A Bigot in Bexar
For an update on this story, please see Bob Moser’s “Purple Texas” blog, here.
Let’s admit it: We pretty much know what to expect when we hear that the chairman of a local political party in Texas has publicly equated gay people with Nazis, calling them “very sinister” and comparing them to “termites.” Heck, you can easily imagine the daily-newspaper account: Brush County GOP Chairman Denny Dan Johnson Jr. told a local Eagle Forum luncheon on Friday that gay people were like “Nazis” and “termites,” out to destroy civilization and steal our children. The remarks won warm and sustained applause from the 11 people in attendance, but when the Brush County Fire reported the remarks, some felt that Johnson may have gone too far. The state Republican chairman reacted strongly, warning Johnson to “tone it down a bit.”
But on the second week in March, the plot was a lot less predictable. The county chairman who unleashed a vicious anti-gay tirade was a Democrat. And he’s the party leader in booming Bexar County, not in some remote stretch of the Great State where gay people might still seem a little, you know, unfamiliar. Dan Ramos, the Democratic chairman in San Antonio, is quite familiar with GLBT folk. One of his deputy chairs is a lesbian. The Bexar Democrats recently had a gay man as their chairman. And when Ramos ran for the job last year, he sought the endorsement of the Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio. “I do not condone discrimination,” he told the gay group.
He has a funny way of showing that. Speaking to the San Antonio Current on the second Friday in March, Ramos let fly with his uncensored view of the Stonewall Democrats: “I liken them to the Tea Party—the Tea Party and the fucking Nazi Party—because they’re 90 percent white, blue-eyed and Anglo, and I don’t give a fuck who knows that. Just like the blacks … they’re American, but you can’t get your way just because you’re black.”
Talk about covering the bases! In the span of two sentences, Ramos managed to insult not only gay Democrats, but Tea Partiers, Anglos, blue-eyed people and African Americans to boot. Even the creators of South Park would be hard-pressed to top that.
Calling gay people “Nazis” is, of course, mind-numbingly absurd—a little like calling Michael Vick’s dogs “animal abusers.” Queer folk are among those the real Nazis attempted to systematically eradicate. So what, pray tell, was Ramos talking about? Certainly not reality: Stonewell Democrats of San Antonio, as state Stonewall Democrats’ president Daniel Graney pointed out in an open letter calling on Ramos to apologize or resign, the gay group has significant Lation leadership. (Of seven elected officers in the San Antonio chapter, five are Latino.) “Our members, who come from every race and ethnicity, believe in tolerance, acceptance and civility in our quest for equality in this nation,” Graney wrote. “Your words do not reflect the true soul of the Texas Democratic Party.”
Elena Guajardo, co-chair of the Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio (and a former city council member who is currently running to win back her old seat), suspects that Ramos’ “words were placed out there to distract from the real issue at hand: the management or mismanagement of the Bexar County Democrats.”
There’s been plenty of trouble for Ramos to try and distract folks from. In an open letter calling for his resignation, Texas Democratic Chairman Boyd Richie wrote that, “From virtually the first day he took office, Dan Ramos has kept the Bexar County Democratic Party in a constant state of turmoil.” A grassroots activist from the South Side, Ramos inherited a county party already reeling from an alleged $200,000 embezzlement by its former treasurer (who goes on trial this week). His many critics say he proceeded to make things worse, reportedly attempting to seize control of party finances, flouting party rules, and trying to install 400 of his own people in vacant precinct chairs by fiat.
When criticized, he has cried racism. After his election last spring, Ramos opened a new party office in an old warehouse with what the San Antonio Express-News called a “pungent petrochemical smell from a previous tenant.” Party members claimed that they were sick after meeting there. “They didn’t want to come to the West Side because there were too many Mexicans, there was too much crime, the building smelled of toxic chemicals,” Ramos told the Express-News. “I’ve said it before,” Ramos told the Current in a previous rant, “this town is run by a bunch of white men.”
Ramos’ anti-gay outburst came on the same day that state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, filed legislation aimed at helping Democrats removed the chairman from office. Fischer’s bill would allow state party executive committees to remove county chairs for official misconduct or incompetence. Currently, there’s little opportunity for party officials to remove a county chair. “The only grounds now are if he fails to support all the party’s nominees on the ballot, or publicly supports the nominee of an opposing party,” says Graney, who’s serves on Bexar Democrats’ steering committee. “Whether you can extend that into saying that he supports Republican politics and positions, with his homophobic actions and statements—I don’t know if we can stretch that to fit. I doubt it.” But Graney thinks some way will have to be found. “I just don’t believe this man will ever find it in his heart to resign. He has this ‘I’m going to be a pain in their ass’-type attitude. But he really stepped in it this time.”
Graney’s late spouse, Roberto Flores, was the first openly gay man to be county Democratic chairman in Bexar. He won the interim position in late 2009, after the previous chairman decided to run for office—and he defeated a close ally of Ramos. “There’s resentment about that, I’m sure,” Graney says. Flores died of cancer the following year, after Ramos had been elected to a two-year term, defeating the party-establishment choice and promising to clean up the party. Last fall, with their financial and leadership problems, the Bexar Democrats were little help to local candidates; a separate group formed by prominent former Mayor Henry Cisneros and state legislators Leticia van de Putte and Carlos Uresti, Bexar County United Democrats, was formed to help Democratic candidates since the party could not.
Ironically enough, the week before Ramos called them Nazis, the statewide Stonewall Democrats had met in Austin to hear a keynote speech from bisexual Arizona state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. Sinema wasn’t there to talk about the “gay agenda.” She spoke about how gay Democrats must join the fight against anti-immigrant, anti-labor, anti-choice and anti-children’s health care efforts by right-wing Republicans. As the website QSanAntonio reported, “After her speech, attendees jumped to their feet … then formed a line to have her autograph copies of her book, Unite and Conquer: Building Coalitions That Win—and Last.”
Unite and conquer, did you say? If there were ever a state, and ever a time, when those on the receiving end of the right wing’s budget-slashing and cultural warfare needed to pull together and push back as one, it’s Texas in 2011. A Latino official bashing gays, African Americans and Anglos doesn’t exactly help in that effort. Ramos might be a Democrat, but he’s doing the bidding of the extreme right—and of the very same blue-eyed devils he claims to despise.