Naked City

LGRL targets anti-gay legislation's supporters

Gay rights advocates predict a victory at the ballot box in 2006 – even if Texans approve a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages this year. The reason? Political and social activists will pull out all stops to ensure that certain lawmakers receive a thorough drubbing at the polls next year, said Randall Ellis, executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas.

The targeted lawmakers were already on shaky ground before voting to place the divisive gay marriage question on the Nov. 8 ballot. For example, Austin Rep. Todd Baxter angered constituents early in the session with his vote for a roundly hated school finance bill, just four months after narrowly surviving a re-election bid in his West Austin swing district.

Ellis' remarks of political payback followed the state Senate's 21-8 vote on Saturday to place the marriage question on the Nov. 8 ballot. Senate sponsor Todd Staples, R-Palestine, refused to accept amendments – even one that would clarify civil unions between men and women. Several senators and outside attorneys say the measure is constitutionally dicey because it would prohibit the state's recognition of civil unions and contractual arrangements, regardless of a couple's sexual orientation. Senate approval came after more than two hours of hot debate and the fizzle of an 11-member Democratic bloc that had formed to sink the bill. (Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst had vowed to suspend the rules to override the blockade.) Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston (no relation to LGRL's Ellis), pointed out that the House bill had languished in a Senate committee for 20 days without a sponsor – an indication, he said, that no senator was keen on carrying the measure – until the leadership started applying pressure. In the end, two Democrats – Frank Madla of San Antonio and Eddie Lucio of Brownsville – folded under pressure and voted "yes." Lucio's flip was particularly surprising, coming just a day after voting against the bill in committee. A third, Houston Democrat Mario Gallegos, was absent from the proceedings.

The Democrats' political hit list for 2006 mainly focuses on the House side, where Baxter and Houston Republicans Martha Wong and Joe Nixon are viewed as the most vulnerable. Wong's district takes in a portion of Houston's gay community in Montrose; she is said to be eyeing a state senate seat in a more conservative district, but that depends on whether the incumbent, Kyle Janek, steps aside to seek U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's seat, who may or may not run for governor next year.

There are other House members at risk. Democratic Party strategist Kelly Fero points to a few seemingly sacred cows – Public Education Chairman Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, and chief homophobes Robert Talton, R-Pasadena, and Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, who is the lead sponsor of the same-sex marriage prohibition. Fero said Talton and Chisum are both susceptible – "not because the numbers on paper demonstrate their vulnerability, but because their arrogance and intolerance have become an embarrassment."

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