Thursday, April 29, 2010

Can Dallas Elect a Gay Man to the Texas House Part II

Be sure to read Part I

Democrat Pete Schulte, an out Gay man, is running against Republican Dan Branch in House District 108. The District has been held by the Republicans since 1991 and Branch has won every race by 16% or better. Does Schulte have a chance?

Yes, but it’s a long shot. Branch’s advantage is that the entire “Park Cities” area is in District 108, he has consistently won the District by winning the Park Cities. Any opponent must put together a broad coalition of hipsters, yuppies, ageing hippies, African-Americans and Latin Americans to win. Not an easy task.

The good news is that Schulte and Branch are not alone in this race; Libertarian Candidate Jarrett Woods is also running, if he appears on the ballot it should draw 4-5% of Branch’s vote leaving Schulte with a 5,000 or so vote difference to catch up.

How can he do it?

Run AGAINST Branch – Schulte can talk until he’s blue in the face about all the good he’s going to do in the House, but unless he’s willing to talk about the bad that Branch has done he will lose. I am hopeful that Schulte will be willing to do this. When he ran for the Democratic Nomination for Sheriff two years ago he was not shy about discussing the incumbent’s short comings (Full disclosure – I volunteered for the incumbent’s campaign.)

Branch, as chair of the House Higher Education Committee, fought against Texas’ “Robin Hood” school funding system, which redistributed money from wealthy school districts, like the Park Cities (Branch’s base), to poorer districts like the Dallas Independent School District. Voters whose children go to DISD need to know that Branch doesn’t think that their children deserve the same quality education as the children of rich people.

Branch Authored legislation (HB 52) last year that would have allowed Texas universities to limit the number of students they admit under the “Top 10 percent” rule (“Top 10 percent” requires state universities to admit Texas high school students who graduate in the top 10% of their class. Since its inception it has dramatically increased the number of students admitted to top universities like UT and A&M from poorer inner cities schools). So not only does Dan Branch think that children who go to DISD shouldn’t receive the same quality high school education that rich children get, he doesn’t think they should receive the same quality college education.

Schulte also needs to link Branch to the State Board of Education (the controversial state body that has made national headlines lately for trying to remove African-American and Hispanic historical figures from text books and removing Thomas Jefferson from parts of the curriculum). Branch has been praised by Coalition for American Traditions and Ethics, the same people who have been pushing the SBOE changes, because the committee he chairs (the House Committee on Higher Education) is conducting a study on offering college courses on “Western civilization and American traditions”, code for eliminating the role of people of color in history. Schulte needs to corner Branch into speaking out against the SBOE, which will cut his hard right base and drive more voters to the libertarian candidate.

(One note on running against Branch on education issues: “the price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative”, Schulte needs to formulate his own plan for addressing school funding, I suggest he have a conversation with Rep. Scott Hochberg to figure out what to say.)

Don’t avoid the Gay issue – Branch has run in the past on the “Sanctity of Marriage”. Schulte is not only a gay man, but he is also one of the attorneys in the Dallas Gay Divorce Case. You better believe that gay marriage is going to become an issue in this race. If Branch is smart he will wait until mid October to bring it up, and he’ll do it via proxy by getting someone else to bring it up. Schulte needs to control the conversation. He should figure out what he is going to say and say it early in the race so he has time to make his position clear.

Get Web Savvy – Schulte finally set up a Facebook fan page this week, he still doesn’t have a twitter account and his webpage is static and bland with very little information on issues. Branch is way out ahead of him on this front, Schulte needs to catch up.

Use the Independent Press – The Dallas Morning News editorial page loves Branch. Fortunately the people Schulte needs to reach don’t read the Dallas Morning News. He needs to start writing op-eds for the many small African-American papers that are based in South Dallas. He should call Univision and set up interviews and have an open door policy with the Dallas Observer and Dallas Voice. These smaller venues will let him get his message out and stretch his campaign dollar.

Speak Spanish – or hire someone who does. House District 108 is almost a third Hispanic. Every single piece of literature and every piece of web communication that the Schulte campaign puts out needs to be translated into Spanish. Schulte should also court the Spanish speaking press. One of the biggest national news items right now is the Arizona “Show me your papers” immigration law, which several Texas lawmakers are vowing to duplicate. Schulte should come out strongly against the law and challenge Branch to do the same. This will help him not only in the Hispanic community but also with the hipsters and ageing hippies in his battleground precincts.

Talk to Rep. Senfronia Thompson – Rep. Thompson is the longest serving Democrat in the House, and arguably one of the most powerful, she is also a strong ally of the queer community. More than that, she knows how to run a campaign in diverse urban districts. Schulte should drive to Houston, buy Rep. Thompson dinner, and soak up whatever advice she has to offer.

Get good proxies – Schulte is a white gay lawyer, classifications that are going to make him suspect in some of his lower income precincts, if he wants more than just the party faithful to vote he needs to have people who are trusted in those areas vouch for him. He can start by turning to his neighboring House District Members, Rep. Anchia and Rep. Johnson , who can help with his Hispanic and African American neighborhoods. He should also seek the support of State Sen. Royce West, a major power broker in Dallas Politics, and Rep. Lon Burnam, the sweetheart of aging hippies throughout Texas. It’s important that he gets these people to campaign for him, not just endorse but to show up at campaign events and vouch for him.

Register Voters – The south eastern half of district 108 has very low voter turnout, and lower voter registration rates. Schulte needs to partner with community organizations like the People Empowerment Project and Organizing for America to register voters, and not just by setting up a table in front of the local gay coffee shop. He needs to organize his volunteers to go door to door, particularly in battleground precincts in the Lower Greenville and Uptown neighborhoods which have younger, more transient populations.

Court precinct chairs – Every voting precinct has a Democratic precinct chair. This person is supposed to work to get out the vote in the precinct. Schulte needs to remind them of that. Precinct chairs know the neighborhood better than anyone else and have tremendous potential to help Schulte, but only if someone stays on them to do their job.

Ask for help - Schulte needs money, and he needs volunteers – which means he needs to ask for them. Schulte has already attended the Victory Fund training, which is a step in the right direction, but he will need to outspend Branch considerably to win this district, and his January Ethics Commission filing shows almost no fundraising.

He is also going to need an army of on-the-ground volunteers who can go door to door and stand on street corners. Fortunately Dallas is home to a huge queer activist community that is ripe for recruitment. Schulte needs to attend the next several meetings of Equality March Texas and ask for volunteers. He then needs to find a donor who will pay to send them to Rep. Mark Strama’s “Campaign Academy” (and again there are donors in the queer activist community who will do this) so they can learn how political campaigns differ from activist campaigns.

The challenge in recruiting from this base is that they tend to be suspicious of the political system; Schulte can capitalize on his prestige as one of the lawyers in the Dallas Divorce Case to convince them that he is not just another establishment politician.


In short Schulte will need to run an aggressive campaign if he has any hope of finding the 5,000 or so extra votes he needs to win. Let’s see if he’ll do it.

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