Sunday, May 5, 2019

Seven Takeaways from City Council Election

Richardson City Council election winners:
  • Place 1: Bob Dubey
  • Place 2: Mark Solomon (unopposed)
  • Place 3: Run-off: Janet DuPuy, Dan Barrios
  • Place 4: Kyle Kepner
  • Place 5: Ken Hutchenrider
  • Place 6: Steve Mitchell (unopposed)
  • Mayor: Paul Voelker (unopposed)

My congratulations to the winners and my sincere admiration to all who put themselves out there for voters to judge. I believe strongly in Theodore Roosevelt's words, "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena."

Now, on to this critic's takeaways. It's said that political pundits can always spin a story to explain any election results, no matter how close, in a way that makes it sound like the result was inevitable. So, which story do you want me to spin for you this year?

The Richardson Coalition PAC is Still the Champ.

In all four contested races, the candidate endorsed by the political action committee known as the Richardson Coalition finished first with a comfortable lead. Three won outright; Janet DePuy will face a run-off. You have to go back to before Boss Tweed took over Tammany Hall to find an election not swept by the Richardson Coalition PAC slate. They've vanquished the tea party, the independents, and now the Democrats. How long can their reign last?

Partisanship Doesn't Win Non-Partisan Elections.

What can I say? In 2016, Hillary Clinton out-polled Donald Trump in Congressional District 32, which includes Richardson. In 2018, Colin Allred defeated longtime Republican Congressman Pete Sessions in District 32. Also, in a result that shocked me, Democrat Ana-Maria Ramos defeated Republican Linda Koop in Texas House District 102, which includes some of Richardson. Given all that, you might think the Democrats could make inroads on the Richardson City Council. Working in concert with, and being endorsed as a slate by, Richardson Area Democrats and Ana-Maria Ramos, there was no doubt the Dems planned to win the non-partisan municipal races with a huge get-out-the-vote effort. Instead, they flopped badly, doing no better than the tea party candidates a few election cycles ago. I haven't conducted any exit polls, but if I were to flesh out this story in my mind, it would be one of voter backlash against a too visibly partisan campaign in a non-partisan election.

No Coattails in Place 3.

Scott Dunn ran for City Council unopposed since 2011, each time garnering the perfunctory endorsement of the Richardson Coalition PAC. This year, Dunn decided to step down, and bewilderingly, thought he had enough influence to pick his successor with his endorsement, despite, how shall we put it, Bimbogate. The Richardson Coalition PAC backed Janet DePuy, the Democrats backed Dan Barrios, and Dunn backed Franklin Byrd. Byrd was also backed by "Patriot Texas Conservative Activists", a fact I know because Byrd himself repeatedly posted the endorsement on Facebook. When the votes were counted, Byrd finished third in a three-person race. Without exit polls, it's impossible to say which hurt Byrd more, the lack of an endorsement by the Richardson Coalition PAC, or the actual endorsement by Dunn.

Check Your Own Closet Before Pointing at Others' Skeletons.

Let's just say, if the tsunami of Bimbogate took out Scott Dunn as a would-be power broker, the returning tide took out Johnny Lanzillo and Mauri Long as well.

Nice Guys Finish Last.

Hall of Fame baseball manager Leo Durocher is famous for saying, "Nice guys finish last." In my opinion, one of the nicest guys in this election was Raymond DeGuzman, Sr. True to Leo the Lip's aphorism, DeGuzman finished last. He did nothing to give himself any breathing room between Kyle Kepner on the right and Johnny Lanzillo on the left and ended up being squeezed from both sides.

Leo Durocher is Full of It.

Someone else squeezed from both sides was Janet DePuy. Dan Barrios, on the left, mailed voters an attack ad against her. And Franklin Byrd, on the right, repeatedly shared endorsements of himself by something called "Patriot Texas Conservative Activists." Nevertheless, DePuy proclaimed:
In this campaign, I have pledged to serve as an independent and nonpartisan voice for the residents of our city. Early in my campaign, I was approached by four separate Democratic leaders who asked that I run in Place 5 instead of Place 3, in order to help them “build their bench.” I declined this offer because I have no other agenda than what is right for Richardson.
Source: Janet DePuy.
That's not to say DePuy refused all endorsements. She was endorsed by both the Richardson Coalition PAC and by Amir Omar, who were on opposite sides of the bitter mayoral election of 2013. It's not the same left-right axis as Barrios/Byrd, but whatever direction the axis is, DePuy showed how you keep from getting squeezed on it. DePuy didn't win outright. She'll face a run-off against Dan Barrios. But it's hard seeing the conservatives who backed Byrd (and Dunn) switching to Democrats-backed Barrios in the run-off. More likely, they'll switch to DePuy to stop any chance of Barrios winning the run-off. In this case at least, it looks like the nice girl will finish first.

