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.
Wilson didn't explicitly lie necessarily (unlike our president), but his intent to deceive is undeniable:
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."
The ethics of this ploy are highly suspect to say the least. If a candidate's only path to victory relies on actively bamboozling voters, that's pretty low. Race wasn't the only factor in Wilson's win (the board has apparently been embroiled in controversies over corruption and questionable spending decisions), but allowing people to assume he's black was an essential ingredient to Wilson's success. Listen to this radio ad he ran; it's not subtle. ("Girrrrl, please!") The new trustee-elect doesn't seem to be the least bit bothered by his methods -- and if his small victory margin holds up, he'll soon begin a six-year term. Members of the community are stuck with him for awhile. As dodgy as Wilson's strategy may have been, voters who fell for this maneuver have no one to blame but themselves. He decided to exploit their ignorance, and they let him. Most voters employ heuristic shortcuts to inform their decisions, but leaning almost entirely on racial cues can backfire. In 2010, Democratic primary voters in South Carolina selected Alvin Greene as their US Senate nominee, a surprise outcome that some observers chalked up to Greene's 'black-sounding' surname. Having defeated the party's preferred nominee, Greene showed himself to be totally unequipped to hold any sort of public office, and went on to suffer a blowout loss. Ignorance can be very dangerous; an uninformed electorate exposes itself to manipulative schemes from candidates of all stripes. Houston voters deserve Dave Wilson. For their part, Democrats employed dirty tricks in the recent Virginia gubernatorial election. The party launched targeted robo-calls questioning Ken Cuccinelli's pro-life credentials (while simultaneously labeling him a right-wing extremist on the issue with other voters), and a major Democratic donor bankrolled the "libertarian" candidate in the race (although it's debatable which major party candidate Mr. Sarvis may have undermined more). Democrats play for keeps, and they tend to be a means-to-an-end bunch. This sore-loser power grab in Maryland is particularly disgusting:
Days after a Republican was elected mayor of Annapolis, City Council members say they will revisit legislation that would strip the mayor’s office of much of its power. Democratic Alderman Ross Arnett of Ward 8 tells The Capital he will introduce a charter amendment to move Annapolis to a council-manager style of government. The city manager would report directly to the City Council, not the mayor. Under Arnett’s legislation, the mayor’s post would be largely ceremonial. The mayor would retain a single vote on the council. Arnett says the change would stabilize the city’s management. If the measure is approved, it would mean the Democratic-dominated council would be removing the powers of the first Republican mayor elected since 1997.
Annapolis voters chose a Republican mayor for the first time in 16 years, and in response, city council Democrats are moving to roll back the powers of the office he'll hold. If they succeed, they'll have cheerfully engaged in an egregious subversion of democracy for transitory political gain.
UPDATE - These quotes are pretty incredible:
“He never put out to voters that he was white,” Austin told the Houston Chronicle; Wilson “called Austin’s remarks racist,” according to the Chronicle.
I mean, it's hard to argue with Wilson's assessment on that point.