Democrats hope for another sweep of Harris County in 2018.
By Brandon Wolf
Five openly LGBTQ candidates now plan to seek Harris County judicial seats in 2018, in a trend that could dramatically alter what has historically been a hostile environment for the community.
In July, OutSmart reported that the actions of the Trump administration and Republican state leaders are helping to fuel a wave of LGBTQ candidates in Houston and across the state. Since then, the magazine has learned of several additional LGBTQ candidates in Harris County, bringing the total to at least eight next year. Three other LGBTQ candidates plan to seek Houston City Council seats this year or in 2019.
The majority of LGBTQ candidates in 2018 are running for Harris County judicial seats—a significant development, given that queer people have often faced discrimination from Republican judges at the courthouse.
“While LGBTQ people have marriage equality, there are still family-law issues such as adoption and gender-correction documentation that require court approval,” said Fran Watson, an attorney who serves as president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. “Currently, these types of issues are not consistently granted in Harris County.”
Two years ago, Democrats held only 11 of 85 Harris County judicial seats. Following the Democratic sweep of 2016, that number increased to 27, including three openly LGBTQ district judges: Steven Kirkland, Daryl Moore and Kelli Johnson. In 2018, 58 judicial seats will be on the ballot, and 57 of them are now held by Republicans.
“With the successes of the 2016 election, it is vital to have a repeat performance in 2018,” said Watson, who’s considering a campaign for the Texas Senate next year.
Below is a rundown of the LGBTQ Harris County judicial candidates, who are all Democrats. It does not include Jerry Simoneaux, a candidate for Harris County Probate Court No. 1 who was featured in a July OutSmart article:
• George Arnold plans to seek the 113th District Civil Court seat that Republican Michael Landrum has held since 2013. An attorney for the last 25 years, Arnold said he’s handled civil cases in state and federal courts throughout Texas, and currently chairs the diversity committee at his law firm. He said he’s running because he wants to help people “fairly and efficiently resolve their disputes,” while also increasing the diversity of the county judiciary.
• Shannon Baldwin is a candidate for the Harris County Criminal Court No. 4 seat, held by Republican John Clinton since 2010. Baldwin has practiced law for the last 21 years, both as a prosecutor and defense attorney. Baldwin, who’s raising a foster daughter with her wife, said she’s running because she wants a judicial system that is blind to race, religion, color, creed, sexual orientation, and gender identity. “I’ve seen the negativity that shoots people down the moment they walk through the courtroom door,” she said. “The judge sets the tone of the entire courtroom and its staff. To effect change, we must start at the top.”
• Jason Cox plans to seek the Harris County Probate Court 3 seat that has been held by Republican Rory Olsen since 1999. Cox has 13 years of probate experience, representing clients ranging from financial institutions to indigent individuals. He also writes and speaks extensively on probate issues. He said he’s running because he’s a strong believer in public service. He’s volunteered at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, served as a mock-trial coach, and is an adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas.
• Beau Miller is running for the 190th District Civil Court seat, held by Republican Patricia J. Kerrigan since 2007. With more than a decade of legal experience, Miller said he’s running “to make sure that everyone has fair access to the courts and a fair shake when they get there.” Miller said when judges don’t do their jobs effectively, the wheels of justice grind to a halt—especially for hard-working people with limited resources. Miller is married to Patrick Summers, artistic director of the Houston Grand Opera.
In addition to the Harris County judicial candidates, Charles Spain, who’s served as an associate municipal judge in Houston since 2010, is running for the Place 4 seat on the Texas 14th District Court of Appeals. Republican Marc Brown has held that seat since 2013. The 14th District covers Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Waller, and Washington counties. Spain served for 23 years as a staff attorney for the Texas appellate-court system. He would be the first openly gay Texas appellate judge.
Brandon Wolf is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.