With the stain of homophobic remarks on her political record and a growing chorus of citizens calling for her immediate resignation, District 9 council member Elisa Chan’s hopes of leading San Antonio as mayor appear a distant dream in the rearview mirror.
Considering the financial backing from heavy hitters like former SA mayors Henry Cisneros and Phil Hardberger and local business titans Red McCombs and Peter Holt, the citywide seat was once a viable prospect for the councilwoman, who made fiscal conservatism her hallmark. Today, Chan’s focus is on image control after the release of a secretly recorded conversation among staff about the proposed non-discrimination ordinance exposed her stunningly ill-informed anti-LGBT views and catalyzed an uproar that rippled throughout the national media, generating unflattering attention for the local politician.
Through it all, Chan has defended her comments as protected by the First Amendment, refused to undergo LGBT sensitivity and education courses—as requested by local activists—and has yet to issue an apology for her anti-LGBT remarks. While it would seem her political future is dimming by the day, the high-level seat Chan has now set her sights on may very well be a perfect fit.
Senate District 25 reaches into four counties, encompassing New Braunfels, Seguin, San Marcos and portions of Travis and Bexar counties. Currently occupied by State Sen. Donna Campbell, a first-term conservative behind some of the 2013 Legislative session’s more extremist remarks, the seat has been a Republican stronghold since 1994. According to political insiders and some fairly direct remarks from Chan herself, made earlier this month on KTSA, she’s taking a keen interest in the one spot that could have her recent missteps working in her favor, going so far as to poll district residents on their feelings about Campbell’s current leadership.
Historically, the Senate seat has been no stranger to promoting and legislating anti-LGBT views. In the 2013 session, Campbell authored a bill that LGBT rights advocacy groups deemed “anti-gay.” Senate bill 1218 sought to mandate that marriage licenses require a photo ID, but excluded various forms of identification including an affidavit of sex change. Activists said the legislation would have had the effect of prohibiting transgender people who don’t have an ID listing their accurate gender from marrying and celebrated its demise, reported the Dallas Voice. Earlier this year, Campbell also added her signature to a letter asking the Boy Scouts of America to continue to ban gay members. Campbell follows the legacy of her predecessor, former state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, who filed Texas’ version of the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) legislation, banning the recognition of same-sex marriages and civil unions, even for out-of-state partners.
While the idea of appealing to a diverse municipal population is safely out of Chan’s reach, the entrenched conservatism of SD 25—a district that favored a Mitt Romney presidency by 64 percent and voted to usher in extremist firebrand U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz by some 63 percent—may feel a lot like home for the controversial council member.
But Chan hasn’t stepped up to the plate just yet and she’d face a tough race. For one, it’s hard to see what she’d be able to offer constituents that Campbell doesn’t already, given their similar predilection for retrograde family values and batty turns of phrase. Additionally, former Bexar County Commissioner Mike Novak (who, according to campaign finance records, contributed to Chan’s campaign in May) has jumped into the race, with the backing of State Sen. Lyle Larson.
In the meantime, the aftermath of Chan-gate is drawing other local politicians to come out of the closet—and admit their support for the LGBT non-discrimination ordinance. District 8 council member Ron Nirenberg explicitly expressed he would vote for the NDO. Days later, the fallout similarly pushed District 7 council member Cris Medina, who seemed on the fence, to publicly pledge his backing of the ordinance—perhaps marking small silver linings in the larger painful revelation of Chan’s true feelings.