Dem Dam: Candidates we won't hear in primary debate tonight

Greg Harman

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When North Texas television news anchor Karen Borta earnestly shoots her first question to the Democratic candidates for Texas Governor at tonight's debate, there is no risk viewers will find themselves assaulted with any rants about “foreign”-owned motels proliferating across the state or schooled on the secret plan to scrap the American dollar for a multi-national currency called the Amero.

Thanks to KERA's decision to whittle down a seven-way race to a mere two candidates, we're going to sidestep a dollop of race baiting and conspiracy theory, evident in the campaigns of Bill Dear and Star Locke.

Locke (left) is the only (I hope) candidate boasting multiple images of mushroom clouds on his campaign site.

But with nearly three quarters of the candidates excluded from what will likely be the only Democratic primary debate we get, we'll also be missing the chance to hear San Antonio doctor Alma Aguado decry the injustices of NAFTA at home and abroad or consider Dallas teacher Felix Alvarado's pitch to slash our school drop-out rates.

Instead, there will only be two flavors of thought to choose from: three-term Houston Mayor Bill White and Houston-based hair care magnate Farouk Shami.

KERA states on its website that the other five candidates failed to meet the station's three-part criteria for inclusion.

Those qualifications include:

1. A candidate must have met all legal qualifications required by the State of Texas to appear on the ballot and be eligible for office.

2. A candidate must be actively campaigning for election in the jurisdiction he or she is seeking to represent. To meet the definition of an active campaign, a candidate would need to establish a campaign headquarters with a paid and/or volunteer staff; generate public interest, such as being invited to speak at public gatherings and obtaining monetary contributions; and have a campaign that would be sufficiently newsworthy to warrant coverage by the media.

3. Polls are a measure of voter interest. If a candidate receives a minimum of a 6% rating in an established, nonpartisan poll or an average of established, nonpartisan polls, the candidate will be presumed to be newsworthy. Voter interest may also be measured by the amount of votes cast for a candidate, and so a candidate would have to receive a minimum of 6% of votes in a previous election for the same office or a comparable office.

It's a limited-attention-span chicken-and-the-egg dilemma. A newborn candidate can't gain the needed cash to run a competitive race without first gaining exposure; and exposure comes easiest with the donations gained from it. The formula penalizes candidates who, like White, are not established politicians with an established pool of donors to tap, or millionaires willing to flush their own funds into the campaign hole as has Shami.

Dr. Aguado wasn't taking her exclusion quietly, taking it all the way up to KERA's â?¦ director of multi-media services?

In a February 1 letter to star techie Rick Thompson, Aguado comes a hair away from decrying her exclusion as racist.

Complaining about the policy allowing a candidate to be excluded for not fielding 6 percent support in a statewide poll, Aguado wrote:

Please inform the sponsors of Kera Unlimited committee that I have one of the largest and more sucesfull `sik` Internal medicine practices in San Antonio, Texas and 96% of my patients are Hispanic, very few of my patients knows how to open a computer, or enter into Google, or file or edit, or insert or format. Many do not even speak English. 

Research Evidence indicates that minorities and the poor are less likely to own computers and have Internet access than are whites and more affluent people (Attawell, 252).

She goes on to school Thompson in a ream of digital-inclusion issues; issues that play to the advantage of strong online campaigns like Mayor White's. Unfortunately, the schooling she offers is cut straight off a University of Texas webpage.

Plagiarism aside, her spirit is in the right place.

DeAnne Cuellar, executive director of the San Antonio-based non-profit Media Justice League, agrees with Aguado's message on exclusion.

Poverty rates in San Antonio and South Texas are reflected in low levels of online access, Cuellar said. “It is a race issue for us â?¦ and the communities we work with because it's impossible for us to ignore that the majority of people who are feeling the disparities are overwhelmingly people of color. It makes it a racial issue.”

“If the government is going to move on the Internet, then the community needs to move on the Internet, as well,” Cuellar said. “If we're voting and we're putting agendas online and yet your community doesn't have access to the Internet, what sort of community is that. What does that say?”

And if we're talking telephone surveys, the last poll (pdf) we're aware of was taken back when Tom Schieffer, Ronnie Earle, and Kinky Friedman were making gormandizing growls after Perry's perch and 55 percent of Dems were undecided. Heck, by this standard, neither White nor Shami have kickstand-legs to lean on for their own inclusion.

Dallas teacher and former San Antonian Felix Alvarado (left) bagged two-percent of that November poll, but was still excluded from the shuffle. The rejection came by Fed Ex last week, he said.

In an effort to achieve some clarity, we called KERA and were transferred to the director of viewer services who said the only person who would be able to comment was busy prepping for the debate. “But you're welcome to leave a message.”

Alvarado has experienced similar troubles.

“We called them several times and we have been emailing them, calling them, but they always let us talk to a secretary, and the secretary says, â??Go to our website and the website will tell you the criteria and you don't meet the criteria,'” Alvarado said.

The only failed criteria he can pinpoint is his lack of money.

“I have been out there, throughout almost all the state â?¦ We were going on the premise that we had a good message and that people would respond,” he said. “You know the DNC and the Democratic Party are involved in this. And White is the anointed one.”

For our part, we'd like to hear from the full range of candidates â?? even if Lockheed Martin, which underwrote one of the Republican debates, has to pay for an additional hour of commercial-free television.

While Aguado's website is littered with the sort of grammatical errors that make it hard to take her campaign seriously, I'd bear a thousand errors of capitalization for the chance to hear the only candidate I know of proposing cutting trade agreements that fail to provide adequate environmental protections for workers in Central America.

Plus, the elusive Facebook candidate for Governor, Clement Glenn, said to be a “coordinator of a family and community violence prevention after-school program in Houston's fifth ward,” could have supplied a deeply needed urban voice to the mix.

Hell, throw â??em all together with the guy and his mushroom clouds. Democracy is made to be messy.

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