Swimming in a Red Sea
by Marene Gustin • Photo by Dalton DeHart
Can a gay Democrat win a county seat that the Dems couldn’t even win when the incumbent Republican was under investigation by the FBI?
It will be an uphill battle, for sure, but Sean Hammerle is working hard to win the Harris County Precinct 4 commissioner’s race this year.
“I truly believe in the Democratic
Party and the goodness of people,” Hammerle says. “I think it’s time for a new perspective.”
Precinct 4 has voted for Republican Jerry Eversole since 1991, and even reelected him the last time while he was under investigation by the FBI. Commissioner Eversole resigned last year as part of a plea deal in a federal corruption case. Last October, County Judge Ed Emmett appointed well-known former County Civil Court-at-Law judge “Cactus” Jack Cagle to fill the vacant seat. In January, Eversole received a three-year probated sentence for lying to the FBI.
In what looks like an attempt to keep the seat Republican, antigay conservative Dave Wilson, who led a successful effort to amend the city charter to deny benefits to the partners of gay and lesbian city employees, filed for Precinct 4’s county commissioner race as a Democrat.
Hammerle received a phone call from some people in the Harris County Democratic Party asking him to run against Wilson. As a Democratic county precinct chair, and someone who has always thought about running for public office, he agreed.
Hammerle is a native Texan. He grew up near Dallas in Garland and graduated from Louisiana State University with degrees in vocal performance, political science, and English literature. Since moving to Houston in 1994 he has been involved in community service and nonprofit fundraising as both a volunteer and a professional. Hammerle holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive designation and has served as development director for several area nonprofits, and volunteered at many more.
His list of awards and achievements is long. Highlights include being honored in 2010 as one of “Five Outstanding Young Texans” by the Texas Junior Chamber of Commerce, and in 2011 as a “40 Under 40” honoree by Houston Business Journal. He sits on the boards of Leadership Houston, the Association of Fundraising Professionals-Greater Houston Chapter, and the Houston GLBT Political Caucus.
But those credits don’t guarantee him a win in the primaries.
“Not everyone knows Wilson’s track record,” he says. “That’s why I don’t want the Democrats to take this race for granted. That’s how races are lost.”
And winning the primary is just the beginning. Due to the legal battles over redistricting, the election that was to be held in _____ now looks like it won’t be held until sometime in ____.
“It’s difficult to campaign when you’re asking people to vote for you but you can’t tell them when to do it,” he laments.
The dilemma also puts Democratic state delegates in a bind, since they could wind up being elected just days before being expected to attend the state Democratic Convention. “This whole thing is a nightmare,” Hammerle says.
And then there’s the general election to contend with. If Hammerle is the Democratic candidate for Harris County Precinct 4 commissioner, he’ll face Jack Cagle, the appointed incumbent, in a voting area that includes the über-conservative areas of River Oaks and Kingwood.
“This campaign is going to take a lot of block-walking, a lot of volunteers and phone banks, and direct mail to get the word out,” the candidate says. “A real ground war with nonstop speeches to civic associations and community groups to generate a swell of grassroots support.”
Don’t expect to see many television or radio ads. As a small-business owner, Hammerle owns PLAID Consulting, which provides small- and mid-sized nonprofits with fundraising and leadership consulting. He doesn’t have a lot of money to put into the campaign.
But, like many local Democrats, he’s hoping that the fractured Republican presidential campaign will leave a lot of conservatives content to stay home for the general election. But he’s not counting on that. He’s counting on hard work and reaching out to Democrats and independent voters.
On the personal side, this affable young man still has time to give a nod to his love of opera and voice by singing at charity events, competing in triathlons, and spending time with Jeff Wallace, his partner of eight years. The couple’s home includes two rescue mix dogs, Dakota and Mahal.
But at the end of the day, it’s public service that drives Hammerle.
“County commissioners shouldn’t be about king-making,” he says. “They should be looking after constituents’ needs in parks and roads projects. There is no reason a homeowner or business owner should be asked to pick up and move because of a Texas Department of Transportation project—which has happened in Precinct 4 recently. County commissioners are supposed to coordinate with the state and protect us from things like this.”
Marene Gustin also writes about Travel in this issue of OutSmart magazine.