Gay-rights ‘champion’ Eddie Bernice Johnson draws 2 challengers

Attorney Taj Clayton says he also supports full LGBT equality, including ENDA, repeal of DOMA

HIGH MARKS | Democratic Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, shown above in her district office in Dallas in 2010, has consistently received a perfect score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s biennial Congressional Scorecard. Johnson faces a rare primary challenge this year from attorney Taj Clayton and state Rep. Barbara Mallory Caraway, who are shown below. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

Two candidates are challenging 10-term Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson for the District 30 Democratic nomination for Congress.

For the 76-year-old Johnson, a staunch LGBT ally and North Texas’ only Democrat in Congress, it represents her first serious election challenge in years.

Taj Clayton is a Harvard-educated attorney who served on the Obama Texas Campaign Finance Committee in 2008. In the last reporting quarter, the 35-year-old Clayton raised more money than either of his two opponents.

The third candidate, Barbara Mallory Caraway, served four terms on the Dallas City Council from 1993-2001. She was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 2006 and is in her third term as a state legislator.

At least five bills of interest to the LGBT community were submitted in the current Congress.

Johnson is a co-sponsor of two of them — the Respect for Marriage Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — and she supports the other three. Johnson has consistently maintained a score of 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard.

“Eddie Bernice Johnson has been a real champion for the community,” HRC spokesman Michael Cole-Schwartz said. “Up and down, she’s been a real champion for us.”

Johnson wasn’t immediately available for a phone interview this week, but her staff said she’d be willing to conduct an in-person interview with the newspaper when she’s in Dallas.

Clayton said he would also support for the Respect for Marriage Act, ENDA and other pro-LGBT legislation. The Respect for Marriage Act would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage, and ENDA would ban anti-LGBT employment discrimination.

“Gays and lesbians should have all the same rights as everyone else and not be subject to harassment or discrimination,” Clayton said.

Clayton described himself as a product of public schools and the first generation in his family to attend college. He said he worked his way through Harvard as an undergrad cleaning dorm bathrooms. He graduated with honors and then went on to Harvard Law School.

Attorney Taj Clayton and state Rep. Barbara Mallory Caraway.

Clayton called support for anti-bullying legislation a “no-brainer.”

“Gays and lesbians have a right to not be harassed,” he said.

He called education a priority and said that all children deserves to learn in a safe environment.

Clayton said if he’s elected, sexual orientation and gender identity would be part of his office’s nondiscrimination policy.

“I’m in this race because I want to see everyone in my community have opportunities,” he said. “I’ve been frustrated because many in my community haven’t had the opportunities I’ve had.”

Clayton said his goal is to get into a runoff, and his biggest challenge is building name recognition before the primary. Last weekend he participated in the South Dallas AIDS Walk and he’s gone to recent Stonewall Democrats of Dallas meetings.

Mallory Caraway, 55, is the wife of Dwaine Caraway, a City Council member who served as acting mayor after Tom Leppert resigned in 2011. “I am running because I believe it’s time for fresh, energetic leadership,” Mallory Caraway said.

On support for ENDA, Mallory Caraway said, “I would sign on as a supporter of nondiscrimination against anyone.”

On the Dallas City Council, Mallory Caraway voted in favor of a policy that protects gay city employees against discrimination.

On the repeal of DOMA, Mallory Caraway said, “I haven’t heard from my constituents on that,” but she added that she is open to the idea. “I would certainly have to look at that.”

In the last session of the Legislature, Mallory Caraway voted for an anti-bullying bill and a suicide prevention bill backed by Equality Texas.

Equality Texas Deputy Executive Director Chuck Smith said Mallory-Caraway has never been a primary author of any legislation supported by the organization and has never signed on as a joint or co-author.

“Will she vote the right way? Yes,” Smith said. “Will she take the leadership role? No.”

District 30 includes parts of Oak Lawn, southern Oak Cliff, Downtown, East Dallas, and most of South Dallas and southern Dallas County.

The primary is May 29.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 30, 2012.

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