Bruno Lozano, left, Jess Herbst, right

But LGBT firsts across Texas signal tailwinds

JAMES RUSSELL | Contributing Writer
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Two conclusions could be drawn from the Saturday, May 5 municipal elections. One: Municipal elections truly live up to the adage that all politics are truly local. And, okay, a lot of people still are uninformed about LGBT people.

In the Collin County town of New Hope, voters elected Angel Hamm as mayor. She beat four other candidates, including incumbent Jess Herbst, a transgender woman. Herbst was appointed mayor after Angel’s husband, former mayor Johnny Hamm, died in 2016.

Herbst was an alderman before her appointment by the town council. She also identified as Jeff Herbst. She announced her transition in February 2017 in a letter to the town of 700. If elected, she would have become the first elected transgender mayor in the state.

She came in third out of four candidates, including one who dropped out but remained on the ballot.

She blamed a litany of issues, according to an interview with NBC News, including an anonymous letter mischaracterizing pro-LGBT tweets.

But way down south, in Val Verde County, voters elected gay veteran Bruno Lozano as mayor. He ousted incumbent Mayor Robert Garza by a lopsided 62-38 percent.

Lozano’s sexual orientation was not an issue in the campaign. He ran a spirited, energetic campaign focusing on the future of the city. Garza, on the other hand, was an entrenched incumbent who was just not well liked. Turn out was also low, with fewer than 3,500 votes cast.

Near Houston, Michael and Steven Byrum-Bratsen would have been the first same-sex couple in the state to both hold elected offices. Michael faced no opponent in his re-election bid for the Iowa Colony City Council. But his husband Steve fell short of winning election to a seat on the Brazoria County Drainage District Board.

While Salman Bhojani is straight, the Muslim Democrat elected in Euless in northeast Tarrant County pulled off nothing short of a miracle when he defeated Molly Maddux, a Republican, for that city’s open council seat. The council race is nonpartisan, but Maddux had the backing of state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, who took issue with Bhojani’s political affiliation and faith.

Sticklands’ comments posted on Facebook drew widespread criticism, and Bhojani earned support from ministers across North Texas. He won by 37 votes.

A Bedford councilman backed by Stickland also lost. Dan Cogan beat Dave Gebhart by a 54-45 percent margin. And the drama did not end in northeast Tarrant County. In two hotly contested races for Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District, incumbent Mindy McClure beat Tim Raine, while incumbent Becky St. John faces a run-off against Amy Putnam, likely in July.

The challengers — Raine and Putnam — ran as a slate and had the backing of Stickland, Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, and others.

Beginning next week, early voting begins for run-off elections for any vote-getter that did not win outright in the March primaries. In those runoff elections, Democrats could make history by electing lesbians as their party nominees up and down the ballot.

Statewide voters will choose between former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Houston businessman Andrew White to take on Gov. Greg Abbott in the fall. And Lorie Burch faces Sam Johnson for the Democratic nomination in congressional District 3, a Plano-based seat. The eventual victor faces Republican Van Taylor in the fall.

If Burch is elected, she will share the November ballot with Mark Pharriss, who is running for the open state senate District 8 seat. He faces Republican Angela Paxton, the wife of Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Other races feature the run-off for Senate District 17, a swing district currently represented by state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston. The run-off for the three-county district including Brazoria, Fort Bend and parts of Harris County pits lawyer Fran Watson against lawyer and LGBT ally Rita Lucindo.

In Congressional Distrct 32, the state’s sole swing congressional district encompassing parts of San Antonio and El Paso, veteran Gina Ortiz Jones faces Rick Trevino for the chance to face Rep. Will Hurd in the fall.