God only knows

Henry Cuellar: D or R?

In the good ol' days of separation of church and state, God was invited only to inaugurations and Congressional inquiries; anyplace else, he had to crash the party with the rest of the interlopers. But these days, He's invited to every governmental wingding, no matter how mundane, including Henry Cuellar's ribbon-cutting ceremony last Saturday at his new East Side office on WW White Road. (Hopefully God noticed the idle, dilapidated shopping center across the street; it could use some help.)

"Bless Henry Cuellar as he pursues his efforts to serve his people," said the black-clad monsignor, his face flushed from the devilish heat. "Dear Lord, You know his record and his work. You know his truth and honesty and sincerity."

Apparently, God knows something that U.S. Representative Ciro Rodriguez and his supporters do not. After five months of contesting one of the closest races in Texas history - 58 votes - last week Rodriguez conceded the March primary, having failed to convince the Texas Supreme Court to put aside a technicality and examine whether empty houses, vacant lots, and moldy cadavers had voted for Cuellar. (Note to campaign staff: Register that empty shopping center across WW White Road.)

And the six metal ballot boxes that suddenly turned up in Zapata County a month after the primary must be part of a divine plan that constituents of the 28th District will have to accept as a matter of faith.

Cuellar, the official Democratic nominee for the 28th Congressional District, navigated the crowd that had huddled under a tree and were cooling themselves with paper fans emblazoned with Cuellar's face.

"I met you at Southside Middle School," greeted one supporter.

A moment passed as Cuellar tried to place her.

"Yes, you did," he said, smiling.

"Are you doing all right?" he repeated, as he shook hands, slapped backs, and pecked people on the cheek in the receiving line.

People were beginning to melt into puddles on the asphalt, so Cuellar, his sleeves rolled up Howard Dean-style, launched into his speech, spending precious political capital to declare that "I believe in health care, education, and economic development."

"We will have a Democrat win this seat," he added, referring to Republican opponent Jim Hopson of Seguin. "But we will take him seriously. We won't take anything for granted."

Can Democrats take for granted that Cuellar is not a Republican? "That is the $64,000 question," a party insider noted a few days before the shindig. Cuellar endorsed George W. Bush for president in 2000, and was appointed as Secretary of State by Republican Governor Rick Perry, a dubious pedigree that Cuellar has yet to adequately explain.

Cuellar could be attracting voters from both sides of the aisle. A suspicious SUV parked adjacent to Cuellar's office (it didn't appear on the street until the ceremony, and given its Alamo Heights School Foundation window sticker, it's unlikely to belong to anyone in this East Side neighborhood) sported a bumper sticker on its back: Bush/Cheney.

Democrat or Republican? God only knows. •

By Lisa Sorg