Gene McNeely campaigning in Granbury. (Photo courtesy Gene McNeely)
Gene McNeely thinks his county deserves elected officials who will do the job they’re elected to do
DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer
Gene McNeely was happily retired and living on a small farm in Hood County southwest of Fort Worth when the Supreme Court handed down its
Obergefell marriage equality decision. When it happened, McNeely said he was delighted his LGBT friends were finally going to enjoy the same rights he had.
But on June 26, 2015, when same-sex couples across Texas and around the U.S. began getting married, it still couldn’t happen in Hood County.
“Our county clerk, Katie Lang, refused to issue a same-sex marriage license to a pair of ranchers who’d been in a committed relationship for decades,” McNeely recalled.
And it was Lang’s continued refusal to do her job that prompted McNeely to step into the political arena.
Unlike Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis, who had right-wing grandstanders like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee standing at her side later in the summer, Lang stood alone refusing to issue a marriage license in Texas. She got mixed signals from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. who supported her on a superficial level, but at the same time made sure to let her know that she could be sued and held personally liable for damages.
By the end of that first weekend, Lang had relented and allowed someone else in her office to issue and sign the marriage license for the couple.
“But,” McNeely stressed, “to this day, she still refuses to issue [a marriage license to a same-sex couple] with her signature.”
Visitors to the Hood County Clerk’s Office website are greeted with this message from Lang: “I am grateful that the First Amendment continues to protect the sincerely held religious beliefs of public servants like me. And the religious doctrines to which I adhere compel me to personally refrain from issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Nonetheless, the County Clerk’s Office of Hood County will have staff available and ready to issue same-sex marriage licenses.
Lang is up for re-election this fall, and rather than allow her to run unchallenged, McNeely decided to throw his hat in the ring. He said he told his wife, “Somebody needs to step up and do this,” and it turned out that he’s “somebody.” He said his wife told him it would be different — exciting and fun.
So in Hood County, where 80 percent of the voters went for Trump in 2016, McNeely is running as a Democrat, and he believes he has a shot at winning. He’s not unrealistic in his assessment.
“The Republican machine is very formidable here,” he said, but the race is winnable. For example, he said one thing Republicans hate is wasting tax dollars.
That first couple that Lang refused to issue a marriage license to not only got their license from her office, they also filed a lawsuit against her.
Rather than allowing Lang to be held personally liable, the county settled with the couple.
“The Republican taxpayers are not happy with that,” McNeely said.
And, he said, the settlement makes his blood boil, too: “With that money we could have bought another police car. Or we could have used the money for something else we needed.”
Lang has received tens of thousands of dollars in support, but McNeely has had donors who’ve told him they’re lifelong Republicans who never thought they’d ever donate to a Democrat.
He said he has support among city council members from Hood County’s various cities, including Granbury, the county seat. He said other elected officials know Lang because they’ve worked with her, but he hopes some of those elected officials will tell their constituents that she treats the position as a part-time job and about how she treats others she works with.
McNeely worked for MoPac, the railroad company, for a number of years before going into banking. He was with Citibank in Richardson, Albuquerque and Kansas City before retiring as a vice president of Providian, with 350 people working under him.
He said he and his wife loved Granbury but they wanted some land. So when he retired, they bought a 20-acre farm in Lipan, in northwest Hood County.
McNeely hopes the county clerk race doesn’t come down to gay vs. straight or Republican vs. Democrat. “It’s a clerical job,” he said. “I hate that it’s political.
“The winner should be the best person for the job.”