“It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into”

Jonathan Swift
"The Democrats have moved to the right, and the right has moved into a mental hospital." - Bill Maher
"The city is crowded my friends are away and I'm on my own
It's too hot to handle so I gotta get up and go

It's a cruel ... cruel summer"

Monday, April 23, 2007

They say, "Good try." / Tomorrow Wendy is going to die . . .

The single-member districts issue is officially dead in Amarillo.

You heard it here first.

I attended the Potter-Randall Democratic Club city commission candidate forum tonight, hell-bent on asking a question. It was a carefully-crafted question, designed to answer both the question asked and other, beneath the surface, questions. I'd spent some time designing the question, had bragged about it around town, and was looking forward to asking it. I even quickly reworked my strategy after I learned that the way I intended to ask my question didn't follow the forum rules as outlined by the moderator, one Doctorpaulmatney.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to ask my question. Doctorpaulmatney consistently overlooked my consistently (and politely!) raised hand so people like Manny Perez and some guy from some labor union could ask impolite questions, hector and harangue the candidates, and flagrantly disobey the (admittedly ill-advised) rules I was working so hard to work within.

Yeah, I'm a little bitter.

But here's the background: There have been these rumors going around about the single-member districts lawsuit. In the last city election, we were informed that the smoke-filled rooms where city decisions had traditionally been made had been torn down (just like the Berlin Wall!). But apparently the city commission decided that the yellow city's (and the Amarillo Globe-Republican's) 2005 rejection of the smoking ban gave them permission to continue using those rooms. Thus, rumor has it that the current commission offered J.E. Sauceda a deal: incumbents Paul Harpole and batcrap-crazy incumbent Robert Keys would not run for relection to places 2 and 3. Prenis Williams, an inoffensive black man whom everyone loves (he's so cute: don't he remind you of Morgan Freeman?), and Daniel Martinez, an inoffensive, westside-dwelling Hispanic could run for those seats, and, if they won, would be unofficially handed vaguely-defined racial and sectional constituencies.

I first heard these rumors several months ago. The sources seemed reliable, but I promised I wouldn't write about them at the time. The rumors were, to my mind, lent additional credence when J.E. Sauceda and Tim Hoffman announced at a PRDC meeting that

"Mayor McCart [sic] and Madison Scott met with Hispanic leaders . They [sic] mayor suggested assigning each commissioner a different section of town to represent -- in effect single member district representation without allowing voters to choose the commissioner who represents them."1
So, tonight I planned to ask Mr. Prenis Williams and Mr. Martinez a two-part question: "(1) Do you today think that single-member districts would be a good idea? and (2) How strong would your commitment be if you were offered such a deal?" I naively believed that the answer to that question, whether yes-yes, yes-no, no-no, or even no comment would go a long way toward verifying or negating the rumors. After all, the candidates had to be either for or against the issue, right?

Sadly, Martinez demonstrated that one could be both. After the stern lecture from Doctorpaulmatney, I realized that I could not ask my question of both men since they were running for different seats and we could only direct questions to the candidates for one place. I began to revise my plan. Eventually, Martinez's equivocation ("I wouldn't have been elected, even though I am Hispanic, under single-member districts, since I live on the west side. But, on the other hand, how can we know that it wouldn't work?") convinced me that I should ask my question of him.

I planned to note that J.E. Sauceda was wearing a Martinez sticker but that Mayor McCartt-- who has opposed single-member districts-- had laughed and nodded when he took lukewarm swipes against the plan. I would have asked him to state his position specifically, and I would follow up with a question about the rumored deal.

I didn't get the chance, but he wouldn't have answered anyway. After the forum, several people approached me and noted that I had consistently tried to ask a question and had been ignored. Jim "What a coup!" Simms was one of them. As I told him my question wasn't for him, Martinez approached. Looking at him out of the corner of my eye, I said, "I wanted to ask Mr. Martinez what his actual position was on single-member districts. He seems to speak out of both sides of his mouth."

"Yeah, I'm kind of mealy-mouthed, aren't I?" he said/asked ironically. Then he repeated the same vague question, "How do we know it wouldn't work?"

"We don't," I said, turning to address him directly. "But what do you think?" He still avoided the question.

So I switched gears and asked him about the rumored deal. He kind of looked sideways at an acquaintance and denied that it would ever happen.

Then I asked if there was still going to be a lawsuit. And finally he gave an unequivocal answer. Before the question was completely out of my mouth he was shaking his head emphatically, no. And pulling a piece of paper from his jacket. These numbers show, he said, that the demographic/census numbers won't exist to win this lawsuit until at least 2010. J.E.'s going to announce this tomorrow.

"J.E.'s going to announce this tomorrow."

If this statement is to believed, it's over. Completely over. Probably has been for some time, but some of us weren't ready to admit it. The last remaining fading chance is for candidates like Bill Sumerford or Erik Williams who unequivocally support single-member districts to get on the commission. But Sumerford's a withered, senior citizen tax-revoltest and Brother Jimmy will join a Wiccan coven before I vote for that. And Erik will have a hella hard time winning this battle by himself.

There are a zillion other reasons to vote for Erik2, and I do plan to vote for Martinez even though the knave is absolute and we will have to speak by the card, or equivocation will undo us.3 But, I mean, really, Ron freakin' Boyd?

The battle for single-member districts is over. We lost this one-- for now-- and it's time to live to fight another day. Take heart in the fact that the demographics of Amarillo are changing fast. The town is liberalizing, slowly-- very slowly-- but surely-- very surely--

Single-member districts is dead. Long live single-member districts. See you in 2010.


Underneath the chilly gray November sky,
We can make believe that Kennedy is still alive and
We're shooting for the moon and smiling Jackie's driving by and

They say "good try";
Tomorrow Wendy is going to die.4

1 Potter-Randall Democratic Club minutes, February 26, 2007
2 Disclaimer: I work for his campaign.
3 Hamlet. But you knew that.
4 Concrete Blonde, "Tomorrow Wendy", Bloodletting