State Reps.-elect Jessica Gonzalez, left, and Julie Johnson.
Pundits had been predicting that a “Blue Wave” would wash over the 2018 midterm elections, as more and more people became disillusioned by — or more disillusioned by — the Trump administration. And the Blue Wave did happen, with Democrats picking up 40 seats in the House of
Representatives and making significant gains in state and local elections across the country.
But even more significant for the LGBT community, which has suffered significant setbacks under Trump and his right-wing faction, was the
Rainbow Wave that flooded the midterms. In Texas, we saw a record number of openly-LGBT candidates, including the first openly-lesbian candidate nominated by a major party in a statewide race — Lupe Valdez, the democratic nominee for governor.
Even though Valdez and most of the other LGBT candidates came up short, we do now have five openly-LGBT officeholders in the Texas House, including North Texans Julie Johnson and Jessica Gonzalez. And that’s a huge victory for equality.
“We had a fantastic year,” said LGBTQ Victory Fund CEO Annise Parker. “There really was a rainbow wave that was part of a blue wave.”
She said we’ve doubled the number of LGBT governors and doubled the number of LGBT senators.
“The sheer number of folks who ran — 600!” she said.
And win or lose, Parker said every one of those races was important because it raised awareness and changed minds.
Parker was excited about the diversity of candidates. She spent Election Day in Kansas where three LGBT candidates won their races including the first Native American elected to Congress.
The number of trans candidates, she said, was impressive, declaring, “That explodes myths.”
So many LGBT candidates were elected that only four states — Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee — haven’t elected any LGBT state legislators. Before this year’s election, that number was seven. One of those — Kansas — not only elected two but is also sending a lesbian to Congress.
And while lots of LGBT candidates won their races, others came extremely close. Parker called the loss by Gina Ortiz Jones against U.S. Rep. Will Hurd in West Texas a heartbreaker. Jones lost by just a few hundred votes.
“When you lose by a razor-thin margin, it scares the incumbent,” Parker said. That gets people in the district thinking the race is winnable, and they’ll work even harder the next time. “I expect Gina to come back in two years and kick butt,” she said.
Parker said one thing Victory Institute teaches candidates is that they’re not the LGBT candidate. They’re candidates for public office running on local issues.
She said the number of LGBT candidates that ran this year makes it routine, “which is what we want.” Someone’s sexual orientation should just become a resume thing. She pointed to Colorado Gov.-elect Jared Polis’ campaign literature, which pictured him with his husband and their kids.
But she said one reason so many LGBT people are running is that so many LGBT people are winning.
In Texas, we’ll have five LGBT women in the state House of Representatives. And 10 Democrats, including five in Dallas County, defeated Republican anti-LGBT incumbents who mostly received zero ratings with Equality Texas.
In Congress, two pro-LGBT Texas Democrats took seats from anti-equality Republicans, including Pete Sessions in Dallas County. Colin Allred, who will replace him, is an ally to the LGBT community.
Thanks to the Democrats winning control of the U.S. House, U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas — a champion of LGBT equality — replaces San Antonio Rep. Lamar Smith as chair of the Science, Space and Technology Committee. Johnson believes in science. Smith doesn’t.
The number of LGBT senators doubles in the new congress as Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., joins Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., in the upper chamber. Four new members of the House of Representative are Angie Craig, D-Minn., Sharice Davids, D-Kans., Katie Hill, D-Calif. And Chris Pappas, D-N.H.
Among those who came close and may run again is Lorie Burch, who ran for a congressional seat in very red Collin County. She lost by just a few points in a race that Democrats hadn’t seriously contested in at least several decades. Her sexual orientation wasn’t an issue in the race.
As that district continues to grow with companies moving to the area from blue states, Burch’s chances in two or four years will get even better.
That area’s state Senate seat largely overlaps the congressional seat, and Texas marriage equality plaintiff Mark Phariss won his primary to challenge Angela Paxton, wife of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, in the general election. Phariss lost by just 2 percent but raised more money than any Democrat ever has in a predominantly Collin County race. And he won in the Dallas and Plano portions of the district.
In Dallas County, Democrats picked up five seats in the Texas Legislature. Lesbians Julie Johnson and Jessica Gonzalez won two of those seats, doubling the LGBT caucus in Austin. They’ll join incumbents Mary Gonzalez and Celia Israel and a fifth newly-elected LGBT representative, Erin Zwiener, who was elected in a district southwest of Austin.
Finn Jones, a trans man, challenged Republican incumbent Tony Tinderholt in a conservative Tarrant County district. His gender identity wasn’t part of the race, and Jones received more than 40 percent of the vote. Democrats hadn’t made a serious challenge for that seat in years.
And LGBT candidates didn’t just run in the more liberal big cities. Scott Prescher won a city council race in the Fort Worth suburb of Watauga. Justin Moseley ran for Justice of the Peace in Angelina County, although he didn’t win. And Eric Holguin ran for a U.S. congressional seat in Victoria.
And for the first time, an openly-gay man and a lesbian ran for statewide offices in Texas as the nominees for a major party. Houston Civil Court Judge Steven Kirkland ran for the Texas Supreme Court and former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez was the Democratic nominee for governor.