As Democrat Mary Gonzalez makes history in El Paso, gay Republican George Clayton of Richardson loses seat on State Board of Education
El Paso voters made history this week when they elected Democrat Mary Gonzalez to represent them in House District 75.
Gonzalez, a Latina lesbian who faced two challengers to replace retiring Rep. Chente Quintillia, won with 52 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.
With no Republican in the race, Gonzalez will head to Austin in January and become the second openly LGBT legislator in Texas’ history.
The first was state Rep. Glen Maxey, D-Austin, who served from 1991 until in 2003. Gonzalez, 28, will be the first openly LGBT female to serve in the Legislature.
Gonzalez told Dallas Voice she’s honored that El Paso supported her so she can make a difference for her district.
“I feel excited to be part of making history, but I also think it’s important that we talk about issues during this race, and I didn’t make it only about my identity but made it about education and about water and about roads,” she said.
Gonzalez is working on her Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin and was scheduled to finish it this year but may finish next year with the timing of the election. She currently teaches social justice at Southwestern University in Georgetown.
But her focus is clear. She said she wants to focus on infrastructure and education with hundreds of unincorporated areas that don’t have roads, electricity or running water in her district, major issues she’s ready to tackle when she takes office.
“Mary’s victory will bring a much-needed voice to the Texas Legislature,” Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman said in a statement. “Every state legislature that has made progress on equality legislation has done so with the help and support of openly LGBT lawmakers. We look forward to working with Mary in El Paso and in Austin.”
Texas is one of 18 states that lack an LGBT legislator. Having one is vital to passing relationship recognition, according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which also backed Gonzalez.
“This is a big victory for Mary, for El Paso and for Texas,” said Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Victory Fund. “The people of El Paso will be represented by a talented and committed fighter who knows how to get things done in Austin. And LGBT Texans will be represented by an authentic voice in the Capitol, standing up and speaking out for fairness and freedom for all.”
As some in the Texas LGBT community celebrated the historic victory by Gonzalez, others were lamenting the defeat of openly gay
Republican State Board of Education member George Clayton, who lost his District 12 seat, missing a runoff by less than 1 percent, or 603 votes.
Clayton, believed to be the state’s first gay GOP officeholder, was outed in a whisper campaign last year after being elected in 2010, when he knocked off incumbent Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, who had served on the board for more than 20 years unopposed.
Miller and Gail Spurlock, who ran on an ultraconservative tea party platform and doesn’t have a college degree, made the runoff.
Clayton didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment this week.
Rob Schlein, president of gay GOP group Metroplex Republicans of Dallas, said Clayton’s loss was the biggest surprise of the primary. With four candidates in the race, Schlein anticipated a runoff but thought Clayton would be in it.
Schlein said Miller was the top vote-getter because she spent so much more on her campaign for her old seat, adding that Clayton has said his sexuality didn’t come up on the campaign trail after he was outed.
“Even by George’s own admission, the gay issue has never come up,” Schlein said, adding that he had hoped Democrats would help Clayton win. “If there was any time a gay Democrat could’ve voted for a Republican, it would’ve been for George. Turnout was so low anyway that had the gay community really organized itself to vote Republican once for George Clayton, he could’ve at least gotten into a runoff.”
A U.S. Senate runoff between Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former solicitor Ted Cruz was expected, Schlein said. Dewhurst had more than a 10 percent lead on Cruz with 45 percent of the vote statewide, something Schlein said could help him in the runoff July 31.
The runoff for Senate could boost what is expected to be another low turnout in July, helping Schlein in his run for precinct chair in precinct 2041 in Far North Dallas.
He is running against longtime chair Homer Adams, husband of Cathie Adams, president of the anti-gay Texas Eagle Forum.
“July 31 is going to tough. It’s going to be about who gets the voters back out,” Schlein said.
“But I suspect that with all the advertising that’s going to go on, that at the end of day,
Dewhurst has the advantage.”
