Are we about to see a repeat of the hateful campaign tactics religious-righters used to win election to the Texas State Board of Education in the 1990s? Back then hundreds of thousands of dollars from San Antonio businessman James Leininger funded coordinated campaigns that claimed Democratic board incumbents supported the “radical homosexual agenda” and wanted to teach students about gay sex and “lesbian adoption.” One especially incendiary and misleading campaign mailer used by multiple far-right candidates featured a photo of two shirtless men (one black, one white) kissing passionately. “Liberals” on the state board, the mailer charged, wanted students to have access to a “how-to guide on homosexuality and homosexual sex.” Unfortunately, those tactics helped some far-right candidates win their races.
Now we’re seeing signs that the 2012 State Board of Education elections could feature the same kind of hateful political trash. Last week, in fact, a growing whisper campaign led Republican incumbent board member George Clayton of Richardson (in the Dallas area) to send out a press release acknowledging that he is gay. The release reads:
“It has come to my attention that one of my opponents in my bid for reelection to the State Board of Education and certain member(s) of the Golden Corridor Republican Women’s Club are questioning my sexual orientation. So as to avoid the tyranny of misinformation and innuendo in this political race, I wish to say that I, in fact, do have a male partner who lives with me in my home in Richardson, Texas. I hope this frank announcement satisfies Tincy Miller and the ladies associate with the Golden Corridor organization. All of us can now move on with discussions concerning education instead of being overly occupied with my personal life.”
Reporters have asked Geraldine “Tincy” Miller if she has played a role in the whisper campaign about Clayton’s sexual orientation. The Dallas Republican says she hasn’t. Clayton defeated Miller, a longtime state board incumbent, in the 2010 GOP primary, and she appears to be preparing a run to win back her seat next year.
On the other hand, Golden Corridor Republican Women (GCRW), which includes members from Dallas, Denton and Collin counties, does seem to be part of the no-longer-a-whisper campaign. (GCRW’s logo includes a flag, elephant and Christian cross set over an outline of Texas.) Clayton included with his press release a copy of what he said was a Nov. 1 email in which GCRW President Susan Fletcher reports on an interview with Miller. The interview focuses largely on “culture war” issues such as evolution, Sharia law and abstinence-only sex education. At the bottom of her email, however, Fletcher writes about questions she has for Clayton, including:
“What are his living arrangements in Richardson? With whom does he live? It’s not appropriate to comment further — but this needs to be investigated.”
Clayton’s private life “needs to be investigated”? Good grief. That kind of suggestion almost conjures up visions of secret police raiding Clayton’s home in the middle of the night and dragging him off to the camps.
Fletcher seems to think it’s “appropriate” to peddle rumors and innuendo so long as she doesn’t come right out and clearly say what’s on her mind. But others have openly raised questions about whether Clayton’s sexual orientation should disqualify him from service on the State Board of Education.
On Oct. 23 of last year, just before the November general election, the Rockwell Rocks! blog asked whether Clayton was gay. The blog’s writer, J.J. Smith, publisher of online news site TheRockWallNews.com, wrote that Clayton lived with a man and that Clayton “has never been married”:
“Texas Republican voters may want to be aware of the rumors that Republican State Board of Education candidate George Clayton is gay.
He has now refused to return two of my phone calls and one email to his campaign, in which I identified myself as a reporter with TheRockwallNews.com, asking him to either confirm or deny the rumor. . . .
Some would ask, ‘Why does it matter if Clayton is gay?’
Conservative Republicans would say that some homosexuals have become far too aggressive in trying to convince others to accept the LGBT lifestyle – in schools and elsewhere.”
The same day Smith published his post about Clayton, this comment appeared on another website:
“It’s rumored that GOP candidate George Clayton is gay but he’s not wiling to deny or confirm that to me on the phone or via email. He and his treasurer … are both in their 60s, never married, live together and co-own their Richardson home. Any body know his… status? For those who ask why it matters, many conservative voters who are likely to vote straight GOP do not want homosexuals teaching children, let alone guiding educational policies for the state, since the LGBT groups have become so aggressive trying to convince others to accept their lifestyle as normal. Thanks!”
If past experience is any guide, the anti-gay rhetoric will now probably intensify and become even more open. In fact, the Texas Tribune quotes from an email sent out by Donna “Jeffrey Dahmer Believed in Evolution” Garner, a right-wing gadfly from the Waco area who is withdrawing her previous support for Clayton’s re-election:
“If Clayton is indeed a homosexual, then we as voters must be concerned about re-electing him to the SBOE since the Board will soon begin the process of writing and adopting Health curriculum requirements for all Texas public school students.”
Someone is unqualified to help revise health curriculum standards simply because he’s gay? Of course, we’re not surprised here. Over the years Garner has sent numerous virulently anti-gay screeds to an email list of reporters, officeholders and right-wing activists.
TFN has taken no position on Clayton’s re-election. But we do think voters should stand against the kind of political trash and hate-mongering promoted by the likes of Golden Corridor Republican Women, Donna Garner and certain bloggers. We encourage TFN Insider readers to let us know when you see candidates or their allies using anti-gay, sexist or racist rhetoric and tactics to smear opponents during next year’s elections. And we’ll be clear now: if someone promotes this kind of political trash, whether through a whispering campaign or more openly, we will call you out. You will have to defend publicly your use of smears and appeals to bigotry. Texas and Texas voters deserve far better.