State Sen. Wendy Davis vows to push pro-equality bills if re-elected; opponent Mark Shelton voted to ban college LGBT resource centers
FORT WORTH — State Sen. Wendy Davis has grown used to opposition as she’s championed education, women’s rights and LGBT causes in conservative Texas.
In November she’ll face Republican Rep. Mark Shelton, who opposes the stances Davis has fought hard to turn into policy.
Davis became a Democratic hero last year when she filibustered education cuts and forced a special session. The Republican-led Legislature’s redistricting plan targeted her, but after the plan was challenged in court, interim maps mostly restored her district.
Davis authored LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying legislation last year, but the LGBT protections were stripped from the final version that took effect this September. She told Dallas Voice recently that she plans to try to get the LGBT protections added if re-elected.
“I was disappointed that it wasn’t as inclusive as we wanted it to be, and I was also disappointed that it wasn’t as extensive as we wanted it to be,” she said.
“The whole point of the bill is to be inclusive of the entire community and not to exempt from the protection that it created any single member of our community.”
Davis also helped derail a bill to ban transgender marriage from being considered on the Senate floor last year.
Shelton’s record in the state House is less LGBT-friendly. Although he voted in favor of the anti-bullying bill after gay and transgender protections were removed, he also supported a measure that would have banned LGBT resource centers on college campuses.
Calls and emails to Shelton’s campaign office seeking comment were not returned.
Shelton’s campaign website mentions he has fought for “pro-family values.”
Felipe Guttierez, president of Tarrant County Stonewall Democrats, said “pro-family” means anti-gay.
“We understand what those words mean in code,” he said. “We should have the same equality and rights.”
Guttierez said Shelton’s voting record makes him anti-gay and he would not be good for the district. Tarrant County Stonewall has made Davis the primary beneficiary for the group’s fundraising efforts this year.
Before running for Senate, Davis served on the Fort Worth City Council and helped add sexual orientation to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, something she still considers an accomplishment and would like to expand to the state.
“I think it makes very good sense to move in that direction on the state level as well,” Davis said, adding that she would “most definitely” consider authoring a statewide Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
She also appointed the openly gay Joel Burns to the Fort Worth Zoning Commission. When Davis stepped down to run for Senate, Burns was elected to her old seat.
Burns told Dallas Voice this week that he worked closely with Davis on the new anti-bullying legislation and said it wouldn’t have passed without her support.
“I support Wendy Davis because she is a trusted leader for all the Texans she serves, including the LGBT community,” Burns said. “She understands that LGBT families … are concerned about the same issues as all Texans and she is willing to stand up to Rick Perry and political ideologues who work against us.”
Davis’ race has been a hot state Senate contest, including a barrage of recent TV ads from both candidates. Davis’ spots highlight her commitment to education, while Shelton’s alleged the incumbent will raise taxes to fund abortions and that she profits by using her influence as a senator.
In the last campaign finance reports filed Oct. 9 that spanned July 1 to Sept. 27, Davis raised more than $840,000, and she had more than $1.5 million on hand after expenditures. Shelton’s campaign received about $607,000 in contributions and had more than $566,000 after expenses.
Chuck Smith, interim executive director of Equality Texas, said the organization endorsed Davis earlier this year because “she’s a fabulous ally and it’s the most strategically important race in the Texas Senate.”
“It’s probably the most important race still in play this electoral cycle,” because the Senate is much more conservative than the House, Smith said.
Davis’ race is vital because of the Senate’s two-thirds majority rule to move a bill to the floor for consideration.
With 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats as the current Senate makeup, adding another Republican would mean legislation could pass without any Democratic support.
Smith said Davis has worked with Equality Texas before on anti-bullying legislation and she has proven to be more than just an ally.
“She’s a strong ally for equality, as well as being a strong ally for progressive causes in general in the Texas Senate,” he said.
Davis also wants to support LGBT adoption and family legislation that Equality Texas has made a priority alongside employment nondiscrimination.
She said a gay couple in her district contacted her last year when they were prevented from adopting their foster child who came up for adoption.
The couple had been approved to adopt the child but was later denied.
“As I looked further into it, I was really disturbed that their orientation may have been behind the decision that was made to ultimately recommend their family,” Davis said.
Davis said she got “very personally involved” and met with representatives with the Health and Human Services Department. The couple was eventually able to adopt another child.
While Davis’ support for LGBT issues is strong, she said her goals to improve healthcare, education and the economy during the next session are relevant to all her constituents.
“I know that LGBT Texans care about our education and our economy just like everyone else does, so in terms of the issues I’ll be working on most ardently as we move forward in the next session, it’ll be very reflective of the things that I’ve already been fighting for and that I know are representative of everyone’s concern,” Davis said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 12, 2012.