The Houston GLBT Political Caucus met yesterday to vote on endorsements for the March 2020 primaries. Having served on the screening committee for several races, I was obligated to be there most of the day, but I usually attend even if I’m not there in any official capacity.
The meetings run long and have contentious moments, but that, as they say, is what democracy looks like.
Midway through the day, I got a text from my friend, Januari Fox, who was across the packed room. Yes, she texted because the auditorium was so full it was tough to press through the crowd, but also, because she was proposing something terrifying. Her message simply read:
Andrea, I think I’m going to speak against Borris Miles. I just can’t not say anything.
Texas State Senator Borris Miles was indicted on two counts of deadly conduct in 2008. Numerous women have spoken out about him sexually harassing them, including someone identified as “Lauren” in an article in the Daily Beast by Olivia Messer which describes then State Rep. Miles propositioning her on the sidewalk in front of an Austin club:
“I said, ‘Hi Representative, how are you?’ Then he slowly looked me up and down, counted out more money, reached out his hand and said, ‘Bitch, you want to fuck with me tonight?’
“I said ‘No, thank you’ and physically stepped back,” Lauren recalled. “I didn’t want to be rude to him. I remember his intern pacifying him and saying, ‘It’s time to go.’
“Everyone was just shocked that he said that—that he cussed at me and that he was offering me money. It was outrageous,” she continued. “I just remember thinking, ‘I need to go, and I need to not be here anymore.’”
I’ve long been on the brink of publicly going after another very powerful sitting Texas State Senator to hold him to account for allegations about his own sexually manipulative and abusive behavior, so upon seeing Januari’s text, I did not have to think.
I support you, I said.
She said she was nervous, but was hoping to get a vote for no endorsement in the race, which I said I’d speak to, and suggested we whip some votes.
We each moved along the opposite sides of the room, speaking to Caucus members we hoped would be willing to vote our way, or at least not speak out against us. I’m happy to say that each person I spoke to was immediately supportive.
I took a deep breath and texted a request for support to another text group I was in that had been formed to support a different candidate in another race. I didn’t know everyone in the group, but I knew we needed votes so couldn’t risk not asking. Two of the people in the group I did know indicated they’d be supportive.
The race was called, and the candidate challenging Sen. Miles spoke. Sen. Miles was not there. The screening committee members stood up to explain how they arrived at their recommendation to endorse Sen. Miles and audience members asked questions.
Januari asked if they had discussed the allegations of sexual harassment, I asked if they had discussed his indictment, forgetting that the screening questionnaire actually asks about indictments and convictions. Asking those questions was our way to signal what we’d be doing.
The floor was then open to people to speak for or against the recommendation to endorse.
Januari stepped up first. I had said I’d stand next to her, but as I walked up, at first, I got a look because it is not usual for two people to approach the mic. I stopped a few steps away, and I’m sorry that I didn’t just take those final 4 steps, but Januari was amazing.
She asked the Caucus membership—her friends, her coworkers, people she’s campaigned for and alongside, people she’s championed and people who have been her own heroes—to say enough. To refuse to endorse someone who abuses women. I remember exactly what she looked and sounded like. I barely remember her words, because I was so focused on the power of her voice and the strength she summoned to take this step.
Procedure calls for speakers for and against a motion to take turns speaking, so following her was someone speaking on behalf of Sen. Miles, dismissively referring to the allegations but saying the good he has done for so many outweighs any them.
Then I spoke, saying the reasons these things were allegations only was that women who want to work in politics or run for office are far too afraid to come forward because they know what will happen to them. They know what people will say. And I said that all of the men in the capitol with these issues need to be on notice. I had the other senator in mind when I said that, but did not say his name.
Had I had time to say more, I would have added that the fact that so many interns and staffers have been called upon to clean up their members’ messes is also deeply unfair to those people. Covering up sexual abuse and harassment is not in anyone’s job description.
Januari and I stood together. One dear friend also spoke with us—I’ll ask if he wants his name mentioned or not but obviously it was a public meeting—but the people who spoke for Sen. Miles said exactly what you always hear people say when they defend a powerful man against charges of sexual harassment or abuse.
He’s done so much good for so many people. He’s a reliable vote on our issues. Someone even mentioned his poor health.
Yeah, sometimes he makes it hard to support him, said former Mayor Annise Parker, but she shrugged and suggested that you get behind people who are behind you.
We knew it wouldn’t be easy, but it hurt more than I expected it would to have people both of us know and respect stand up for him. I understand why it happens. I know that democracy is messy and nobody is perfect.
But I’m done using that as a reason to excuse any and all behavior.
And apparently, so are a majority of the voting members of the Caucus, because when the question was called and the vote happened, the motion to endorse Sen. Miles failed.
Failed. He will not be endorsed.
A motion was made for no endorsement in the race, and I remember yelling out SECOND and voting, but I also was one deep sob away from the ugliest of ugly cries. Januari and I were hugging each other and crying and shaking.
I’m so deeply grateful to everyone who voted against the endorsement.
I hope the abusers all realize they are on notice. They might get re-elected one more time, they might keep doing what they do, but maybe they won’t, and they’ll know more of us are watching and no longer afraid to speak up.
Love you, Januari. Thank you for making this happen. Thank you Caucus members who voted with us against the motion to endorse.
It is beyond time. This really is what democracy can look like it we want to make it happen.