by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Annise Parker, Lesbian, Democrat, and 'really good pistol shot,' will be sworn in as mayor of Houston on January 4. She will become the first openly Lesbian mayor of Houston, and the first Lesbian mayor of a top-10 US city.
Parker spoke with SGN on December 29. She talked about her campaign for mayor, her plans for her city, and LGBT politics in Texas and nationally.
The facts about her marksmanship came out when she was asked about personal details that might surprise her new national audience.
"I'm a native Texan," she said. "I spent all my life in Houston. I'm a gun owner. And I'm a really good pistol shot."
"I'm not interested in hunting," she explained. "I don't kill animals. I just like shooting."
Parker was elected mayor in a run-off election on December 12 winning with about 54% of the vote. The campaign - at least in its later stages - was marked by anti-Gay attacks sponsored by right-wing and fundamentalist groups.
"Actually the campaign as a whole was very civil. It went negative at the end, in the run-off," she told SGN.
"We have a few noted homophobes here in Houston, and they came out of the woodwork," she said. "The mayor's position is so high profile, we knew there would be backlash."
Asked if the personal attacks ever made her regret her decision to get into politics, she shot back, "No, no, no regrets, no second thoughts. I've been excited to go to work every day for the last 12 years."
Prior to the run for mayor, Parker was a Houston City Council member (1997-2003), and city controller - the number-two official in the city - from 2003 to the present. Her campaign stressed her experience in city administration in spite of the controversy generated by her sexual orientation.
"I ran as the most qualified candidate in the race. And I am," she said flatly. "Being out and Gay was always part of my public persona. Other people might have made that an issue. We didn't even have to think about it."
Both Parker and her run-off opponent, former City Attorney Gene Locke, are Democrats, as were three of the five candidates in the general election on November 3. Houston's City Council is also dominated by Democrats.
Parker believes Democrats can be competitive even in Texas.
"Houston is a 'blue' island in a 'red' sea. But so are Austin, Dallas, San Antonio - all four of our largest cities," Parker told SGN. "People might have preconceived ideas about Texas, but it's not at all like people might think.&"
"The thing about Texas," she continues, "even in the suburbs and rural areas - the suburbs are the most conservative - in the rural areas they're pretty practical. They want to know what you're gonna do and how you're gonna do it."
Parker says this pragmatic attitude gives LGBT candidates an opportunity to talk to voters outside their natural constituencies.
"You know, in Texas we have a saying: It's all about you, it's not about who your people were."
Houston is a sprawling multi-cultural city. Of its 2.2 million people, 42% are Latino - "from every country in Latin America," Parker notes - 28% are African American - "including many African immigrants," says Parker - seven percent are Asian American, and the balance are white.
"It's a challenge to run, and it's a challenge to govern," Parker says. "The best thing about Houston is that it's a business-oriented entrepreneurial city. It's a global city, an international city, a city that's always on the move, the fourth-largest city in the country."
While Houston is certainly a much different city than Seattle, when Parker ticks off the top priorities of her new administration, she sounds just like Mike McGinn or Joe Mallahan. On the night of her election, she told the Houston Chronicle her first priorities "will be improving transportation, balancing the city's budget, and selecting a new police chief."
"Cities pretty much have a standard set of issues and challenges," Parker says. "The worldwide recession - no one can escape that."
"Every city in the country is hurting," she continues. "You have to spend less than you take in. Right now, we're not. We're spending more than we take in and so we're dipping into our savings. So as mayor I'll have to say no to a lot of things. I think I can do that without impacting personnel levels. That's the important thing."
Parker is optimistic about Houston's ability to weather the recession.
"We budgeted carefully. We're probably better off than any other city in the country," she says. "We're still growing. There was no housing bubble in Houston, so there hasn't been a collapse."
"And we're tied in internationally rather than nationally," she adds. "We depend more on the world economy."
A successful run as mayor of a major city like Houston might be seen as a springboard to higher office. Parker's immediate predecessor, Bill White, is now a Democratic candidate for governor of Texas. Nevertheless, Parkers denies any further political ambitions.
"No, I really have no larger aspirations," she tells SGN. "I love local government. I think it's the most important. It's the closest to people's lives."
"I'm an old jock," she continues. "I leave it all on the field. If I have any political capital, I'm gonna spend it, I'm not gonna store it up for some other campaign."
Parker is also reluctant to embrace her newfound role as a national celebrity.
"Clearly I'm a national figure. I've been a role model for my community for a long time," she says. "I've run for office six times. I've led statewide organizations. I accept the role. That said, I don't intend to be a spokesperson."
"Marriage, for example. You know we have a state marriage amendment here," she continues. "So that's not something I'm gonna throw myself into."
Texas passed its constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman in November 2005. The amendment, known as Proposition 2, passed with a 75% affirmative vote and it is not considered likely to be repealed in the foreseeable future.
"Now, I have adopted children, and I do plan to be a champion for adoptions," Parker says. "Not just LGBT adoptions. Children have a right to have a family."
Asked about the controversial police raid on the Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth this past June, Parker replies, "[The Houston] community's relations with our police are really pretty good. We haven't had that kind of incident for a long time. Usually they're provoked by some low-level guy with an attitude."
"We've had diversity training for two decades now," she explains. "In fact I taught at the Police Academy. We have openly Gay officers. We have a Transgender officer - a lieutenant, I think - who actually made the transition while on the force."
Parker says she hopes to name a new police chief "from within the Department," but one "who understands that we can't keep doing things in the same way."
"We need to take apart old and outmoded ways of thinking," she insists.
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