Advocates hope marriage news boosts LGBT turnout in Texas

Obama’s announcement could motivate voters on both sides

 

SIGNS POINT TO LOW TURNOUT | There were far more campaign signs than voters outside a voting location at the Grauwyler Recreation Center in Dallas this week. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

ANNA WAUGH  |  Staff Writer

Same-sex marriage support after President Barack Obama’s endorsement could drive LGBT voters to the polls with renewed vigor in the May 29 Texas primaries and July 31 runoffs, advocates say.

Dan Graney, Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus president, said he thinks the momentum after Obama’s announcement in support of marriage equality could continue across the state, as voters who aren’t always active in primaries take notice of the important issues at stake.

“Those of us who are politically aware who at least vote should be motivated, I would think, to get out and vote,” he said. “The whole marriage equality thing has really boosted our enthusiasm and our energy.”

Chuck Smith, deputy executive director of Equality Texas, said the endorsement could energize some voters on both sides of the marriage equality issue, especially in the LGBT community. But he said an overall focus will remain on how the candidates would improve the economy.

“Hopefully, within the LGBT community, it would prove to be some sort of inspiration to motivate people to cast a vote,” he said. “In general, I think the net effect is probably expected not to be all that great because people still tend to be focusing on the economy and jobs as the primary issues.”

Estimates of LGBT voters have never been concrete, but Graney said about 4 percent of all voters identify as LGBT, accounting for about 8 percent of Democrats and a smaller percentage of Republicans. He said LGBT issues would certainly impact voters’ decisions in the primary and runoff elections, calling the LGBT vote “critical.”

“I’m hopeful that the LGBT vote has been energized by the events of the last few weeks and that it will help the candidates that we are supporting and have endorsed across the state,” he said.

Any increase in turnout would help offset what is expected to be low voter turnout statewide and locally across the board. Only 16,335 Democrats and 17,771 Republicans in Dallas County had early-voted through Wednesday, May 23, according to reports. In Tarrant County, 8,328 Democrats and 22,040 Republicans had voted in the same timeframe. Low voter turnout most likely will continue on primary day May 29, with 5 percent of voters overall expected to cast ballots because of the late election date and Memorial Day weekend, Graney said.

Past years have drawn larger turnouts because more races were contested and candidates were able to excite their supporters, he said. Some areas with heated races have turned out more voters like in El Paso, most likely due to out lesbian Mary Gonzalez running in House District 75, Graney said. Gonzalez is the frontrunner in the race to replace retiring Rep. Chente Quintillia.

“The fact that it is a low turnout, those candidates who have supporters who are energized about their candidacy will get out and vote and those who don’t won’t,” he said.

MARQUEE MATCHUP | State Rep. Marc Veasey, left, and Domingo Garcia are widely expected to advance to a runoff in the Democratic Primary for the new Congressional District 33 seat.

But with an even lower turnout expected in July 31 runoffs, Graney said he hopes momentum stays strong over the next two months.

Congressional District 33’s crowded 11-candidate Democratic primary has pitted North Texas LGBT voters against each other. The district has a large portion of Fort Worth and narrows to include parts of Arlington and Irving before ending in North Oak Cliff.

But the district has the largest number of heavily LGBT precincts in Irving and Dallas, as well as the area around the Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth.

Domingo Garcia appears to have won over the Dallas LGBT community, receiving the Stonewall Democrats of Dallas endorsement. Garcia fought for LGBT inclusion among Dallas police hiring policies in the ‘90s and supported a hate crimes bill in 2001 when he was a state representative.

But state Rep. Marc Veasey has the advantage in Tarrant County with a large portion of the district located in his House District 95. He has also been an advocate for the LGBT community in the state House, voting against the anti-gay marriage amendment and supporting resource centers at Texas universities.

Tarrant County Stonewall Democrats President Felipe Gutierrez said Veasey has the stronger LGBT record in the county and that many LGBT Hispanics back him instead of Garcia.

The group has not endorsed in the primary because it is prohibited in the group’s bylaws.

He said Garcia will have to work harder to target the Tarrant County LGBT population if he wants to gain more momentum in the primary and in the expected runoff between him and Veasey.

“You do hear folks in the LGBT Hispanic community together, that combined Hispanic LGBT, saying anybody but Domingo,” Gutierrez said. “So I think Domingo has a ways to go when it comes to the LGBT community, especially in Fort Worth.”

When it comes down to the results, Gutierrez said the gay vote will likely split between Veasey and Garcia because both have strong backing in their county with some in the other.

“It might split because he (Garcia) has great support in Dallas, but I also think there’s a lot of Dallas LGBT support for Marc Veasey,” he said. “I think it’s going to be split is really the reality of it.”

Graney agreed that there was “no question” about a runoff between Veasey and Garcia. However, Congressional District 30 is another story, where 10-term Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson is facing her first contested primary against Dallas attorney Taj Clayton and state Rep. Barbara Mallory Caraway. Clayton has gained a strong following and fundraised well, but Johnson’s support among the LGBT community is solid despite voting for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. She is now a co-sponsor of DOMA’s repeal and supports other pro-LGBT legislation.

“Anything can happen,” Graney said. “It depends on how strong her (Johnson) detractors are. She’s been in office for many, many years.”

A runoff is also anticipated on the Republican side in the U.S. Senate race. While Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is favored, whether he can win the primary outright is questionable, said Wade Emmert, Dallas County Republican Party chairman.

In the event of a runoff, Emmert said it is unclear whether Ted Cruz or former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert will face Dewhurst on July 31.

Although Leppert may win Dallas County, Emmert said most of the former mayor’s supporters would probably support Dewhurst if Cruz makes the runoff. While Leppert has supported the gay community in the past and caught heat for marching in two Dallas Pride parades at an Eagle Forum debate in February, Emmert said he is unsure whether that will affect how gay Republicans vote.

“There was the issue about the parades that Leppert was in, but that issue arose largely from that one debate and I really haven’t heard much about it since then,” he said. “I don’t know if they’re (gay Republicans) going to vote as a bloc. … In Dallas, they probably pretty much like Tom Leppert. I think he was well liked as a mayor.”

Emmert said a runoff won’t focus on LGBT issues because the majority of voters, gay or straight, are worried about job creation and the economy.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday. Many precinct numbers have been changed because of redistricting and are on the new yellow voter cards. To find a precinct number and voting location, visit DalCoElections.org or TarrantCounty.com/evote.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 25, 2012.

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