A Tipping Point in Texas?
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Marty Rouse, national field director of the Human Rights Campaign about Tuesday’s special election in my home state of Texas.
In special elections yesterday in Fort Worth, voters elected the first openly gay elected official to the Fort Worth City Council as well as the first Democrat in over twenty years to a state legislative seat that covers part of Fort Worth.
Many GLBT advocates will rightfully be celebrating the runoff election victory of openly gay Joel Burns over fellow Democrat Juan Rangel for the Fort Worth City Council.
However, the special election victory of Democrat Dan Barrett over Republican Mark Shelton may be cited by political pundits across the country four years from now as the tipping point that led to turning Texas purple and thereby changing the national political landscape.
Hard to believe, right? After all, just before last November’s elections Republicans had a stranglehold on both legislative chambers, including a 22 seat House majority (86-64). But Democrats in Texas picked up five seats last November and earlier this year a Republican switched parties. That narrowed the gap to ten (80-70).
This got the attention of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Fresh from its successful efforts in 2006 to change control of state legislatures in Indiana, Iowa, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Pennsylvania in order to help defeat anti-glbt efforts and pass supportive legislation in those states*, HRC set its sights on Texas.
Legislative leaders have been seeking to pass anti-gay legislation, including a ban on same-sex couples’ ability to become adoptive parents. If the House were to change partisan control, all future attempts to pass such a ban would likely fail.
But that’s not the lone reason for HRC’s eye on Texas.
In the once a decade reallocating of congressional seats awarded to each of the fifty states based on population, the Lone Star State is on track to gain three congressional seats (the largest gain of any state). Moreover, a few years ago, Texas Republicans gerrymandered the congressional lines so dramatically in a mid-census redistricting, that Republicans snatched five seats.
If Democrats can control a chamber by 2011, there will likely be a fair drawing of lines. This should give Democrats a real chance at picking up anywhere from three to eight seats. That could alter Congress and the direction of this country.
This brings us back to yesterday’s special election for a House seat in Fort Worth. Most pundits expected this race to fill the seat vacated by a Republican not to change hands. After all, it’s been Republican for over twenty years. But with so much at stake, and with its political eye scouring the country for small races that could bring about dramatic change, HRC quietly mobilized in this conservative District. They sent a seasoned field operative, and native Texan down to Fort Worth to engage HRC members in the Dallas-Fort Worth region in the Dan Barrett campaign.
The result? Dan Barrett defeated his opponent by a little over 500 votes. Most importantly, the partisan make-up of the Texas House will now be 71D-79R. A change of only five seats will give fair-minded Texan legislators control of the state House and perhaps, the ability to impact Congress.
*With new leadership in at least one state Chamber:
Indiana defied pundits and stopped an anti-marriage referendum from going to the November ’08 ballot;
Iowa legislators stopped an anti-marriage amendment and passed a GLBT civil rights bill.
New Hampshire legislators stopped an anti-marriage amendment and passed civil unions.
Pennsylvania legislators stopped an anti-marriage amendment and have a shot at passing a GLBT civil rights bill in the House.
Oregon passed domestic partnerships (equal to civil unions).