Reflections on the Elections: Their Impact on the Texas LGBT Community

November 9, 2010 - 4:27pm dionxzmc 0

by Daniel Graney, President, Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus

Make no mistake about it. Democrats took a major drubbing in the 2010 midterm elections as a wave of anti-LGBT Republican radicals seized control of the U.S. House of Representatives, shrank the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate and greatly expanded their control of the Texas House of Representatives. The effects of this "red tsunami" were also felt down-ballot in several urban counties such as Bexar and Harris, as Democratic judges, including long-time incumbents, lost to Republicans. The exceptions to this were Dallas, El Paso, Travis and counties in the lower Rio Grande Valley.

What do these election results mean for the LGBT community here in Texas and what do we do now?

First, let's survey the political landscape we will face in January when all the newly elected candidates take office. On the national level, there will be more Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives than there were Democrats after President Obama was elected in 2008. Republicans will have picked up roughly 60 seats when all the House races are finally decided. This will represent the largest turnover of House seats since 1938.

Texas will lose three of its Democratic Congressmen as Chet Edwards of Waco, Solomon Ortiz of Corpus Christi and our own Ciro Rodriguez all went down in defeat. The loss of Edwards and Ortiz is not a loss for the LGBT community as both supported the anti-gay Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) and voted against the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT). While not a co-sponsor of any major LGBT legislation, Rodriguez did vote for the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act and the repeal of DADT and was endorsed by Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio.

Democrats will maintain control of the U.S. Senate, but their majority will be much slimmer. Republicans won 6 Senate seats that are currently held by Democrats.

The vast majority of Republicans elected to Congress are right-wing conservatives who never have and never will support pro-LGBT equality legislation. The only silver lining in this dark cloud is the addition of another openly LGBT member to the U.S. House with the election of David Cicilline (D-RI). The three current openly LGBT House members, Barney Frank (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Jared Polis (D-CO) all won re-election by comfortable margins.

The ultra-conservative composition of the new Congress means that pro-equality legislation will never see the light of day in the next two years and efforts may be made to bring back anti-LGBT bills in the House. Indeed, Congressman Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio), who is likely to become the new Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has promised to re-introduce the FMA to amend the U.S. Constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage. Fortunately, such anti-LGBT legislation will not pass in the Senate. We can only hope that efforts to repeal DADT in the Senate will succeed during the lame-duck session which ends December 31. After that, all bets are off.

In Texas, the picture is even more grim. All the gains Democrats had made in the State House of Representatives through 2008 were wiped out in the anti-Obama, anti-government Republican wave that swept the state on November 2. Republicans defeated 21 Democratic incumbents in House races, including strong pro-equality allies such as Valinda Bolton in Austin, Ellen Cohen in Houston and Paula Pierson in Arlington. Another pro-equality Democratic ally, Donna Howard of Austin, holds a slim 15-vote lead that could vanish when overseas military votes are counted.  These and other pro-equality Democrats lost to right-wing, anti-LGBT Republican radicals, who will now occupy 2/3 of the 150 House seats. We can expect anti-LGBT and anti-immigrant legislation to rear their ugly heads in the new session. Bank on it! There will be another effort to pass voter suppression legislation, so-called "Voter ID", and this time it will undoubtedly be successful. Equality Texas, our statewide lobbying organization, will face enormous challenges as it looks to 2011.

The challenges the LGBT community face are significant in all levels of government for the next two years. On the federal level, we can reasonably expect that no pro-equality legislation, including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or ENDA, will pass Congress and we will soon know if the Senate will vote to repeal DADT during the lame-duck session that ends in a couple months. On the state level, LGBT activists will be playing defense against anti-LGBT bills that are likely to be introduced in the state legislature. We can only hope that the state's budget shortfall will take up so much of the agenda that these anti-LGBT and other discriminatory bills will not make it to the floor of the House for a vote.

While the future looks bleak, there are things LGBT and Democratic activists can do to turn things around. First, Democratic activists need to begin working on strategies that will include some combination of voter registration and mobilization to get young and minority voters into the system and then follow up to make sure they get to the polls. Republicans will win elections if Democrats stay home and that is what happened this year. Republicans (and so-called "Independents") turned out in droves for early voting all across the state and that is what hurt most of our candidates since many Democrats waited to vote on election day. Democrats must view each day of early voting as "election day" in terms of getting out the vote.

Second, we need to do a better job educating the LGBT community on how politics affect their lives on every level and encouraging them to get more involved politically. This is especially true with younger LGBT voters who tend to be less closeted than their older counterparts, but who do not turn out to vote. Again, increased voter registration efforts in high schools, college campuses and "hot spots" where the younger LGBT crowd hangs out are in order combined with follow-up mobilization efforts.

Third, we need to encourage more LGBT people to run for public office in Texas, beginning with local school and water boards and city councils. Once we get our foot in the door at the local level, we can begin making a difference in terms of public policy and then be ready to run for higher office.

Now is not the time to give up or wallow in despair. The Republicans no longer have the Democrats "to kick around any more" because they are now in charge of one House of Congress and even more in charge of all three branches of statewide government. The onus is on them now to produce instead of being the Party of "No" and the Party of Hate. If they don't, the pendulum will swing back and Democrats will make gains again in two years. In the meantime, LGBT activists can focus their energies on strategies that will turn the LGBT community into a formidable voting bloc and run for public office at the local level.

The Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus will host its Second Biennial Statewide Conference at the Hilton Garden Inn in Austin on March 5 and 6, 2011, which is the weekend before Equality Texas Lobby Day. I encourage all LGBT Democrats and allies to attend this conference so that we can come together and do some brainstorming on effective strategies for identifying our voters and turning them out in future elections. Conference registration and other details will be forthcoming in the next few weeks. In the meantime, save the date and plan to be there!

[NOTE:  This article has been edited from the original article that appeared in QSanAntonio.com.]