November 12 2013
A Race in Texas...
Patrice J. Lee
Why is everyone assuming that African-American voters were misled?
Until I hear from African-American voters who claim that they were hoodwinked, I’m giving Dave Wilson the benefit of the doubt. Wilson is a Republican activist—admittedly a bit of a wild card—who unseated an incumbent for a board position in the Houston College System. The kicker is that Wilson is white and won against a black man in a largely black district.
Wilson, who previously ran several unsuccessful campaigns, managed a win against an incumbent that even shocked him. His opponent and critics are criticizing his marketing techniques saying mailers he released to the pre-dominantly black community led readers to believe that he was black. If he mislead the voter on his race (or anything else, for that matter), then shame on him. But is it beyond the realm of possibility that blacks would decide to give Wilson a chance? Is that a foregone conclusion?
Speaking only for myself, I say that Wilson should be congratulated for putting our democratic system to the test and finding that it works. According to reports, Wilson did not say he was black—that would have been wrong. He didn’t post a picture of someone else with his name under it. He referred to a legitimate endorsement for his candidacy.
His opponent is calling Wilson’s campaign “disgusting,” but what is distasteful is the assumption that any ethnic group has any political seat on lockdown. No one is entitled to win an election, but don’t tell that to the national pundits and locals in Houston. Here’s the story:
As a conservative white Republican running in a district whose voters are overwhelmingly black Democrats, the odds seemed overwhelmingly against him.
Then he came up with an idea, an advertising strategy that his opponent found "disgusting." If a white guy didn't have a chance in a mostly African-American district, Wilson would lead voters to think he's black.
Wilson, a gleeful political troublemaker, printed direct mail pieces strongly implying that he's black. His fliers were decorated with photographs of smiling African-American faces -- which he readily admits he just lifted off websites -- and captioned with the words "Please vote for our friend and neighbor Dave Wilson."
One of his mailers said he was "Endorsed by Ron Wilson," which longtime Houston voters might easily interpret as a statement of support from a former state representative of the same name who's also African-American. Fine print beneath the headline says "Ron Wilson and Dave Wilson are cousins," a reference to one of Wilson's relatives living in Iowa.
Why is everyone assuming that voters were misled? Of the articles I’ve read so far, none of them captures the reaction of people who actually voted in the election. I’d like to hear from them. Perhaps, the voters in this area knew exactly Wilson’s race and chose him notwithstanding his skin color. If some black voters assumed he was black and voted strictly for that reason, then that’s a greater travesty.
I’m not alone in my belief that Wilson didn’t dupe a whole electorate. Others agree:
Bob Stein, political scientist at Rice University, said however that the community college system covered by the election had come under intense scrutiny for insider deals and overseas spending.
He added that after 24 years in office, Mr Austin's name should have been familiar to voters too.
'I suspect it's more than just race. The Houston Community College was under some criticism for bad performance. And others on the board also had very serious challenges,' he said.
Good for the Houston voters who said enough is enough with the representatives on the college board.
I am baffled by the assumption that black voters should vote for black candidates, just as whites must vote for whites. Sure, it happens but did not account for the election of Tim Scott as junior senator of South Carolina. Here’s a shocker, Americans sometimes vote according to policies and values not skin tone.
Contrary to what Wilson’s opponent suggests, this is good for democracy and should serve notice to all incumbents –from local school board secretaries to U.S. senators- that no seat is guaranteed to them. Perhaps if more incumbents were challenged, they would be more responsive to their constituents.