Who’s the lesser evil in GOP Senate runoff?

Cruz, Dewhurst both spew anti-gay venom, but some say it’s become less potent — even among Texas Republican Primary voters

Ted Cruz and David Dewhurst

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Editor

Ted Cruz repeatedly attacked former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert during the GOP Senate primary for marching in the city’s gay Pride Parade.

On his website, Cruz boasts that as Texas’ solicitor general he helped block a gay Beaumont couple from obtaining a divorce from their Vermont civil union. Cruz’s website also touts a letter he wrote in support of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act — as well as court briefs he filed defending the Boy Scouts’ ban on gays and military recruiters’ access to college campuses regardless of the anti-gay “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Meanwhile, Cruz’s opponent in the July 31 runoff, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, takes credit on his campaign website for passing both the 2003 state statute and the 2005 Texas constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Earlier this month, Dewhurst attacked Cruz for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from a gay donor, PayPal founder Peter Thiel. And in 2010, the lieutenant governor issued a statement condemning a gay-themed play at Tarleton State University, saying “no one should have the right to use government funds or institutions to portray acts that are morally reprehensible to the majority of Americans.”

So, with the winner of the runoff between Cruz and Dewhurst all but certain to replace Kay Bailey Hutchison in the U.S. Senate, which of the two candidates would be better on LGBT issues?

“I don’t see either one of them being good on our issues,” said Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas, in one of the bigger understatements of this election cycle. “I want to believe they’re just playing politics, but my grandmother always had a saying: When people show you who they are, believe them the first time, and they’re showing us who they are, and I have to believe that’s who they are.”

Rob Schlein, president of the gay GOP group Metroplex Republicans of Dallas, said he plans to vote for Dewhurst, but he agreed that it’s “hard to know” who’s better on LGBT issues. Schlein said he thinks Dewhurst is more pragmatic than the tea party-backed Cruz and “not fixated on an all-or-nothing set of principles.”

And despite the anti-gay attacks by Cruz against Leppert and by Dewhurst against Cruz, Schlein pointed to what he views as progress.

“I think now even the social conservatives have figured out that money is money, because nobody is making the demand that Ted Cruz return the money to Peter Thiel,” Schlein said. “I guess that’s progress that gays can give to Republicans without repurcussions.”

Thomas Purdy, president of Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas, said of Cruz and Dewhurst, “Based on their campaign record, I see little difference between the two on LGBT-specific issues.

“So, given that jobs and the economy are the dominant election issues this year facing all Americans, I would encourage voters to choose who they think has a better grasp of free market principles and a record of performance in office,” Purdy said, adding that “most of the Republicans we interact with in Dallas County are leaning towards Cruz.”

Purdy condemned the anti-gay attacks in the race: “The days of attaining political office by stepping on the backs of the LGBT community are numbered. To those who still practice that kind of politics, there will come a day when it will be to their detriment, and likely, to their shame. For now, I hope they at least begin to realize the damage it is doing not only to our party, but more importantly, to the people they hope to represent.”

James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin, said he hasn’t been particuarly surprised by the anti-gay attacks.

“You’d have a hard time arguing that despite whatever progress we’ve made that somehow the far right end of the Republican Party sees gay and lesbian rights as a civil rights issue just yet,” Henson said.

But Henson acknowledged that the gay-bating seems slightly less severe this go-round, and he agreed that the Thiel attack didn’t stick.

“I don’t think there’s a huge sea change in the Republican Party, but I think there are stronger cross currents,” Henson said. “It’s barely progress. Where it [anti-gay politicking] used to be cost-free, you have to at least do a little math now.”

Coleman pointed to numerous polls showing a solid majority of Texas voters now support relationship recognition for same-sex couples.

“That nonsense about trying to use gay issues as a wedge I don’t think resonates anymore,” Coleman said. “As far as outright bashing gay people, they’re finding that that’s not working.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 20, 2012.

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