davis ran a solid campaign.
And while she wasn’t expected to win the race in such as deeply red state, many pundits did expect the race to be close.
But it wasn’t.
With statewide voter turnout at just over 33 percent, Davis was able to pull in less than 40 percent of the 4,708,556 votes cast in the race. That gave her about 39 percent of the vote, compared to Abbott’s 59 percent.
The remaining 2 percent was split between Libertarian Kathie Glass, Green Party candidate Brandon Parmer and write-in candidate Sarah M. Pavitt.
Even though the Davis-vs.-Abbott contest got most of the attention, in Texas and elsewhere, it was the race for lieutenant governor that many considered the most important.
The lieutenant governor, on the other hand, is president of the state Senate. Among the lieutenant governor’s powers are debating and voting on all issues when the Senate sits a “committee of the whole,” deciding all parliamentary questions, determining the order in which legislation will be considered in the Senate, and casting the determining vote in case of a tie.
Democratic Sen. Leticia Van de Putte’s loss to Republican Sen. Dan Patrick in that race was one of the biggest blows to the prospects for advances in LGBT rights in Texas over the next four years.
Van de Putte, a pharmacist from San Antonio, captured 39 percent of the 4,676,358 votes cast for lieutenant governor. Patrick, a right-wing radio talk show host from Houston, received 58 percent, with the remaining 3 percent split between Libertarian Robert D. Butler and Green Party candidate Chandrakantha Courtney.
Van de Putte’s loss was made even more disheartening by the fact that even some otherwise faithful Republicans, including Metroplex Republicans President Rob Schlein of Dallas, had suggested that Van de Putte was the better candidate.
Margins in the other five statewide races — not including judicial races — were similar:
• Republican Ken Paxton defeated Democrat Sam Houston, 59 percent-38 percent, for attorney general.
• Republican Glen Hegar defeated Democrat Mike Collier, 58 percent-38 percent, for comptroller.
• Republican George P. Bush — nephew of former Texas Gov. and former U.S. President George W. Bush — defeated Democrat John Cook, 61 percent-35 percent, for land commissioner.
• Republican Sid Miller defeated Democrat Jim Hogan, 59 percent-37 percent, for ag commissioner.
• And Republican Ryan Sitton defeated Democrat Steve Brown, 58 percent-37 percent, for railroad commissioner.
Still, Williams said, there is room for some hope for LGBT Texans — just probably not in the Senate.
“Republicans are not fungible,” Williams said. “Neither are Democrats. That said, there will obviously be some differences, and they are not likely to be that positive for the LGBT community.”
The biggest disadvantages for the LGBT community will likely be in the Senate, he said, But there’s a lot that remains to be seen there, too.
“There will be some big differences, I am sure, in the way [current Lt. Gov. David] Dewhurst has run the Senate and the way
Patrick will run the Senate,” Williams said. “But the Senate’s next session will be very, very hard to predict. Almost a third of the senators are brand new, and there is a new lieutenant governor.
“It’s going to be hard to predict what will happen there, but there’s no doubt it will be different,” he said.
But it may well be a different story in the Texas House, Williams continued.
“I think the House is going to be friendlier than it has been for the last couple of sessions. Almost all of our really strong allies there were re-elected, except for [Fort Worth Democrat] Lon Burnam [in District 90] who lost in the primary. But his replacement, Ramon Romero Jr., could be a very strong ally for us in his own right,” Williams said.
And in Dallas County, former Dallas City Councilwoman Linda Koop defeated Tea Partier Stephani Carter in the Republican Primary and Democrat George M. Clayton in the general election to win the District 102 seat.
“I think [Koop] could prove to be very good on our issues,” Williams said. “I’m not calling her a rainbow-flag-waving, vocal LGBT advocate, but she is absolutely a sane voice on LGBT issues.”
He continued, “We are getting to the point in the Texas House where we are right on the tipping point of the House being 50-50 in its support for LGBTs. I am very hopeful about the direction the House is taking.”
Williams said Equality Texas, the statewide LGBT lobbying organization will be “switching to a defensive strategy” for the 2015 legislative session. “That doesn’t mean there’s not room for advancement. But it does mean that we are going to have to tackle the challenges differently,” he said.
With new leadership in the Senate and an unknown crop of candidates taking office in January, Williams said Equality Texas has already started work — and community members need to do the same.
“It’s more important now than ever before that LGBT people make their voices heard,” he said. “The Action Center on our website has contact information and sample letters to send to your legislators — even the ones who haven’t started the job yet.
“Most of these freshmen [legislators] may already have an opinion on marriage, but it’s unlikely they’ve ever had to deal with any of the other issues affecting LGBTs. We have the opportunity now to be the first ones to talk to them about those issues, and that’s huge,” Williams said.
“There are 67 days before the Legislature is sworn in, 67 days to set the tone for the session. So do it now, while they are still in their home towns,” he added. “We win when they understand that we are human beings, that we live in their neighborhoods and go to their schools and shop in their grocery stores and attend their churches. So call your representative now. You have 67 days.”
For information on Equality Texas or to access its Action Center, visit EqualityTexas.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 7, 2014.