Dept. of Homophobia
It’s been just over a year since Fort Worth police, with Texas Alcohol and Beverage Control agents in tow, stormed into the Rainbow Lounge, a gay bar. They arrested seven patrons for public intoxication, sent one to the hospital with a head injury and caused a national firestorm. The timing couldn’t have been worse: The raid fell on the 40th anniversary of the anti-police harassment uprising at the Stonewall bar in New York, which touched off the modern gay-rights movement.
Late last month, the Rainbow Lounge commem-orated the event—and Fort Worth cops were there. This time they were invited. Instead of harassing people for dancing, uniformed officers were hanging around, chowing down on brisket and trying to heal the lingering wounds.
The get-together showed that at least some on both sides are trying to make the best out of a terrible situation. The raid touched a raw nerve and, initially, police made matters worse by implying patrons had brought the harassment on themselves by flirting with officers. Police Chief Jeffery Halstead piled on, saying he was “happy with the restraint used” by his officers.
Some in the gay community saw an opportunity and formed an organization called Fairness Fort Worth to press city officials for reform. Eventually, three police officers involved in the raid were suspended, and three TABC agents were fired. The city created tight standards for bar inspections, adopted a more inclusive anti-discrimination policy, and appointed a Diversity Task Force. “We had some pretty tough negotiations and discussions with these folks,” says Todd Camp, a founder of Fairness Fort Worth. “But I think the relationship has greatly improved.”
The question remains whether these efforts are enough to make things right. Some members of the gay community feel that glossing things over with a task force and a barbecue trivializes the situation.
“I just don’t think we’re to the point where we should be inviting Chief Halstead back to the Rainbow Lounge to have some drinks,” says Blake Wilkinson, founder of the Dallas LGBT activist group Queer LiberAction. “To me it seems as though we’re almost too eager to forget the treatment that the police department has given us.”
Wilkinson’s caution is not unfounded. The city attorney’s office still intends to prosecute two Rainbow Lounge patrons arrested for public intoxication in the infamous raid—including Chad Gibson, the man whose skull was fractured.
The police say the case is out of their hands. “We’re trying to be in a position to not be on one side or the other,” chief of staff Lt. Paul Henderson said.
Fairness Fort Worth President Thomas Anable says that if the trials go forward, it could destroy much of the goodwill the city has built up. “You want trials? Go ahead,” Anable says. “We’ll bring out 2,000 protesters for each trial. The only thing you could do to re-energize the LGBT community is to have those trials.”
—Ann Elise Taylor
Weems The Watchdog?
When Jeff Weems took the stage in Corpus Christi at the Democratic Convention in June, the applause quickly turned thunderous. “I know the business, I know the industry,” boomed the brawny, mustachioed candidate for Railroad Commission. “But I’m not running for the business or the industry. I’m running for my family. I’m running for your families!”
As in every speech, the oil and gas lawyer paused to explain that the Railroad Commission—despite its misleading name—primarily regulates the oil and gas industries in the state. “We have to keep it strong,” Weems said. “It’s our biggest employer. It’s one of our biggest sources of revenue. But you gotta watch what they’re doing!”
Weems says his knowledge of the industry makes him the best watchdog in the race. Weems’ secret weapon is his Republican opponent. Weems looked like a sure loser against Victor Carrillo, the well-liked Republican incumbent and close ally of Gov. Rick Perry. But in March, Carrillo lost the GOP primary to David Porter, a relatively unknown certified public accountant. Carrillo did not go quietly, arguing publicly that his non-Anglo last name was to blame for the loss and pointing to Porter’s lack of experience.
Carrillo’s loss could be Weems’ gain. He says he is a proponent of increased regulation. ”You will not find a more vociferous fan of good, smart, responsible regulation,” he recently told the Observer. Weems has deep roots in the industries he’d be regulating. He’s had some unpopular clients—none more so than BP. Porter, inexperienced and untarnished, has tried to take advantage of such associations.
Weems views it differently. “Quite frankly I don’t think you can be a good regulator unless you’ve been out there, unless you’ve been involved with the oil and gas industry,” he says, a not-so-subtle nod to Porter’s lack of experience.
