Capitol Chronicle

Lift Every Voice and Make Excuses: Statewide Candidates Show Their Backsides to the NAACP

It's a shame that a few more of the current candidates for statewide Texas office couldn't be bothered to show their faces at last weekend's annual conference of the Texas NAACP. Most are in such a hurry to get their indispensable names before the voters that they can barely manage to decide which offices they are running for. But it doesn't necessarily follow that they give a damn what the voters might be thinking is important at the moment. Indeed, to judge from their miserable showing for the NAACP "candidates forum" originally scheduled for Friday afternoon, the candidates would rather just not know.

The Friday forum had to be canceled after most of the invited guests -- the major party candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, and attorney general -- declined to attend, several after having made commitments to do so. According to the Texas NAACP's president, Austin attorney Gary Bledsoe (who diplomatically declined to point the finger at particular culprits), several candidates suddenly discovered previously unrealized scheduling conflicts. A couple, said Bledsoe, were even more frank, although indirectly. Informed the candidates would be answering questions from a panel of reporters, their spokespeople told Bledsoe that the candidates "weren't yet ready for that. They didn't want to answer hard questions about the issues so soon." (Only two -- gubernatorial candidate John WorldPeace and newly designated comptroller candidate Marty Akins -- kept their promise to attend.)

Forced to cancel the forum, Bledsoe issued a blunt statement: "It is hard to understand how any political candidate could be serious about courting the African-American vote yet be unwilling to share their views with the NAACP, the most visible and respected organization in the African-American community. We won't any longer tolerate candidates or parties who take our vote for granted or who ignore us." Bledsoe also noted that last fall, "black voters turned out in record-breaking numbers and made up 16% of the Texas electorate. That was significantly higher than the 12% blacks make up of the population."


Send in the Second Lieutenants

Following initial press reports, there was a flurry of embarrassed response from the parties. Republican Party state chair Susan Weddington arrived to answer some tough public questions from reporters and delegates, while the Democrats offered Janice Kinchion, the party's new "field director" -- who had assumed her office all of five days earlier. The women acquitted themselves reasonably well under the circumstances, although each had been unceremoniously hung out to dry by her party's standard-bearers.

Asked why it might be that the candidates would so casually ignore the NAACP, whose historical and continuing importance for civil and human rights, nationally and in Texas, is unequalled, Weddington answered that while she could not speak for the candidates, "I think everyone should be here. I felt it was important to be here." Kinchion nodded toward Weddington and said simply, "I defer to the chair." ("Whose chair?" muttered one delegate afterward. "The Democrats take us for granted, and by sending only their newest black official, they just confirmed it.")

The dismal showing had its comic aspects. Despite the cancellation, Marty Akins showed up anyway and was politely allowed to address the meeting, so he gave a mini-version of his gubernatorial speech -- nearly forgetting he is now running for comptroller. John WorldPeace, like the rooster convinced his crowing wakes the sun, wandered the halls trying to persuade delegates he had personally frightened off front-running rival Tony Sanchez. Sanchez reportedly turned up Friday night for drinks and schmoozing, having once again avoided any spinless contact with actual public discussion.

At least they made it, as did GOP Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, who said he returned from Dallas after reading the news coverage -- as a former federal prosecutor, he provided thoughtful comments on the importance of the new state law against hate crimes. David "CIA Man" Dewhurst and Carole "C-Ration" Rylander were nowhere in evidence, obviously too busy protecting the home front from grim terrorist threats against God, Texas, UT football (alas!), and the Confederate statues still shamelessly defending the Capitol.

In the aftermath, a reflective Bledsoe (re-elected as president) blamed the candidates' "handlers" for wanting to keep their horses in the stable until early next year, the primaries and the summer-to-fall run. "I don't think it was the NAACP," Bledsoe said. "I just think they want to avoid answering the hard questions as long as possible, so they don't make a mistake the opposition can capitalize upon." (Calls to the various campaigns elicited feckless variations on "the dog ate my schedule and my grandmother died.")


Where Are the Democrats?

As Bledsoe pointed out, it is the Democrats who have the most to lose from this relentlessly craven, money- and TV-driven approach to political campaigns. The once-proud party of Ralph Yarborough and Sam Rayburn has apparently convinced itself that democracy can be imposed from the top down, and that insider-recruited, correctly complexioned candidates will be able to do magically by money and commercials what they refuse to do by hard work among ordinary voters.

We shall soon be hearing a great deal of purchased bilge about how it is our patriotic obligation to vote, and that if we don't collectively hold our noses and choose among these designer-suited summer soldiers, we have only ourselves to blame. But when the longtime activist and tradition-inspired members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People are insulted, we are, with them -- each and every one of us -- also insulted. And we know damn well whom to blame.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Texas NAACP, Gary Bledsoe, John WorldPeace, Marty Akins, Susan Weddington, Janice Kinchion, Tony Sanchez, Michael Williams, David Dewhurst, Carole Rylander, Ralph Yarborough, Sam Rayburn, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

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