By Tammye Nash – Senior Editor

Lupe Valdez

Stonewall-endorsed candidate loses Dallas County race, but lesbian wins runoff for Travis DA

Tuesday’s Democratic Primary runoff handed a big disappointment to the Stonewall Democrats of Dallas: Diana L. Lackey, the candidate the organization had endorsed in the race for Dallas County Tax Assessor-Collector, lost to John R. Ames.

But the big news in LGBT politics in Texas this week was happening in Travis County, where an openly lesbian candidate was elected district attorney.

Rosemary Lehmberg

Rosemary Lehmberg won 64 percent of the vote to defeat Mindy Montford with 36 percent. Lehmberg has no Republican challenger in the general election.

Dallas County
In the Tax Assessor-Collector contest, Lackey got 47 percent to Ames’ 53 percent.

"We were very disappointed that Diana didn’t get it," said Stonewall President Jesse Garcia. "It’s just very sad. She is someone who ran as a Democrat back when being a Democratic wasn’t that popular, not like some who have changed parties recently. She’s just the kind of candidate we like: someone who seeks our endorsement and then is proud to have it."

Garcia did add that although Ames didn’t get Stonewall’s endorsement in the primary, "he is a very good friend to our community, and we are happy for him."

Both Lackey and Ames are Stonewall members. Ames now faces Republican David Childs, the incumbent, in the November general election.

Another Stonewall member in the runoffs was Eric Roberson, who won a decisive victory over Steve Love, 73 percent to 27 percent, to claim the Democratic nomination for U.S. Congressional District 32.

"He has the fire in his belly and the means to raise money," Garcia said of Roberson. "He can put up a formidable challenge to [incumbent Republican Pete Sessions} in the general election.

In other Democratic Primary runoffs, Gracie Lewis defeated David Jordan, 68 percent to 32 percent, for the Criminal District Judge Court No. 3 nomination.

Supporters for lesbian Sheriff Lupe Valdez were keeping a close eye on the runoff between former Sheriff Jim Bowles and former Irving Police Chief Lowell Cannaday, to see who Valdez will face in November.

Cannaday won in a landslide, taking 89 percent of the vote. Kirk McPike, Valdez’s campaign manager, said Wednesday the Cannaday’s win was not surprising.

"We’ve always expected Cannaday would be our opponent. In fact, we were surprised when he faired so poorly in the first round of the primary and had to go into a runoff," McPike said.

He said the sheriff is feeling "really confident" as she prepares to go head-to-head with the Republican.

"We’ve been ready for this for months, and we look forward to an exciting and positive election," he said.

The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a national organization that gives money to the campaigns of openly LGBT candidates around the country, helped kicked off Valdez’s general election campaign this week by announcing that the organization would once again match funds donated to her campaign through the GLVF Web site this week.

A GLVF matching event held for the sheriff prior to the March 4 primary raised $27,000 for Valdez, with GLVF matching $25,000 of that, McPike said. The money, he added, will come in handy.

"From what I understand, [Cannaday] spent a significant amount of money so he could win the runoff in a convincing manner. But the Republican candidates will always have a financial advantage," McPike said. "But we have an advantage in terms of our organization and the sheriff’s record of success over the last four years. That’s the No. 1 reason people should come out and vote for her in November — her record."

Valdez, competing against three opponents, drew more votes than all four candidates in the Republican sheriff’s race combined in a primary with record turnout among Democrats.

And party leaders are hoping, despite the dismal turnout for this week’s runoff, that Democratic voters will all head back to the polls in November and continue the trend that began in 2006.

Democratic turnout for the runoff was at 1 percent, according to the Dallas County Elections Office. About 1.5 percent of registered Republican voters turned out.

"We just had nowhere near the numbers we saw back in March," Garcia said. "Turnout in runoffs is historically very low, and this one just wasn’t on people’s radars. There just wasn’t any excitement on our side — not on either side, really.

"I mean, the lead story on the newscasts [Tuesday night] was the weather. Then the story about the Mormon compound. The runoff results weren’t even reported on until 15 minutes into the newscast. That just shows that people didn’t think of it as being all that important," he said.

But, Garcia predicted, the excitement will be back come November.

"By then, we will have an exciting presidential nominee who will make things happen and who everyone in the party will be behind. There’s going to be a lot of money raised," he said. "It will be a very exciting time, and the momentum will still be with the Democrats."

Travis County
Randall Terrell, political director for Equality Texas, the statewide LGBT advocacy organization based in Austin, said Lehmberg’s win as district attorney laid to rest any fears some might have had that being gay would hurt a candidate in Travis County.

He noted that two openly gay candidates had lost outright in the Democratic Primary: Former State Rep. Glen Maxey lost his bid for Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector to incumbent Nelda Wells Spears, and Brian Thompson lost his challenge to incumbent State Rep. Dawna Dukes in District 46.

"Both Glen and Brian were challenging incumbents who are pretty popular, and they both had an uphill battle," Terrell said. "But Rosemary has had the most successful campaign of any LGBT candidate in Travis County, and her win shows that being LGBT is not a negative factor for a candidate."

Terrell said that while Montford has long been an active supporter of LGBT causes and would have most likely have been a good, fair district attorney, Lehmberg’s win is a huge symbolic victory for the LGBT community.

"Hell, this is Austin. It is an incredibly supportive community," he said. "Rosemary has been [in the D.A.’s office] for 31 years and has led every major section in the office. Internally, it won’t make a huge amount of difference that she won. But in terms of having a high-profile, openly lesbian officeholder, this is fantastic. She is incredibly capable and will do a fine job.

"She will be a great symbol for the community, a symbol that LGBT folks are part of the establishment down here in Travis County," Terrell said.


This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 11, 2008.
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