I’ve found myself laughing hysterically over the past couple of days at one of the recent political races here in Houston, which has garnered national attention.
You might ask, “Why have you been cracking up about it Jeff?”
Well I’ll tell you why; I believe the outcome and the national attention that has come from this political race is the exact sort of kick-in-the-butt reaction that we as Black people need to wake up and get our act together; especially when it comes to voting and having a true commitment to our communities.
If you haven’t heard the story, let me bring you up to speed.
Dave Wilson, who is White, defeated 24-year incumbent Bruce Austin, who is Black, by a mere 26 votes; which shows you that every vote really does count. Austin has served in his position on the Houston Community College System Board of Trustees since 1989, but that tenure in office was clearly not enough to overcome the strategy that was used by Wilson to win the election.
Wilson, who had unsuccessfully run in several different local political races prior to this one, decided to take a shot at the HCCS Trustee job, even though he knew he was running in an overwhelmingly black district. So he tried to see if he could subtly convince voters he was black, too. Wilson sent campaign fliers to community members that used stock photos of African Americans with messages like, “Please vote for our friend and neighbor, Dave Wilson.” He even indicated he was being endorsed by “Ron Wilson.” This is important, because many Houstonians remember former African-American state Rep. Ron Wilson, who helped create the Texas Human Rights Commission and who led the fight to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a recognized holiday in the state. The funny thing is, Wilson wasn’t lying about being endorsed by “Ron Wilson.” The “Ron Wilson” he was talking about is actually his cousin, with the same name, who lives in Iowa and who Wilson grew up playing baseball with.
After the results came in and Austin ended up the loser, he went on the record to say that he was “disgusted” by the mailers and that he would possibly pursue a recount, since he lost by 26-votes.
My question is this though; if you have been in your district since 1989 and it is a predominately African-American district, how could anyone come in and “fool” the voters into voting for someone else instead of you? I mean, if you are truly connected to the community you serve and to those voters, wouldn’t they have a loyalty to you and know not to vote for someone from off the street who “pretended to be Black,” as is alleged?
Now, let me be clear. I believe that Wilson was extremely deceptive and cunning in his approach to win elected office. But, I don’t believe that the results are a reflection on Wilson’s deceptive tactics either. I believe that the results are more of a reflection of the fact that the voters wanted someone in office other than Austin. The truth of the matter remains that more people voted for Wilson than they did Austin, even if they believed the man was Black, so we need to place the microscope of scrutiny where it truly belongs; on Austin and his apparent disconnect with his constituents.
I speak about this issue often. Most elected officials fail to connect with their constituents and on the flip-side, most constituents don’t even know who or what they are voting for. For those of us who are really concerned about the future of their city, communities and school districts, we should all be aware that not only is it important for us to exercise our right to vote, but we must know who and what in the hell we are voting for. I believe this is especially important, since our ancestors fought, bled and died for us to obtain that right; a right that eluded us for some time.
We must all understand who we are voting for, along with knowing the role each elected position plays in our daily lives and how each issue that appears on the ballot impacts us. Each and every one of these elected officials and each and every one of these issues impact us in some way or another; to simply ignore this is not wise or prudent. Most people only get excited when it’s time to vote for President or Governor or Mayor, but too few of us truly know the role of the elected positions within our respective cities and states. As a result of this, we are often taken advantage of and messed over because of our ignorance and apathy.
People complain about the things that are happening to their community and to their schools, but most of us look to the wrong elected office to solve the problems. Most people don’t even realize the level of influence and the significant impact that their city council representatives, school board members and judges have on their taxes and their daily livelihood. The squeaky wheel gets the grease; so whoever makes the most proactive noise gets the most response and attention from elected officials.
Elected officials make decisions on many things that impact you such as: how your tax dollars are spent and on what; how your kids are educated; who receives contracts with your tax dollars; what social services you receive and when; raising or reducing your taxes; police and fire safety; sewage/water/drainage; streets and roads; and all other infrastructure needs, etc.
Bruce Austin is a real-life example of how an elected official can be rejected by his own constituents; but I’d like you to think for a minute and ask yourself how your current elected officials have responded to your constituent needs and what they have really done for you? Have they taken care of your community? Have they sold you out for personal gain? Have they closed your neighborhood schools? Hell, have you even seen them before election time?
I don’t feel sorry for Bruce Austin and I don’t feel sorry for the voters in that district. You get what you vote for and elections are too important to overlook and ignore. Start doing your homework today, and you never know, there may be some elected officials who you find that need to be ejected from their offices as well.
Guess what, regardless of what you decide, I’ll keep talking until people start listening.