Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Texas Tea Party members brew nasty campaign strategy


Politics just don't seem to get any nastier than they do in Texas, judging from a group of Texas Tea Party members' apparent plans to exploit an appearance in Dallas by an internationally known anti-bullying champion.

The Tea Party members reportedly hope a planned appearance by British rugby star Ben Cohen this month at the Dallas gay rights parade can be used as a weapon against an incumbent Texas state representative in the Republican Party Primary.

The legislator, State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, is scheduled to appear at a fundraiser for Cohen's anti-bullying StandUp Foundation on Sept. 16, prior to the rugby player's appearance as a VIP guest at the annual Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade on Sept. 18.

Cohen, 33, retired from professional rugby in May 2011 to focus on the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation he created to combat homophobia and bullying. As an athlete he represented the brands Brive and Sale Sharks. He is married to a woman and has twin children.

In November 2000, Cohen's father Peter Cohen was killed while protecting an attack victim at a nightclub he managed in Northampton, England. He died a month later from head injuries. Three men were found guilty of the violence.

Cohen, a World Cup winner who is straight but has many gay fans, has said in interviews the stories he heard from gay people about being bullied and feeling suicidal as a result of the violence drew him to the issue years ago.

The Dallas fundraiser, which was organized by a gay resident, was scheduled to take place at Pitts' Highland Park home in the Dallas area, but the location was changed to a residence in another neighborhood after Pitts' political opponents employed gay-baiting tactics in an apparent effort to embarrass the legislator.

The relocation of the fundraiser occurred when news of the uproar reached Cohen's handlers in London and nearly derailed Cohen's planned four-day visit to Dallas, according to the organizers. The sports star's representatives reportedly wanted no association with Texas' volatile political climate, one made infamous in recent years by ultra-conservative, anti-gay Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Texas Tea Party members learned about Cohen's planned appearance when the LGBT newspaper Dallas Voice published a report about them on its blog Instant Tea. At one point, the agitators who had heard about the report but could not find it online, erroneously claimed that the newspaper had pulled the story in an effort to cover up Pitts' involvement with the fundraiser.

The Tea Party members' antics came to light when they twice asked Joey Dauben, the publisher of the conservative Ellis County Observer Website, to reach out to a Dallas Voice writer he knew for information. In the last communication, the Tea Party members wanted to know if the newspaper or any other organization would be taking pictures at the fundraiser that they would be able to obtain for use against Pitts in a campaign.

The Tea Party members reportedly have no plans to demonstrate at the event or crash it.

Pitts reportedly is being targeted by Tea Party members because he advocated for the passage of anti-bullying legislation in Texas and voted for two measures backed by Equality Texas. The legislator reportedly offered the use of his home for the fundraiser because of his interest in the issue.

Although Pitts backed the anti-gay bullying measures, he has been criticized by activists for being less friendly on other LGBT issues. That has left some observers puzzled by the Tea Party members' tactics.

Dauben said his criticism on his blog of Pitts is more motivated by the legislator's obvious residency in Dallas when he represents Waxahachie, rather than his participation in the fundraiser.

Two Texas Tea Party members, Linda Bounds and T.J. Fabby, have announced plans to oppose Pitts, who has been in office since 1992, according to the Ellis County Observer.

It appears the two candidates and their supporters are willing to do just about anything to get one of them elected. And so it goes in Texas elections.

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