DALLAS – It’s a bad time to be a politician in Dallas. The current wave of anger and mistrust in our public officials may have many origins, but at least one cause is the blatant lack of concern shown in conflict of interest cases. In a number of recent cases, local politicians are the beneficiaries of their own decisions. In those cases, the voting public, whose needs should be a politician’s first priority, are left on the outside looking in as a powerful “inner circle” seem to make all of the gains.
Such actions by politicians have led to movements like the Tea Party, in which voters toss out established elected officials, regardless of political affiliation, in favor of viable candidates without political ties or special interests to answer to. Voters seem to prefer competence and an “outsider” status over experience.
Rather than making an effort to appear uncompromised, local politicians seem to embrace the idea of reaping personal benefits without fear of the public turning against them. Recently, a group of Dallas minority council members tried to give a political donor a lucrative contract for Love Field concessions without allowing other companies the chance to bid on the contract as well. The donor, Gilbert Aranza, not only gave money to all of the council members that supported awarding the contract to him, State Senator Helen Giddings and U.S. Senator Eddie Bernice Johnson also owned a stake in the company.
When confronted over accusations that they were giving a sweetheart deal to a supporter, all the politicians involved played the race card, accusing white council members of political sabotage. Their efforts eventually failed, but no one ever admitted that their efforts even had the slightest tinge of favoritism. Council member Carolyn Davis even said she will exact some form of political revenge on Mayor Tom Leppert for not supporting her and the other minority council members.
While things are bad on the city level, conflicts of interest on the county level may be worse. District attorney Craig Watkins has been questioned over a title company he owns that may have been used to commit fraud in a case where a family lost their home. Watkins has also been accused of doing legal work outside of his district attorney job, a violation of law. He evens refuses to investigate corruption charges against county constables that he counts as political allies. In all instances, Watkins has stonewalled efforts to investigate the matters.
Elba Garcia, who is running for Dallas county commissioner, is hoping voters won’t notice her conflicts of interest. When questioned by The Dallas Morning News about the efforts by current county commissioners to investigate corruption among county constables, Garcia said “I believe the court overstepped the boundaries of their authority and responsibilities by funding a civil investigation into the county constables. The commissioners court does not have the authority to conduct a criminal investigation. The civil investigation that was ordered by the court was a waste of county resources.”
What Garcia failed to mention was that her husband, Domingo Garcia, is the defense attorney representing Jaime Cortes, the constable at the center of the scandal, who eventually resigned from office. The Garcias have strong political ties to many of the constables, so it is no surprise Elba Garcia opposes investigating them, which would make her husband’s life harder. Worse yet, The Dallas Morning News never questioned her possible conflict of interest in the case.
No voter should assume that any politician or media outlet is giving them the whole story. Before casting a vote in November, voters should look into the motivations of all the candidates on the ballot. Find out who their donors are, who their political allies are, and where they stand on issues. Look past rhetoric, campaign slogans, and literature you get in the mail. Are politicians like Carolyn Davis, Craig Watkins, and Elba Garcia worthy of our vote?
Sources: Dallas Morning News, Love Field Concession Issue, Craig Watkins issue, DMN Voter Guide