Thursday, March 4, 2010

Eric Johnson Won Asking for Votes, Not Permission

You've heard - Tuesday was the Texas Primary election night.

The spotlight was on the Republican gubernatorial primary in which our incumbent governor Rick Perry trounced Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson with 51% of the vote to Sen. Hutchinson's 30%. There is justifiable amazement that she lost and she lost by such a wide margin. Did she underestimate the influence of the TEA Party on Republicans and independents? Did she fail to give Texas GOP voters a reason to vote for her? Were voters turned off by her failure to go 'all in' and resign from the senate or was it simply that people saw her as a senator (and she actually has been a good one) and not governor? The speculation will go on, but so will election season as Perry now prepares to face the winner of the Democratic primary, former Houston mayor Bill White who ran roughshod over all other challengers, winning with 76% of the Dems vote.

But the 'race', as it were, that captured my interest was the race for state representative for District 100 that started out as a contest between challenger Eric Johnson and Terri Hodge. For me it was interesting because Terri hadn't had a meaningful challenger for some time, having served 13 years in the Texas House. I've known her ever since she first won the office. When Eric Johnson came along, I wasn't sure that he would be considered a serious challenger. Or that Terri was up for being challenged. It may have been about a year or two, we had a conversation in which she talked about having to raise campaign funds, even though most of the time she had no opponent - Democratic or Republican.

Interest gave way to intrigue.

Starting with Terri Hodge's indictment for accepting free rent from a non-profit housing developer - the same non-profit developer whom City Councilman Don Hill, his wife Sheila and his appointee to the city planning commission D'Angelo Lee, were accused (eventually convicted and recently sentenced) of extorting for cash and favorable votes.

With a trial looming, would Terri win this race and be then be convicted? Would she be able to win and emerge victorious both at the ballot box and the courtroom? Or was Eric the real deal?

Harvard educated, Dallas native, lawyer. A success by any stretch of the imagination and a role model for young people.

Then the intrigue grew. Terri Hodge admits to income tax evasion. She calls off the campaign. But she's still on the ballot. Does that mean Eric would win? Could Terri win the election, but because, although not sentenced, as a convicted felon be unable to serve throwing the choice of a representative or a candidate into a convoluted process that involved precinct chairs. Community leaders were calling for a sympathy vote for Ms. Hodge (maybe not thinking that as a part of her plea she had to be through with politics. What would a judge do at sentencing, if he or she believed that Terri Hodge was trying to manipulate the electoral process through her constituency, although she couldn't serve if she won? Sometimes we ought not love people so much...).

Or would District 100 voters, whether they loved Terri or not, recognize that it was time to move on - no matter the reservations they might have about Eric Johnson. After all, he was raising money and gaining support from the 'establishment' like nobody's business. For someone with a broad track record of visibility and service, that can be seen as a sign of viability. But in Dallas politics, for a 'newcomer' that can be the kiss of death - a sign of being bought and paid for.

Tuesday night, Eric Johnson 'won'. Don't get me wrong, I don't really mean to qualify Johnson's victory. I don't know Eric. I've met him a few times. He seems sincere. I have no idea how good a politician he is. I don't know if his ideas resonate. I do know it or not, its a new day. It doesn't have to be bad. There are worse things than having a young, educated, professional, native son who wants to devote himself to public service.

I am appalled that some southern Dallas leaders denigrate Eric because he is young or educated. I am extremely disappointed if its true that there were those who may have pandered to the fears of some elderly people that Eric's election would mean the gentrification of black neighborhoods. For generations we've encouraged young people to 'get their education', 'get involved', 'give back', 'become leaders'.

This antipathy toward Johnson's campaign suggests, people meant it, but only in proscribed, low level ways that don't threaten the old guard, or their supporters.

Maybe we should remember that the old guard, used to be the 'newcomers' - they were railed against by the establishment. They were loud, raucous revolutionaries. Young people were cautioned not to follow their lead. I remember when I was a 19 year old college freshman, and I was getting to know Al Lipscomb, a local activist who eventually became a long serving city council member. My father warned me to 'be careful hanging around him.' Eventually, he and Mr. Lipscomb became good acquaintances and my father (an 'establishment' African-American pastor, before he retired), became one of his supporters.

Young revolutionaries eventually become the old guard. And they forget a truth they embodied in their rise to leadership...

Revolutionaries don't ask for permission.


bill h said...

thank you for this excellent point of view!

Wax Poetic said...

Rev. Britt you are right on target as usual. Eric ran a solid campaign from start to finish. I just hate that this fact is not being acknowledged.