One of the most watched races in the 2008 Texas Democratic Primary isn’t at the top of the ballot. As a matter of fact, it is confined to one State-House District in Austin. Nevertheless, the battle between Brian Thompson — an attorney and openly gay candidate for the Texas House — and State Representative Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) is a key race because it will help determine whether or not Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick can be re-elected in 2009. The Current spoke with Thompson by phone from his campaign headquarters last week about the man and his campaign.
Why did you decide to run for this office?
I have been keeping up with `the Craddick saga and Dukes’ record` and the great thing about my community is that there is an advantage for someone who is a Democrat. That advantage is that this is such a safe Democratic district that whoever runs here should be the standard-bearer for Texas Democrats in Travis County. That’s not the case now. Now personal gain and political advantage matters more than standing up for the right principles that this district needs. That has made me mad, to be perfectly honest. I waited a while, and nobody else did anything, so I decided to stand up.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I am originally from Birmingham, Alabama. I went to college at Louisiana State University, and then law school at UT Law brought me to Austin. At LSU, I got two degrees in four years: one in political science and one in agriculture. I am the first generation in my family to graduate college, and come from a very blue-collar family, all of whom are in Birmingham. I now work at a law firm — in litigation — and do work on the side, volunteer and pro-bono, for the Political Asylum Project of Austin and for a number of indigent clients. I have lived in Austin for six years.
Your campaign has mentioned, in a fund-raising email, that you will be the first “out” gay official to serve in the Legislature in a long time. How do you think that will effect this race?
First of all, I think voters in my community are open-minded enough that it isn’t something that will affect their vote one way or another. As with all Austin voters, I think we are dealing with much more progressive and open-minded individuals who know about the issues in this race. I am very well educated on the issues that are important to my community, and I believe voters look past things like sexual orientation, race, religion, and things like that to get to the meat of the matter. I don’t see it having any effect on how individual people vote.
If elected, how would being an openly gay legislator effect your service in the Texas House?
As far as service in the House, I am going to stand up for individual rights and civil rights regardless of what group we’re talking about. On the other hand, there is no question that the GLBT community needs representation in that body. Glen Maxey carried the torch for a while, and we need someone else to do that.
If you were able to file a bill on the first day you were sworn in, and that bill could address anything, what bill would you file?
I think that fully funding children’s health programs would be a priority — to get back the 100,000 kids on CHIP that were there in 2003 and to put more money into outreach efforts to get the word out about the program even more because there are so many families who qualify for it but don’t even know about it.
An issue to a lot of voters in this race is Speaker Craddick. Your opponent voted for him. For the record, would you vote for Craddick as Speaker?
That’s an emphatic “No.” There is no one who has done more damage to the progressive cause than Tom Craddick has. He is essentially part of the leftovers we got after Bush and Rove left, and we’re still dealing with that. I think his claim to absolute power is wrong — it is wrong from a legal perspective, and as a lawyer and a citizen I am shocked by his antics. I am somewhat embarrassed to live in a district that is so strongly Democratic yet where our Representative supported Craddick to the bitter end.
If there was one thing you could tell voters about you — one thing you really think they need to know — what would it be?
I think it would be personal. I think that there may be a perception that because I am an attorney in a large-sized firm in Austin that I am some kind of privileged yuppie gentrifier. The fact is that couldn’t be further from the truth. I was the first generation in my family to go to college. I paid my way through college and law school on loans. I live in an 1,100-square-foot house in the middle of my district in East Austin. And the perception that I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth could not be further from the truth.
Anything we’re missing? Anything else you’d like to share?
I love East Austin. I moved here for a reason, and that was not to buy a house and then double its size (laughs). I lived here in law school and knew I would come back because this is where I wanted to be and this is my home. •