I’m not sure if we’re meant to be horrified by this story or if it’s just the greatest prank in the history of modern politics. The events in question took place in the race for a seat on the Houston Community College System Board of Trustees. (I know, right? How did the national media miss that one?) In a voting district which is listed as being “overwhelmingly” black Democrats by demographic breakdown, white Republican -and self described “troublemaker” – Dave Wilson clearly didn’t stand much of a chance, so he needed to come up with a new strategy. And he did… he went out on a lark and determined that he would just convince the voters that he was black.
Now if you’d asked me, as a political consultant, how to pull this off, I’d have probably just quit. But Dave came up with a plan and he did it on the cheap.
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.”
Wilson won by only 26 votes and his long time incumbent opponent is asking for a recount, but given their electronic voting system it looks like the results will stand and Dave will hold the seat for six years. But there may be more to this upset than just trickery. I first saw the story covered by Doug over at Outside the Beltway, and he raises a good question.
Given that Austin is a long-serving incumbent it’s probable that there was more to the outcome of this election than just these mailers, but the fact that this guy was consciously trying to deceive voters into thinking he’ black certainly puts a new spin on the politics of the South.
The local coverage goes on to note that the board was already facing trouble because of, “insider business deals and spending money on overseas initiatives.” So with that in mind, maybe the seat was already more competitive than the incumbent thought it would be, and he was just assuming he’d win without trying. Of course, the trickery on display will have people crying foul, but that brings us back to the age old question of personal responsibility and accountability. If your main criteria for who you’ll vote for in the trustee race is the color of the candidate’s skin, don’t you have some sort of responsibility to open up a web browser – or even just go outside and open your eyes – and figure out whether the guy you’re voting for is white or black? I mean, I’m Googling this from the other side of the country and getting hits on Dave Wilson going back a fair bit… including pictures.
The fact that the guy is white doesn’t seem to be some sort of national secret. And if you can’t be bothered to research the candidates you vote for even to the “skin deep” level (pun intended), then didn’t you get the winner you deserve?