It all seems just a bit surreal that the election is finally over. Well, the bulk is behind us, since there will be some runoffs, but I am pleased to be done with most of it.
What I found particularly interesting was what appeared to me to be an increased emphasis on the Houston GLBT Political Caucus by a number of organizations and candidates that we haven’t really experienced in a while. What was so interesting was not that they were on an anti-GLBT bent, but rather that the Caucus was singled out by name on a lot of campaign literature, in emails, and on the stump. In some cases, I was tossed in the mix by name as well.
Of course, there were the usual suspects you would expect this from – the social right wingers who are still holding on to Anita Bryant’s 1977 talking points and Dave “I’m running because I’m not a lesbian” Wilson, but an incumbent HISD trustee decided to join in on the mix in a last-ditch desperate attempt to scare voters.
The social right-wingers did us a favor by linking to the Caucus website and listing our complete slate of endorsements in an email. Not only did we appreciate the web traffic, but it told anyone who didn’t care for their hateful trash exactly who they could go vote for. We also landed top billing in the Houston Area Pastors Council voters guide along with Planned Parenthood. Dave Wilson liked to point out that Mayor Annise Parker has the full support of the Caucus – as if it somehow makes her more lesbian than she already is. HISD Trustee Manny Rodriguez handed out campaign literature that told voters his opponent, Ramiro Fonseca, was not fit to serve in office because he supported GLBT equality and had been endorsed by the Caucus. He also went on Univision and asked “why an unmarried 54 year old man would want access to children.”
I am amazed that people still believe this is going to work in 2011 in Houston, Texas.
Manny Rodriguez got lucky and ended up unofficially winning by 24 votes. I say unofficially because absentee ballots are still coming in and the results have not yet been certified. Fonseca also has the ability to request a recount. Needless to say, this one is not yet over.
My favorite highlight of the election cycle, though, was when District C candidate Randy Locke told the Dallas Voice his first official act after being elected would be to get me fired from my job. I suppose he is still upset that I was too focused on my own campaign in 2009 to just drop everything and help him run a negative ad campaign against my friend Anne Clutterbuck. It’s a platform of revenge, even if a Council member has zero ability to terminate a civil service employee. Do we really want to elect someone so vengeful representing us? I don’t think so, and it appears more than 96% of voters weren’t really interested in his platform, either.
All these attacks certainly kept me busy, and I’ve probably done more media in the last few days than in the last six months, even with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell being repealed. It was a great opportunity to raise the profile of the Caucus and reinforce why it exists in the first place and motivate people to get involved. So many people in the community look back at our progress over the last 40 years and don’t see that many of our struggles still exist, they just might not be in the middle of the radar screen. No one was even paying attention to that HISD race until Rodriguez bought his ticket on the hate train.
To quote Sir Winston Churchill, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” We’ve stood up for many things and have become a political force to be reckoned with. It’s no wonder these people try so desperately to tear us down.
Bitter, party of one.
One thing I did not expect in this election cycle was to see a candidate, who would otherwise be an ally to the community and happens to be a member of the Caucus, constantly attack and vilify the organization and the GLBT community publicly because he failed to earn our endorsement. He showed a lot of promise early on, despite being universally understood as having zero chance of winning, and people liked him, but he allowed bitterness to get the best of him as the community chose to line up behind someone with a long-established history of support and results.
One thing I always tell people is politics is business – it’s not personal, so I am going to be generous and not post his name here. It’s perfectly fine to rationally disagree on issues and still manage to get along at the end of the day, but as a candidate, you cannot just go out and trash on people and organizations and expect them to see that as “just business.” You can’t go trash on people, lie about them, and then act like nothing ever happened when you speak to them. That is not campaigning; it is negative personal attacks and deliberate deception that have no place in the political process.
When I ran against C.O. Bradford in 2009, I had a number of people encouraging me to go hard-negative against him. I chose not to because I wanted to run a respectful, professional campaign. We raised some legitimate, reasonable negative criticisms in a balanced way that countered with what I had to offer as a candidate. It introduced political discourse into the race that ultimately benefitted both me and Bradford in different ways, and in the end, he beat me fair and square and we walked away from that election on good terms with each other and have a great professional relationship today.
It also doesn’t serve a candidate well to say the Caucus does not represent the GLBT community. The Caucus may not directly represent all aspects of the community, but we do largely represent the community at the ballot box and in the political realm, and have done so since 1975. Just ask my friends Ray Hill, Phyllis Frye and Annise Parker. It does a candidate even further damage when they go out on the campaign trail and tell people they are “running against the Caucus,” spread lies about an endorsement process they failed to take seriously, and make personal attacks against the organization’s leadership simply because they failed to get even one single supporter to show up at the endorsement meeting.
Allow me to offer another example from my 2009 race. I had been an actively participating member of Harris County Tejano Democrats for about two years prior to seeking their endorsement, and believed I had a good relationship with its leadership. Come endorsement time, the organization ended up endorsing my opponent, who at the time was not a member, and all but one member of their leadership committee voted against me. I will freely admit that stung a bit and I was profoundly disappointed, but like any other candidate with a good plan, I moved on and didn’t look back. No amount of complaining or whining was going to take us back in time and earn me the endorsement, so we go forward and do what we can to accomplish our goals in the ways for which we have control. That, my friends, is business.
It was truly remarkable the efforts some candidates undertook to burn as many bridges as they possibly could as fast as they could, and the tally on election night was a direct reflection of the harsh impact such virulently negative campaigning had. Why not offer up your own strengths and qualifications instead of attacking someone who isn’t even on the ballot?
I really do think it is unfortunate that politics gives good people the opportunity to do and say bad things, and the net result is long-term damage to their credibility. I cannot imagine the community lining up behind those people in the future because the community will never know what to expect from them. The community will always wonder what will be the next thing that will cause those people to turn on them or what will land them on the receiving end of lies and personal attacks.
The lesson to be learned here, I think, is that even in the world of electoral politics, there are standards of professionalism, whether you win or lose. Here in Houston, the standards voters expect have led to the increasing rejection of personal attacks and the demonizing of the GLBT community. We see that in the outrage expressed by people beyond the GLBT community, and in the fact that such efforts have continued to have a demonstrably negative effect on those who employ them.