by Doug Miller / KHOU 11 News
Posted on November 8, 2013 at 6:22 PM
Updated Saturday, Nov 9 at 2:51 PM
HOUSTON — Dave Wilson chuckles as he talks about his unorthodox political campaign.
“I’d always said it was a long shot,” Wilson says. “No, I didn’t expect to win.”
Still, he figured he’d have fun running, because he was fed up with what he called “all the shenanigans” at the Houston Community College System. 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.
And it apparently worked. In one of the biggest political upsets in Houston politics this election season, Wilson — an anti-gay activist and former fringe candidate for mayor — emerged as the surprise winner over 24-year incumbent Bruce Austin. His razor thin margin of victory, only 26 votes, was almost certainly influenced by his racially tinged campaign.
“Every time a politician talks, he’s out there deceiving voters,” he says.
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.
“He’s a nice cousin,” Wilson says, suppressing a laugh. “We played baseball in high school together. And he’s endorsed me.”
Austin tried to answer the mailer with his own fliers showing Wilson’s face, calling him a “right-wing hate monger” and saying he “advocated bringing back chain gangs to clean highways.” But the campaign clearly caught him off guard.
“I don’t think it’s good,” he said. “I don’t think it’s good for both democracy and the whole concept of fair play. But that was not his intent, apparently.”
Just how much a role Wilson’s mailers played in the campaign is unclear. Other incumbents running for re-election were forced into runoffs, perhaps because the community college system has come under intense criticism for insider business deals and spending money on overseas initiatives. And after 24 years in office, Austin’s name should have been somewhat familiar to his constituents.
“I suspect it’s more than just race,” says Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU analyst. “The Houston Community College was under some criticism for bad performance. And others on the board also had very serious challenges.”
Austin has said he plans to ask for a recount. But in an era of electronic voting, political analysts said Wilson’s victory will probably hold and send him into office for a six-year term.
Last week, during the elections, I posted on exhorting citizens to get out and vote. That post is here.
During that same week, this story appeared on the Channel 11/KHOU News website.
That this man won on subterfuge is no surprise.
I often tell citizens that their vote does count, but, also to be said is that people need to learn as much as they can about any candidate running for office.
Case in point: Wilson ran for a position on the Houston Community College System board. Unlike mayoral, gubernatorial, and presidential elections, whose faces are seen plastered all over the web, TV news, and newspapers, the candidates for HCC are often unknown. Many local races (and I am sure many of you have seen this happen) do not always have the faces of candidates shown on the voting signs that are ubiquitously planted all over the city during an election. But, not knowing the race of a candidate is not a problem.
Not knowing what these candidates stand for is the most important thing.
What are his or her views on race, immigration, gays, the economy, America’s actions overseas, Obamacare, sexism, employment and unemployment—-and that is just to name a few issues that any candidate needs to be questioned about. Read carefully all flyers handed out by the candidates, and I mean all of the fine print.
The more you know about a candidate, the more informed and intellectually armed you will be.
The less people know about a candidate, the worse off you will be.
What can be done about this?
In the case of the HCC election, going to HCC to ask more about the candidates would have helped. Asking for the candidate’s office number, the candidate’s physical address to meet them in person; asking the candidates to all agree to meeting with the community they will represent if elected; asking the candidates what are their positions on issues that affect voters in that precinct—-all would have been the right actions.
It is not enough to just go to the polls and pull the lever.
An informed and educated voter is a strong voter. An uninformed voter is a weak voter.
Exercising the right to vote requires more than just showing up at the polls.
It requires doing your homework on the candidates and the referendums and propositions that will be on the ballot.
I have done this many times, and still do.
I have gone to where candidates (Independents, Republicans, Democrats) will meet, and yes I have asked them some tough questions on where they stood on issues that were of importance to me. I have voted for the candidates who best represented what I wanted, have gone to their offices to request them to vote on an issue for me, as well as having e-mailed or written to them requesting their vote on an issue. (To this day, I still have letter responses from various elected officials whom I have asked to vote for an issue, and in my and many other people asking, those officials did vote on what we wanted).
Now, this man has been elected (unless the voting results are challenged, and that can be a long and grueling process), and he will be sent into office for a six-year term.
He has stated his views on gays (“Wilson — an anti-gay activist and former fringe candidate for mayor –“), which straight up tells people how he feels on a segment of the population that he must represent. What? He thought that only heterosexuals lived in his district? What a surprise he will be in for.
But, since he is a candidate-elect, here is what his constituents need to ask him:
“How will you, Mr. Wilson, represent us (Blacks, women, gays, employed, Whites, POC, unemployed, students, teachers)?
How will you work for our best interests?
How will you speak for us?”
The ball is in your hands, Mr. Wilson.
It is in your hands.