Incumbent Republican faces former Democratic Houston mayor in race for Texas governor’s office

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

Bill White, Rick Perry
IN THIS CORNER … | Democrats say LGBT voters should back former Houston Mayor Bill White, left, who has said he supports same-sex civil unions and opposed Texas’ anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment. Republicans say that LGBT people who care about the economy should vote for incumbent Gov. Rick Perry, even though he pushed for passage of the marriage amendment.

Labor Day is the traditional kick-off of election season. This weekend, campaigning goes into high gear as voters begin paying more attention to the candidates competing in the November races.

The governor’s race pitting incumbent Rick Perry against former Houston Mayor Bill White is the Texas’ most high profile contest and an important one for the state’s LGBT community.

Perry came into office in January 2001 when George W. Bush resigned to become president. He has been elected twice since then and is seeking his third full term. He already is the longest-serving governor in Texas history and is currently the longest serving governor in the United States.

In May 2001, Perry signed the James L. Byrd Hate Crimes bill into law after years of opposition to the law by Gov. Bush. Since then, Perry’s record of LGBT issues has swung to opposite direction.

Under his tenure and with his support, an anti-same-sex-marriage amendment was added to the state constitution in 2005. But bills restricting adoption by gays and lesbians have not passed and Perry generally stayed out of that legislative debate.

White supports anti-bullying legislation that will be the top priority for Equality Texas in the upcoming legislature. That measure, first introduced in the legislature by Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt in the 1990s, has not come to the floor for a vote in past sessions.

Dallas County Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Neerman said that education is at the top of Perry’s priorities. He said that a good public education system is important to everyone, including the LGBT community, because it benefits the entire state.

Dallas County Democratic Party Chair Darlene Ewing agrees and points out how low Texas’ public education system ranks nationally. She said Texas has the highest dropout rate in the country.

“If they can’t have vouchers for their private schools, they’ll just destroy the public school system,” she said. “[Perry] sees it as a property tax burden.”

She said she believes White would be good for Texas and good for the LGBT community.

“I think he could do a lot,” said Ewing. “He believes in equality for everyone. Republicans use gay equality as a wedge issue.”

Ewing said that she believes that as governor, White would disregard sexual orientation in appointments, for example.

“I’ve heard him say that every citizen is entitled to protection,” she said. “He has a track record of working with all people in Houston.”

This week, the Texas Tribune reported Perry scored points by deriding the LGBT community.

“There is still a land of opportunity, friends — it’s called Texas,” Perry said. “We’re creating more jobs than any other state in the nation. … Would you rather live in a state like this, or in a state where a man can marry a man?”

He didn’t explain what one thing had to do with the other or address studies that show that same-sex marriage actually creates jobs.

Ewing dismissed the statement as nothing more than a “Let’s get the crazies all riled up” attempt.

But in this race, Dallas Log Cabin Republicans President Rob Schlein is focusing on Texas’ pro-business climate, with low taxes that have kept the state strong.

“I think the proof is in the economy,” said Schlein. “We have the best economy in the country and I think it has to do with conservative governance.”

Neerman said the election would hinge on the economy. He said LGBT voters would look for the same thing as straight voters.

“Who is the best man to lead the state in job creation, getting the economy moving and keeping spending under control,” he said. “This election will be about pocketbook issues.”

He pointed out that Perry angered many people in his base by not supporting an Arizona-type immigration law. Soon after that bill was signed into law, Perry said that a similar law wouldn’t work in Texas.

“He’s an ambassador for the state and he does a great job at that,” Neerman said.

Jonathan Neerman and Jennifer Allen
Jonathan Neerman and Jennifer Allen

But while White has attended Stonewall Democrats events across the state, Perry has not courted support of that group’s Republican counterparts.

“I’d like to see [Perry] do what another Republican governor did in Utah and host a reception for Log Cabin,” Dallas Log Cabin Republicans President Rob Schlein said. “Include us in the conversation.”

Bill White has said he supports civil unions rather than marriage. In 2005, he opposed the marriage ban proposition that became law. On his website, he has no official statements about equality for the LGBT community.

Under issues, the Perry campaign simply lists “Protecting Traditional Marriage,” without explanation, under a heading “social conservative.” The 2005 marriage ban remains in place. That is the only reference to anything gay.

The Texas Republican platform, however, goes into more detail. It calls for outlawing child custody by gay parents and only allowing supervised visitation if called for by court order.

The platform advocates outlawing adoption by gays and lesbians, disqualifying gays and lesbians from military service and excluding gays and lesbians and persons with infectious disease from the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Since being gay or lesbian isn’t a disability, this implies that any gay or lesbian person who is disabled would be disqualified from the law. Infectious disease refers directly to persons with HIV who are covered by the act.

Stonewall Democrats of Dallas President Erin Moore called the Republican Party platform reprehensible.

“As head of the Texas Republican Party, Perry had to have signed off on it,” she said. “Bill White has been a friend of the LGBT community as mayor of Houston and will be as governor.”

Schlein said, “As a practical matter, politicians do not govern by the platform.”

He noted that at their recent meeting, Texas Young Republicans unanimously called for removing the anti-gay planks from the platform.

Neerman agreed and thought this was the direction many social conservatives were moving. He cited Ted Olsen, who fought California’s Proposition 8 in court recently and won, as an example.

Dallas Stonewall Young Democrats Political Director Jennifer Allen gave a different example of why she is supporting White. She said she was impressed by White’s response after Hurricane Katrina.

“When the national government wasn’t doing anything about it, Bill White as mayor of Houston organized the city to provide housing, food and medical care when people were fleeing New Orleans,” she said.

Neerman and Schlein argue that Texas has not been affected by the recession as badly as other parts of the country and both credit Perry for that. They think Perry deserves LGBT support because economic issues are what this community is focused on.

Ewing argued that White would be great for Texas business and warned about four more years of Perry.

“Perry’s full of crap,” she said.

“He claims to have balanced the budget, but he took money from the feds to plug up the hole. When he panders to the secession nuts and then wants to sell the roads off to foreign companies, follow the money.”

A current Rasmussen poll has Perry at 49 percent and White at 41 percent.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.