Schlein said Tuesday’s results demonstrate that moderate Republicans are winning, with Cruz’s tea party endorsement and Dewhurst’s silence on gay issues — and especially same-sex marriage — during the primary.
“I think he knows that that issue [gay marriage] has been settled,” Schlein said. “It’s not the issue of the day. The issue of the day is the economy.”
The other major runoff July 31 will be on the Democratic side, in Congressional District 33, where state Rep. Marc Veasey and former state Rep. Domingo Garcia will try to maintain strongholds in their respective counties while picking up more votes in the other’s.
Garcia took Dallas County with 44 percent, with Veasey coming in second with 17 percent. In Tarrant County, Veasey captured 49 percent of the vote compared to Garcia’s 14 percent. However, Veasey captured 37 percent overall to Garcia’s 25 percent.
“For my part, I intend to continue talking to voters about my record of success as a legislator and my ideas for solving the issues that voters really care about,” Veasey said in a statement.
Garcia said he campaigned a few months less than Veasey so was grateful for the runoff. He told Dallas Voice he was proud of the Dallas Stonewall Democrats endorsement and would focus on increasing his LGBT support among Tarrant County voters.
“We’re still analyzing the results, but we’re definitely going to continue our outreach programs and continue to get my strong civil rights record on LGBT issues and proven results to them in Tarrant County over the next 60 days,” he said.
Omar Narvaez, president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, said he was thrilled that Garcia, the group’s endorsed candidate, made the runoff. Narvaez said Garcia’s proven record of fighting the Dallas Police Department’s ban on hiring gay officers as a city councilman — and his support in the state House for a hate crimes bill — is still remembered.
“We still believe Domingo Garcia is the right candidate for District 33 and will serve the LGBT community extremely well,” Narvaez said.
“Whatever needs that we have, he’s already proven his relationship with us over the years.”
Felipe Gutierrez, president of Tarrant County Stonewall Democrats, said he personally expected Garcia to do better. Gutierrez said Veasey had a strong showing and will most likely carry Tarrant County in the runoff because a third of his House district is in the congressional district.
One surprising result in Tarrant County was the close race in House District 90 between openly gay Fort Worth ISD board member Carlos Vasquez and state Rep. Lon Burnam. The result was 48 to 52 percent for Burnam, a difference of 158 votes. The absentee ballots, 318 for Burnam to Vasquez’s 94, were the deciding factor in the race.
Gutierrez said he and others were surprised Vasquez came so close against an incumbent and strong LGBT supporter. Vasquez sought the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund endorsement but didn’t receive it. However, the large Hispanic population in the district helped Vasquez along with the absentee votes, Gutierrez said.
“That district has a large Hispanic population and we all know that we Hispanics are growing in numbers and I think that helped Vasquez as well,” he said. “To be fair to Lon, I think they [Hispanics] already have good representation.”
Meanwhile, candidates in two races for Dallas County Commissioners Court avoided runoffs, as Theresa Daniel in District 1 and John Wiley Price in District 3 captured more than 50 percent of the vote.
Narvaez said he’s grateful Price won because he is a strong LGBT advocate and was pleased Daniel won her primary because she would be a strong ally as well.
On the Republican side, the contested race for county commissioner for District 1 became heated recently with Larry Miller, who won the primary, attacking Cecile Fernandez for her support of the county adding domestic partner benefits for employees.
Fernandez had gained support from the local chapter of Log Cabin Republicans. President Thomas Purdy wrote in an email that he and others attended her watch party and were “saddened” by the result, while others were angry.
“It was incredibly upsetting to see such a promising, qualified candidate such as Cecile lose an election simply because her opponent lacked the ability to build himself up and focused his efforts on tearing her down instead,” Purdy wrote.
Purdy mentioned the “gay-baiting mailer” and Miller’s other mailers that targeted Fernandez as “anti-family” because she is divorced.
“This race was politics at its worst, not public service at its best,” Purdy wrote. “But I have to remind myself that change can be slow and the party has to keep supporting people like Cecile, those who run for the right reasons and do it the right way.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 1, 2012.