The 2022 primary election was the first major election under Texas’ new stricter voting laws. Republicans argued that the move is necessary to ensure a fair election process, while Democrats believe the law adds another layer of voter suppression. People of color and other marginalized communities have faced various obstacles. Thousands of absentee voters learned that their ballots were rejected due to the state’s new voter ID requirements scrambling to make their votes count on time for the recent primaries.
Former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, the president and CEO of the Victory Fund, had her fair share of navigating confusing ID requirements before the primary. Though she no longer is running for office, the former councilmember and city controller stands firm on her desire to increase the number of openly LGBTQ elected officials at all levels of government through her organization.
Parker spoke with the Defender for more insight into her work, and the current state of Texas politics post-primary.
Defender: How has the political discourse between Democrats and Republicans changed since your time in office?
Annise Parker: All of my time in office was at the local level and it was in a nonpartisan position. At the local level, people want to get in and get the work done. It’s much more about gamesmanship. Since I work around the country, I’m seeing two convergent trends. One is that Donald Trump has destroyed the Republican party as it used to be and at the same time you see people of extraordinary dedication and courage standing up in their communities and fighting for the future they want. It’s exciting and inspirational.
Defender: What grade do you give Texas politicians and their handling of the state’s major issues?
Parker: We’ve had one-party rule for more than 25 years. I would say Glenn Hegar does a pretty good job as state controller. He focuses on running a really large bureaucracy that does some important work for the state of Texas. But then you go over to a Ken Paxton, who is a crook. He’s been indicted for security fraud for his entire time he’s in office. His entire senior staff has resigned and accused him of manipulating investigations, lying to steer verdicts for campaign supporters.
Then we have Dan Patrick…it’s all political theater, whether it’s critical race theory, trans kids, or whatever flavor of the week it is he can use to bash Democrats and try to build a strong base in the far right. He vows to have legislation passed next session to strip tenure away from any professor in Texas who doesn’t teach what Dan Patrick thinks he or she ought to teach. The brain drain of scholars would be immediate and detrimental to the state.
Defender: Texas already had some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country and countless people in America have lost faith in the election process. What can truly be done to boost their morale?
Parker: We have to trust local elected officials and for all of the millions of dollars and pressure that Donald Trump and his supporters put on local elections administrations across the country, they haven’t found any evidence of coordinated [voter] fraud at any level. It tends to be senior citizens and [women] who are available during the day to vote. This is an assault on the matriarchs across the country. The people who’ve been the backbone of fair elections for generations.
For example, in Oregon, everybody votes by mail, but in Texas, it’s considered a death to our democracy. Right-wing leadership at the state level is putting hurdles in place to make it difficult to vote by mail. Mail-in bailouts are getting rejected for the smallest mistakes. If I’m someone who reads and writes well and still has problems with the process, imagine someone who doesn’t read well or may have difficulty understanding written instructions. You have to wonder if folks will just say it’s too much of a hassle to vote. That is dangerous.
Defender: You are currently CEO and president of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and Leadership Institute. You’ve seen the unrelenting assault on trans rights in Texas and it’s taking a mental toll on many families. What plans does the institute have to address current issues facing trans youth?
Parker: We don’t do policy, we don’t do lobbying, we do people. We work with LGBTQ candidates at every government level. We do leadership development. We do candidate campaign training and we have an internship program on Capitol Hill. It’s all about finding LGBTQ leaders and helping them into the political process. Our job is not to tell people what to do once they enter into office, but to help them move into those offices and make a difference. It’s not just the LGBTQ people who care about trans kids. There are a lot of allies involved.
This is Women’s History Month? How does it feel to see LGBTQ candidates running in 2022 Texas primary and making history?
Parker: There have been a lot of folks over the years who’ve been elected. We at Victory maintain something called the Out for America map. The map will show every current LGBTQ elected official. Minneapolis City Councilmember Andrea Jenkins went through our empowerment fellowship program. Andrea is a Black trans woman. She suddenly became the face of a grieving Minneapolis during George Floyd’s murder. She had to keep her community together. She was fielding an onslaught of national media and trying to help her community grieve and not riot.
That is the reason why we do this work. We put the right people in the right places. These are exciting times. The world has changed so much. The idea 10 years ago that we would have a race where you had LGBTQ women [of color] running would’ve been mind-boggling.