Let's Revisit the Code of Ethics

Three of the winning candidates, DePuy (or Barrios if he wins the run-off), Kepner, and Hutchenrider, are on record calling for a review of the Code of Ethics that failed us during the Maczka/Palisades scandal. DePuy and Kepner are on record calling for changes. Hutchenrider calls only for a review and hasn't necessarily committed to strengthening it before a review is completed. Bob Dubey and Mark Solomon have rejected the need for changes. That leaves Steve Mitchell and Mayor Paul Voelker to state their position. This election was anything but a change election, but we're close to a majority of the City Council recognizing that the old way of running things failed us and is in need of change. Three is not yet enough, but it's a little something to celebrate and build on.

Happy Cinco de Mayo, everyone. To all candidates, win or lose, sit back and enjoy a well-deserved margarita.


Mark Steger said...

In private, someone objected to me saying, "the Democrats backed Dan Barrios."
When I say "Democrats" I am speaking of people who identify as Democrats, whether acting separately or collectively in groups like "Richardson Area Democrats." I don't mean to imply backing by all Democrats or official backing from, say, the "Democratic Party of Texas."

Janine said...

Lots of good advice here for candidates in the future. I hope they read it.
I'm fiscally conservative, vote split ticket, and truly hoped at least one fresh (read: Democratic) seat would have been won.
If for nothing else it could have raised awareness/participation in the future for those other than the small percentage who voted in this election.
Always low voter turnout. Had hoped that this election would actively engage our community's vocal Dems who espouse diversity and progressto actually vote for diversity and change.
Still the same, but maybe some baby steps taken to catch up with the times.
Great post.

Jeffrey Levine said...

"Someone objected..." to your sweeping claim about "the Democrats", yet you persisted in making it. Please add my name to those who object. You state in your [lame] disclaimer in the Comments, "I don't mean to imply all Democrats", and despite this, you proceed to do exactly that, as if "the Democrats" are a homogeneous group who hold identical beliefs and behave or act in identical ways.

I wonder if you've thought this through, as in my view you are employing the language of bigotry. It's the sort of language used by persons who are make sweeping generalizations about diverse groups, based on a single unifying characteristic, e.g. race, or ethnicity, or party affiliation, , as if they are all the same.

Substitute any other group name into your sentence, and how does it sound?: The Hispanics backed Dan Barrios. (Yes, all of them.) The Muslims backed Janet DePuy. The Evangelicals backed Franklyn Byrd. The Jews.... The Catholics.... I can just hear Rush Limbaugh's strident voice making some sweeping accusation about "The Democrats [this]", or "The liberals [that]". These sorts of statements encourage animosity, no matter how they are intended. And did I also hear you condemning imposition of partisanship on an ostensibly non-partisan election. My, how holy art thou.

I realize that the divisive, polarizing language of partisan politics has become normalized in the present political climate, but that doesn't mean we should indulge in it.

Mark Steger said...

Jeffrey Levine, good points. Despite not meaning to make sweeping generalizations, I understand how my language could be inferred. I will try to be more careful in future.

Mark Steger said...

In private, someone objected to me saying, "In this case at least, it looks like the nice girl will finish first."

I used "girl" only in contrast to my earlier takeaway in which I used Leo Durocher's quote, "Nice guys finish last." Guys and girls. Get it? That's all. In hindsight, I can see how me trying to be clever could instead be read as me being disrespectful. I meant no disrespect to Janet DePuy. I apologize.

Jeffrey Levine said...

Mark Steger, Thanks for your sympathetic response. On re-reading my Comment, I'm not happy with the wording and tone. It's so hard to do this properly. Often I think I've got it "right", and then on re-reading, find that I failed.

One of the reasons I responded as I did is that this is already a "sensitive issue" for me. I suspect (although I don't know) that you were unwittingly swept up in what has become "normalized" approach on the internet of treating heterogeneous political groups (e.g. Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative) as if they are all the same. Just to be clear, this happens from both extremes of the political spectrum, although I'm particularly sensitive toward demonization of "libs".

In an effort to promote more civil dialog, Facebook has recently adopted standards for "objectionable content" described here Facebook Standards on Objectionable Content. These guidelines include the following language:

We do not allow hate speech on Facebook because it creates an environment of intimidation and exclusion and in some cases may promote real-world violence.
We define hate speech as a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics — race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disease or disability.

That's all very good, as far as it goes, but it notably excludes political affiliation. Why should politics be excluded? As anyone who uses the internet will be aware, some of the nastiest, most hostile language involves attacks against political groups. How is that fundamentally different from "religion", which is partly inherited, but ultimately a matter of choice and personal beliefs?

I'm actually trying to organize a community effort to try to tone down political rhetoric and encourage more respectful dialog, so it's particularly important that I adhere to my own principles. Unfortunately, it's all too easy to get caught up in the negative tone, often when offended sensibilities are involved. As ever, I'll try to do better.

Mark Steger said...

Jeffrey Levine, you might find this old blog post interesting: "Lessons From Jeffrey Weiss".

Mark Steger said...

Update: June 9, 2019: Janet DePuy beat Dan Barrios in the runoff for Place 3 by just 82 votes, despite leading Barrios by 494 votes in the May 4 election. A lot more DePuy voters stayed away from the polls for the runoff than Barrios voters did. The obvious takeaway is not to take runoffs for granted.