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Primarily Speaking

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The political campaign kicks up a notch with the Democratic and Republican primaries. Gay candidates are on the ballot, and the Texas vote may determine at least one of the presidential nominees.

By Ella Tyler

Presidential primary fever is on its way to Texas. The Democratic and Republican party primaries will take place on Tuesday, March 4, a month after Super Tuesday, when more than 20 states hold primaries. But so far, no candidate in either party appears to be an inevitable winner, which could make Texas a significant stop on the primary track.

Texas delegates will have 228 votes at the Democratic national convention and 138 votes at the Republican national convention. This year, the Texas primary—in the recent past often regarded as an afterthought for both parties—assumes greater significance than in most election years if the contests for delegates are neck-and-neck after Super Tuesday, as appears to be the likely scenario. Texas will also have the largest block of delegates still up for grabs. Expect more attention from the national Democrats and Republicans and more campaign advertising.

DELEGATE WATCH

Presidential nominees are decided upon by the delegates at national party conventions, rather than raw vote totals in primary elections. Primary battles are for delegates.

States choose their national convention delegates in various ways; the rules are typically complex and often arcane. In Texas, some of the votes are allocated according to the percentage of the primary voters for each candidate in each state senate district, and some are allocated according to the number of delegates at the state convention who sign in for a candidate. All delegates are chosen at the state convention (June 5-7 in Austin)—most from the state senate districts and the remainder at-large.

The Texas Democratic party has established affirmative action goals for delegates to the national convention, set according to the demographic composition of voter groups in the state’s Democratic electorate. Under these goals, 14 to 18 delegates should be GLBT individuals. Consequently, members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community have a good chance to be selected as delegates to the Democratic national convention.

The local chapter of the National Stonewall Democrats is participating in a new project, called Pride in the Party, intended to expand participation by GLBT Democrats in their local and state party organizations and boost the numbers of GLBT delegates at the national convention (August 25-28 in Denver). The website, www.prideintheparty.org, includes a way for delegate hopefuls to register and links to each state with explanations of the delegate-selection process. Houston Area Stonewall Democrats will offer precinct caucus training at its monthly meeting on February 12, 6:30 p.m., at Ziggy’s Healthy Grill (2202 West Alabama).

The first step for persons interested in becoming delegates is participation in the precinct convention, held at 7:15 p.m. on March 4 at each polling site. “To attend the National Democratic Convention in Denver as a delegate, one must first be a delegate in his or her precinct convention,” Stonewall president Teresa Herrin says.

OTHER RACES TO WATCHther Races to Watch

Presidential candidates are not the only draw on the Texas primary ballots. There are lively contests for the Republican nomination for Harris County judge, district attorney, and Congressional District 22 (currently represented by Democrat Nick Lampson, who replaced Republican Tom DeLay in 2006). Four Democratic candidates are on the primary ballot for U.S. Senate; these include front-runner Rick Noriega, the former state representative who has begun to seek support from GLBT community vote. For the first time in more than 10 years, there are Democratic Party primary contests for several state representative seats, judicial posts, and even justice of the peace. Two of these races include gay candidates, and others include good friends of the community.

Why are there more primary candidates on the Democratic slate in a traditionally Republican state? “I think the reason you are seeing more candidates in the primaries, including opponents to Jessica [Farrar], Garnet [Coleman], and other popular officials, is because the excitement and renewed sense of optimism in the electoral process,” says Rob Scarmado, president of the Houston Equal Rights Alliance, the GLBT voter advocacy group. “This is especially true for Democrats who are confident that it will be a good year for us because Bush and the GOP are so unpopular. This is especially true among younger and first time voters.”

The Houston GLBT Causes began its candidate-screening process for the primary in January and will announce its endorsements on February 4 (published on its website, www.hglbtpc.org .) Houston Area Stonewall Democrats will screen primary candidates on February 2 and announce its choices following a February 9 endorsement meeting. On the Republican side, the local Log Cabin chapter has distributed a six-page endorsement questionnaire to Republican primary candidates. Noel Freeman of Log Cabin Republicans-Houston (and a 2006 City Council candidate) says the chapter will announce endorsements in Republican races by February 28.

The deadline to register to vote in the primary is February 4. Early voting begins February 19.

PRIMARY CANDIDATES

Here is a look at key local primary races with gay or particularly GLBT-friendly candidates (current office holders and incumbents have been endorsed in the past by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus):

Carol Alvarado, the former six-term City Council member, is a candidate for Texas House of Representatives District 145, the seat vacated by Rick Noriega, who is running for U.S. Senate. Her Democratic primary opponent is Elias De La Garza.

Garnet Coleman has long been recognized as one of the most steadfast GLBT-friendly legislators in Austin. A member of the Democratic leadership in Austin, Coleman is a frequent speaker at GLBT community events was honorary grand marshal in the 2007 Pride Parade. He faces a Democratic primary challenge for the District 147 state house seat from LaRonda Torry.

Jessica Farrar, the seven-term state representative whose District 148 includes the Heights, has a Democratic primary challenger, Jose Medrano. At the January political caucus meeting, Medrano introduced himself as a “friend of the Caucus,” but Randall Ellis, former director of the Lesbian Gay Rights Lobby of Texas (now Equality Texas), introduced Farrar as “the Caucus’ best friend.”

Dale M. Gorczynski, the incumbent Justice of the Peace for Precinct 1, which includes Montrose and the Heights, faces a challenge in the Democratic primary from his former chief clerk, Harold J. Landreneau. Gorczynski is not gay, but his web site announces that his daughter, Christina, is president of OutLaw, the GLBT student group at the University of Houston Law Center, and a member of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus.

Steve Kirkland is seeking the Democratic nomination to the 215th District Court, a civil court. Kirkland was the second openly gay municipal judge in the city, and has been a full-time municipal judge since 2001. Kirkland is one of two local candidates endorsed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory, the national advocacy group that assists and supports openly GLBT candidates (the other is judicial hopeful Andres Pereira). In the Democratic primary, Kirkland is opposed by candidate Fred Cook.

Borris Miles faces opposition in the primary from Al Edwards, who Miles defeated in a 2006 Democratic runoff election for the District 146 state representative seat. In that race, the Houston GLBT Political Caucus endorsed Miles, who has recently found himself in hot water after a business associate claimed he made threats and brandished a gun at a holiday party. The district attorney’s office is investigating the complaint. Through his attorney, Miles has stated that he “disagrees with the reported accounts of the alleged event.”

Andres Pereira is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the 190th District Court, which is also a civil court. Pereira, an attorney, is openly gay and a former board member of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. Pereira has been endorsed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. His opponent in the primary is Bruce Mosier, who has been endorsed by the caucus in previous races when he was one of the few Democrats running for judge.
Ella Tyler is a political observer and activist who previously wrote about politics for the Houston Voice. This is her first contribution to OutSmart. At the February 6 Houston GLBT Political Caucus meeting, Tyler will speak about the process for becoming a delegate to one of the national political conventions. Details: www.hglbtpc.org.

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