The Stinking Democratic Process

A poster boy for revenge of the primaries: disgraced and resigned
 former House Majority Leader Tom Delay.

There’s good white-tailed-deer hunting in Uvalde, and his family ranch, 70 miles from here, is something visceral and real that Ricardo Martinez can count on this November — unlike the justice-of-the-peace seat that seemed all his after he beat incumbent Judge Saul Acevedo, 6,564 votes to 5,697, in this year’s Democratic primary. Because there isn’t a Republican candidate for the Precinct 1, Place 2 race, Martinez needed just one vote to win the November 7 general election.

But the votes turned against him after the March primary: At least on the five-person Bexar County Commissioners Court, who voted unanimously in August to abolish the part-time justice-of-the-peace office (the part-time clerk will be reassigned; the deputy acting as part-time bailiff could be policing the streets), citing too few downtown parking violations and betrothals, too few truant kids and tenant-landlord tiffs, to justify the judicial expense of $100,000 for another Precinct 1, Place 2 year.

“It’s all a political vendetta,” Martinez says. The 57-year-old proceeds to detail the kind of politico run-ins racked up by someone who’s spent more than 25 years whipping up votes in Southside neighborhoods as a Democratic precinct chair. Maybe he endorsed the wrong guy. Maybe he made an unsuccessful run for office against someone’s friend. (He lost the 2002 District 4 City Council race to Enrique “Kike” Martin, whose mere mention provides us with today’s where-are-they-now moment: Wasn’t Kike’s 13-month sentence over in June?)

And Martinez, a substance-abuse counselor, guards his checkbook — a quality that doesn’t keep the machine greased (speaking of Kike … ).

“I made a presentation back in April,” said Jo Ann Ramon, of the Bexar County Democrats Coordinated Campaign. “Anybody who was opposed on the ballot who wanted to pool resources was asked to donate $5,000. Ricardo Martinez wasn’t even opposed; we didn’t expect him to participate,” she said.

Nonetheless, as late as June Martinez received letters — signed by County Judge Nelson Wolff and County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson — asking him to join the Coordinated Campaign. Checks could be made out to “Vote Texas.”

Ramon says eliminating the JP seat had nothing to do with her or fundraising, and that she was surprised Martinez didn’t see which way the wind was blowing during his campaign. “With Ricardo, he’s run for office beaucoup of times,” Ramon told the Current. “He’s never won, and then he finally wins and they abolish the position. I feel sorry for him.”

Pity? What Martinez wants is to be on the ballot. Which is why civil-rights attorney Ed Piña is working up a legal challenge (which, by the way, caused the district attorney to shut down the Current’s information-gathering and claim a judiciary privilege in order to build the county’s defense). Then there’s the U.S. Department of Justice, who, because of the Voting Rights Act and Texas’s historical penchant for disenfranchising voters (see “The Wild Cards,” below) must perform an administrative review before the office can be officially abolished. The DOJ has until late October to render a verdict.

“Over 12,000 people took the time to vote, and that needs to be respected,” Martinez says, his mouth taking on a slack look of incredulity. “You can’t just say, ‘Nevermind, thank you.’”

DeLay and the Bungled F**k You
“There doesn’t seem to be justice,” former House Majority Leader Thomas Dale DeLay, 59, told Houston’s KTRK-TV last week. Really. (This from the guy who was investigated for official misconduct so many times in 2005 that, instead of cleaning up his act, he thought to himself, “What better time to try to restrict House Ethics Committee power by making it impossible for Democrats to launch ethics investigations unless at least one trusted GOP member joins in the finger-pointing.” Boo.)

And what has shaken DeLay’s faith in the judiciary? Three months after the incumbent won the Republican primary for Sugar Land’s Congressional District 22, he quit his job. He tried to put as much distance as possible between himself, state money-laundering charges, and the Jack Abramoff scandal by holing up 1,232 miles (as the crow flies) from his Houston-area home, at a condominium he’s owned for a dozen years in Alexandria, Virginia.

Everything in DeLay’s 22-year Congressional tenure says bowing out before the November general election was a manipulative effort to let state GOP insiders handpick a Republican replacement — without having to go through the competitive bother of elections. But the robes over at the U.S. District Court in Austin, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court have a little more regard for our state election laws and wouldn’t aid in the effort to have DeLay replaced. Long-story short: DeLay withdrew his candidacy (“Current circumstances, of which you are very much aware, compel me to take this action,” DeLay writes accusingly in his August 11 letter to Texas’s Secretary of State); now the Republicans’ only hope is a write-in candidate with three hard-to-spell names (Obi Wan Kenobi?) who won’t appear on the electronic ballot screen, leaving the Democratic candidate — former U.S. Representative Nick Lampson, who lost his Beaumont seat because of DeLay-engineered, mid-decade congressional redistricting — to face a Libertarian (Bob Smither) on the eSlate machine.

(On a related note: Strom Thurmond was the first person elected to a major U.S. office by a write-in ballot. It was the 1954 South Carolina race for Senate, back when Thurmond was a post-Reconstruction Democrat.)

The Wild Cards
The Current imagines Rick Bolanos feels like a man who bought a living-room set at an estate sale, got home, and realized all the furniture was smoke-damaged.

At one time, Bolanos was the only Dem-ocratic choice (sacrifice) for a face-off against seven-term GOP incumbent Henry Bonilla in Congressional District 23, which was redrawn last month to include parts of the heavily Democratic South Side. Bolanos won the March primary and got fellow veteran John Kerry’s endorsement. But last week, he and five other Dems trailblazed up to Austin and paid a $3,200 filing fee — add that to the $3,200 fee Bolanos paid prior to the primary (and the $20,000 he’s spent campaigning in some places which are now no longer part of the redesigned CD-23). Bolanos could’ve taken the cheap, grassroots approach and shown up with 1,000 signatures to get into the Election Day all-party primary gratis — like John Courage, who won the Democratic primary for CD-21, which now includes some of Eastside and North-Central San Antonio, and still features Lamar Smith as the GOP incumbent who beat Courage four years ago.

The problems of a primary winner don’t amount to a hill of beans at the U.S. Supreme Court. Texas is lucky the court even took notice of a single district — although it is hard to ignore 100,000 Hispanic Laredo voters shifted en masse out of Bonilla’s old CD-23 during the DeLay redistricting.

And though the Texas Democratic Party is celebrating CD-23 as a new “opportunity district,” keep these milk-curdling thoughts in mind: The straight-ticket vote won’t affect the special congressional elections. There are wild cards from the same party, particularly in CD-23. “You know, everybody and their uncle is in this race now,” said Bolanos who, since former congressman and fellow Democrat Ciro Rodriguez announced his candidacy, is looking a lot like the discontinued Dell DJ Ditty to Rodriguez’s Apple iPod Shuffle. (You remember Rodriguez; in 2004 he was the incumbent, and lost the CD-28 Democratic primary to Henry Cuellar by 58 votes.) Then there’s the caveat that if no one wins 50 percent of the vote, they go to a December runoff.

Who could oust Bonilla with a two-month campaign? A good birthday party you can organize in two months (mojitos and mariachis), but a successful special election saturated with non-GOP candidates in one tangled bank?

Let’s hope Iowa and New Hampshire swallow their caucus pride and embrace the Democratic National Committee’s plan for additional presidential primaries in Nevada and South Carolina, so we don’t have to endure a mucked-up presidential nominating process, too.


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