Despite Weems’ energetic speaking style—and a campaign that’s already taken him, he says, to 143 counties—he faces an uphill battle along with other Democrats running statewide. In the May UT/Texas Tribune Poll, Porter led Weems 39 percent to 27, with 29 percent of voters undecided. As he works to close the gap, Weems plans to unveil a “Republicans for Weems” site. He’s hoping some people will switch over to vote for him.
“The Railroad Commission is nowhere near as sexy as the governor’s race,” Weems says. This year, it may be just as competitive.
Dept. of mental health
Otty Sanchez Is Spared
It seemed clear from the start that Otty Sanchez—a 33-year-old mother in San Antonio—was temporarily insane when she murdered her three-week-old son and consumed parts of his body in the early morning hours of July 26, 2009. Sanchez is a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic who was suffering from postpartum psychosis, a severe form of postpartum depression that often prods new mothers to violence. When police arrived, Sanchez was screaming that the devil had made her do it. Yet prosecutors in San Antonio charged Sanchez with murder and announced they would seek the death penalty.
In late June, after three psychologists evaluated her, Sanchez was ruled not guilty by reason of insanity. The charges against Sanchez were dropped, and she will remain in a maximum-security mental health facility, though a judge will review her case yearly.
Texas has one of the stingiest mental health systems in the nation. It took a horrifically violent act for Sanchez to receive the treatment she needed. As the Observer reported in January, Sanchez had been receiving free services from a public mental health clinic in San Antonio, but stopped attending when the clinic told her it could no longer afford to treat her.
Six days before the killing, Sanchez sought help, but was turned away from Metropolitan Methodist Hospital’s psychiatric unit. She was among hundreds of thousands of Texans with severe mental illness who go untreated every year.
Eddie Aldrete, Banking on Reform
A 50-year-old bank vice president might strike you as an unlikely coalition-builder in the heated debate over immigration reform. If so, you haven’t met Eddie Aldrete, a senior vice president at IBC Bank in San Antonio, or heard his wonky, impassioned take on why America must overhaul its immigration system.
In 2007, Aldrete won kudos for forging an unlikely alliance between Democratic state Rep. Pete Gallego, the chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, and Bill Hammond, a conservative Republican and chair of the Texas Association of Business, to defeat a slew of anti-immigration bills. The coalition Aldrete put together, which also included the ACLU, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and League of United Latin American Citizens, staved off legislation such as a bill that would have prohibited young citizens from receiving health care or public education if their parents were undocumented.
“Everyone was focused on the same goal, but at the same time there were personality issues after years of butting heads,” Aldrete says. “But everyone was very professional and stood united on the cause for comprehensive immigration reform. We were successful in 2007, again in 2009, and we plan to be back next session.”
Aldrete comes from a family of Democrats. His father was assistant secretary of commerce for President Jimmy Carter, and his brother, James, is a well-known Democratic political consultant in Texas. Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez is a shareholder at IBC. Still, Aldrete doesn’t hesitate to reach out to Republicans on immigration reform.
Chad Foster, former mayor of Eagle Pass and a Republican, says Aldrete’s success comes from being well-liked and having an impressive list of contacts in both parties. “He’s able to work with both sides,” Foster says. “Eddie takes the spin out of immigration reform and relays the reality of the situation.”
Aldrete likens immigration reform to an iceberg: “The 15 percent that everyone is paying attention to is just the tip of that iceberg. It’s what’s down below that sunk the Titanic.” The part that could sink America’s future, according to Aldrete, is our declining fertility rate, our rapidly aging population, and close to 82 million baby boomers on the edge of retirement.
Aldrete went into action in 2006 as Congress considered penalizing people for handing out bottled water to immigrants in the desert—while failing to fix the immigration system. “Basically, we had a situation where a pipe had burst in the kitchen, and instead of fixing the pipe they were sending in more mops,” he says.
Four years later, the immigration debate has only grown shriller and less substantive. Aldrete expects to be busy this upcoming legislative session. He plans to counter the more politically divisive rhetoric with facts and statistics. “It’s easy to get sucked into the emotional side of the immigration debate,” he says. “But this is not a partisan issue, and the solutions are not partisan, either.”
—Melissa del Bosque