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By Brandon Wolf and John Wright
Ten LGBTQ candidates from Texas who were in contested primaries advanced to either runoffs or the general election on Tuesday, March 6, including one for governor and four for Congress.
Fourteen openly LGBTQ candidates lost their primary races, reducing the state’s record number of out hopefuls from 49 to 35 heading into May 22 runoffs.
Lupe Valdez, the out lesbian former Dallas County sheriff, made history as the top-vote getter in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, capturing 43 percent. She will face Houston businessman Andrew White, who captured 27 percent, in the May 22 runoff, with the winner advancing to a November contest against incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
The LGBTQ candidates who advanced to runoffs for congressional seats were Democrats Lorie Burch in District 3; Mary Wilson in District 21; Gina Ortiz Jones in District 23; and Eric Holguin in District 27. Ortiz Jones, who is in a swing district currently represented by U.S. Rep Will Hurd, R-Texas, arguably has the best odds to become the first openly LGBTQ person elected to Congress from the state. Ortiz Jones would also be the first LGBTQ woman of color elected to Congress.
“Texas remains a deep red state, and electing LGBTQ people to public office is never easy, but the unprecedented number of LGBTQ people running provides us enormous opportunities to win and make change,” said former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund. “It is an exciting year for our community in Texas, and the road ahead will be tough, but we are investing in these candidates to help them cross the finish line in the coming run-off and in the general.”
The Victory Fund-endorsed candidates who advanced on Tuesday included several in Houston. Harris County Judge Steven Kirkland was unopposed in the Democratic Primary for Place 2 on the Texas Supreme Court; Beau Miller was unopposed for Harris County’s 190th Civil District Court; Jerry Simoneaux was unopposed for Harris County Probate Court No. 1; and Jim Kovach, who’s running for Harris County Circuit Court No. 2, defeated his primary opponent, Stanley Santire, by a margin of 67 to 33 percent.
Former Houston GLBT Political Caucus President Fran Watson narrowly advanced to a runoff in Texas Senate District 17, capturing 35 percent of the vote. Watson will face Rita Lucido, who captured 49 percent, in the primary runoff, with the winner taking on anti-LGBTQ incumbent state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston.
“Last night’s results show the power of the collective,” Watson told OutSmart on Wednesday. “As a first-time, out LGBTQ candidate running for State Senate in Texas, making it to a runoff is remarkable. I am so proud of my team and our vision of building a representative government that puts the people first. We are looking onward to May 22, with the goal of getting to the general election.”
Elsewhere in state legislative races, former marriage-equality plaintiff Mark Phariss is believed to be the first openly LGBTQ person in history to become a major-party nominee for Texas Senate, edging out Brian Chaput in the District 8 Democratic Primary by a margin of 51 to 49 percent.
Dallas attorney Jessica Gonzalez is set to become the third openly LGBTQ member of the Texas Legislature, after she knocked off incumbent state Rep. Roberto Alonzo in District 104. There is no Republican in the race, so Gonzalez will join the Legislature in January.
“We ran a very strong grassroots effort,” Gonzalez told the Dallas Morning News. “I am just really excited about the opportunity to serve the people. The district deserves better.”
Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, the nation’s only out pansexual elected official, fought off challenger MarySue Femath in the Democratic Primary to win a fourth term in the Legislature. And, in District 115, out lesbian Julie Johnson captured 77 percent of the vote in advancing to the general election against anti-LGBTQ incumbent Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving.
Four transgender candidates did not fare as well, losing their primary bids: Madeline Eden in Congressional District 10; Vanessa Edwards Foster in Congressional District 27; Dylan Forbis in Texas House District 29; and longtime Houston activist Jenifer Pool in Texas House District 138.
Two trans candidates remain on the ballot in Texas this year. Finnigan Jones was unopposed in the Democratic Primary for Texas House District District 94, and will face incumbent state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, in November. And New Hope Mayor Jess Herbst is running for re-election in a May municipal race.
Two openly LGBTQ Republican candidates also lost their primary races: Shannon McClendon in Texas Senate District 25 and Mauro Garza in Congressional District 21.
Seventy percent of candidates endorsed by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus advanced to either runoffs or the general election, according to an analysis by OutSmart.
“Our community’s hard work is paying off because we have some historical wins,” said Caucus President Mike Webb, noting that state Senator Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, a staunch LGBTQ ally, is on her way to becoming the first Latina elected to Congress from the city.
“However, the fight is not over,” Webb added. “The Caucus has at least seven pro-equality candidates that made it into the runoff elections.”
The Caucus’ next endorsement meeting is set for Wednesday, April 4. Among other races, the group will consider an endorsement in Houston’s Congressional District 7, where Democrats Lizzie Pannill Fletcher and Laura Moser advanced to a runoff. The winner will face anti-LGBTQ incumbent Congressman John Culberson, R-Houston, in a race that’s considered a possible Democratic pickup in November.
“We just have to continue channeling our passion to ensure at the end of the day, equality wins,” Webb said.