- London Gibson American-Statesman Staff
In Tuesday’s Texas primary elections, the record-breaking number of female and LGBTQ candidates held their own.
For the 58 women who ran for statewide office or congressional seats, 17 won party nominations and 16 will compete in a runoff. Of the 28 LGBTQ candidates running for statewide, congressional and legislative office in Tuesday’s primaries, based on a list by OutSmart Magazine, 12 won nominations and six are headed to runoffs.
The numbers represent a gradual change in voter behavior, but there’s no guarantee the successes will transfer to the general election this fall, said Carlos Rivera-Garcia, a University of Texas postdoctoral fellow with a background in political psychology.
“(Tuesday’s) results or participation rates do not by any chance mean that we should extrapolate those results to what’s going to happen in November,” Rivera-Garcia said. “Even though it’s an encouraging thing to see more women running, more participation and LGBTQ involvement, I think that we should be cautious about … thinking that this is the tipping point of something big.”
Garcia-Rivera said the tide of support for female candidates and LGBTQ candidates can be attributed in part to Donald Trump’s “controversial” presidency, which he said ignited Democrats in Texas to become more active in politics.
Notable examples include Lupe Valdez, an openly gay Latina, who will compete in the Democratic runoff for governor against Andrew White.
Female congressional candidates Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia won Democratic nominations Tuesday, and, if elected in November from Democratic-leaning districts, will become the first two Latinas from Texas in Congress.
Currently only three of Texas’ 36 members of the U.S. House are women, and none are openly LGBTQ.
A female perspective
Mary Street Wilson received the most votes in the four-way Democratic primary in the 21st Congressional District, which includes parts of Travis and Hays counties and is held by retiring U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio. Wilson, who taught math at Austin Community College and is a church pastor, faces tech entrepreneur and Army veteran Joseph Kopser in the May 22 runoff. Wilson said she hopes to join an increasing number of women in a Congress that she says “sorely” needs a female perspective.
“Women are half the people on the planet, half the people in the country, and yet Congress is 80 percent male,” Wilson told the American-Statesman. “That’s not representative of the population, so I would like to see some changes.”
The Democratic runoff for the 31st Congressional District, which encompasses Williamson County and most of Bell County, features Air Force veteran and author Mary Jennings “M.J.” Hegar and Dr. Christine Eady Mann, a family practice physician. They received far more votes than the two men running in the primary.
In the 25th Congressional District, which includes parts of Austin and runs north to the Fort Worth area, Julie Oliver, an attorney and controller for St. David’s HealthCare, is in a runoff. Tawana Walter-Cadien, a registered nurse, is in the Democratic runoff in the 10th Congressional District, which runs from Austin to the Houston suburbs.
‘They’re qualified candidates’
According to OutSmart, six openly transgender people are running for state office this year. One of these candidates was Jenifer Pool, who lost Tuesday’s Democratic race for House District 138, in the Houston area, by 659 votes. Pool, who has run for city and county office before, said transgender people face additional challenges in Texas politics.
“I do believe that in general for LGBT people, I think that that glass ceiling has been broken,” Pool said. “But there still are issues remaining having to do with trans people. … We have, as a community, a long road left.”
Jess Herbst, who became the first openly transgender mayor in Texas last year, also will be campaigning to keep her seat as mayor of the North Texas town of New Hope this May. She said over the years she has seen Texan voters become more tolerant to LGBTQ candidates.
“Five years ago, if you had said, ‘Hey, I’m going to run for office,’ and you were openly (LGBTQ), you would get laughed out of the room,” Herbst said. “And now, we have a record number of those people moving on to the November elections. … It’s just time, really. It’s just time.”
Herbst said Texas politicians have “doubled down” on anti-LGBTQ legislation recently, including last year’s attempts to restrict bathroom access for transgender people.
Equality Texas CEO Chuck Smith said the number of LGBTQ and female candidates moving on in this election cycle will help give a platform for the issues affecting them — but emphasizes this is not why they are winning.
“They’re not just running on their LGBTQ identity,” Smith said. “They’re being successful because they’re knowledgeable … they’re qualified candidates.”
Bobby Levinski, a local attorney running for Austin City Council, said he has before been mislabeled by the media as gay rights-focused simply because of his sexuality.
“While I have, of course, been supportive of LGBT rights as somebody who is immediately impacted by policies that discriminate against the LGBT community, it’s not really how I would define my career,” Levinski said. “I’m looking forward to the day when this type of article is not necessary anymore. When people are just running for office, and whether or not they’re LGBT is a nonissue.”