Although he had been approached numerous times over the years about running for public office, Democrat Todd Litton says he always felt he could better serve his community in the nonprofit education sector. But all that changed after president Donald Trump’s election.
In early 2017, Litton and his wife, Jennifer, decided that he would challenge seven-term Republican congressman Ted Poe in Texas’ 2nd Congressional District.
“The president’s hateful, divisive language was something which really shocked us,” Litton says. “It was not representative of our experience here in this city. In Houston, we treat all people with respect, and work together to get things done. Or, certainly we aspire to it.”
The heavily gerrymandered, horseshoe-shaped 2nd District is especially important to Houston’s LGBTQ community because it includes Montrose, the city’s gayborhood. From there it snakes west to Addicks, then north to Spring and east through Humble.
Before deciding to run, Litton and his supporters looked closely at the district’s voting history. “There has been a whole change of demographics since the Republicans redistricted in 2012,” he says. “The district is a lot more diverse, and looks much more like Houston.”
Thirty-seven percent of the district’s voters are white, 30 percent are Hispanic, 12 percent are African-American, and 8 percent are Asian. The district is also highly educated, with 40 percent of voters having at least a bachelor’s degree.
“Ted Poe had a base and was able to raise money and build an organization that could run a significant campaign,” Litton says. And yet in 2016, while Poe took 60 percent of the vote, perennial Democratic challenger Pat Bryan garnered 36 percent with meager funds and a small campaign. Trump, meanwhile, won the district with only 52 percent.
For his campaign, Litton has adopted the slogan “Common Sense and Common Decency.”
“We felt there was an opportunity here if we put our heads together and worked hard—meeting people and finding out what their concerns and hopes are—and also beginning to raise money,” Litton says. “It’s really just a matter of using our heads and our hearts.”
Several months after Litton decided to run, Poe announced his retirement, creating an open seat that fueled a surge of candidates.
Before the primary, Litton received the Houston GLBT Political Caucus endorsement after receiving the highest score out of five Democrats who screened with the group. Also backed by the Houston Chronicle, he won the primary without having to face a runoff.
Litton proudly posted the Caucus endorsement on his website, along with his photo from the Pride Portraits campaign. Recently, he appeared at the dedication for the new Houston Pride Wall in the Heights (where he was photographed with special guest Jim Obergefell) and marched in the Houston Pride parade.
Litton’s opponent is former Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw, who defeated state Representative Kevin Roberts in a runoff to capture the Republican nomination. Crenshaw’s campaign did not respond to questions about LGBTQ issues submitted by OutSmart. However, at a Houston Area Pastor Council forum in January, Crenshaw was asked whether sexual orientation and gender identity should be protected classes.
“I don’t support this because I don’t support finding problems where they don’t exist,” Crenshaw said. “What the left is trying to accomplish by adding sexual orientation and gender identity is to evoke their power to force bakers and photographers to participate in ceremonies they do not agree with. The gender-identity issue is an attempt to destroy the traditions we hold dear—the simple idea that there are male and female.”
Litton feels the Supreme Court’s recent Masterpiece Cakeshop decision was a punt that highlights the need for the federal Equality Act. He also opposes the separation of immigrant families. “It’s not what America is about,” he says.
The Litton campaign has worked hard to connect with voters, raise funds, and establish a professional operation. “We’re talking to every person we can, in every precinct,” Litton says.
And people are listening.
The Cook Political Report, an independent non-partisan group, recently moved the district from “Solid Republican” to “Likely Republican.” Meanwhile, The Economist is even more optimistic, listing the district as a tossup.
Litton says the energy he sees among voters on the campaign trail is “phenomenal,” and finds it to be an antidote to Trump’s rhetoric and actions.
Born and raised in Houston, the 48-year-old is a sixth-generation Texan. He attended Houston public schools for his early education before enrolling at the Kinkaid School. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Duke University, a law degree from the University of Texas, and a master’s degree in business administration from Rice University.
Litton’s wife, Jennifer, is a physician at M.D. Anderson Hospital, where she has a breast-cancer practice and does cancer research. The couple has a son and twin daughters.
Litton practiced law for three years and worked in investments for six. But his true love is education, and he specializes in preschool and after-school learning.
Litton says the top issues in the district are expanding educational opportunities, access to healthcare, and the infrastructure needed to prevent another Hurricane Harvey-type flood.
“The significant difference between my opponent and myself is that he will be a rubber stamp for Donald Trump,” Litton says. “I will be a check and balance for the president.”
For more on Litton’s campaign, visit his website.
This article appears in the September 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.