Perhaps the second most famous line from Dr. Martin Luther King’s “March on Washington” speech stated that one day, we would all be measured not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.
Some in Dallas, it would seem, have yet to grasp the concept.
Many local minority politicians have made a career in playing the race card. They foster a perception that Dallas is largely run by a white political establishment that ignores minority neighborhoods. By doing so, they manage to convince many to vote for them solely on the idea that because they share a common racial heritage, they are protecting their interests.
Likewise, many local Latino politicians expect blind devotion from Latino voters. That belief will be tested this fall when Ken Mayfield, a Dallas County Commissioner, faces a challenge from Elba Garcia, a former city council member. Elected to office in 1994, Mayfield has earned a reputation as a fierce public watchdog, ensuring county residents get quality services for their tax dollars.
I got to know Commissioner Mayfield over six years ago, when appointed me as a citizen representative on the board of the Dallas County Historical Foundation, which oversees the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. Having seen Mayfield work first hand, I have no problem supporting his reelection. I knew doing so would lead to criticism, because I am supporting him over Garcia, who fancies herself a pillar of the local Latino community.
Several years ago, Garcia was stepping down from her district 1 city council seat because of term limits, and had endorsed a close friend, a Latina businesswoman, as her successor. Since District 1 in Dallas is over 80% Latino, with boundaries specifically drawn to ensure a Hispanic majority, it was considered an automatic win for a non-white candidate and guaranteed racial diversity on the city council. The race attracted several other Latino candidates, and one Anglo, a man named Justin Epker, who was given little chance of winning because of his race. I found Justin to be the most qualified candidate and decided to support him.
Around that time, I wrote an opinion column for a local Dallas newspaper, which asked other minority residents to consider more than race when voting. One of the Latino candidates for the District 1 seat, someone I went to high school with, called me out publicly for endorsing a white candidate instead of him or another Latino. I was told that voting Latino was one step in making up for past injustices, and I was betraying our race by voting for a white man.
Epker did garner some Latino supporters and forced a runoff, which he lost in a close vote to Garcia’s handpicked successor. Even though he lost the runoff, Epker proved Latino voters are capable of voting for a person, not just a color.
Those of us who refuse to blindly support “La Raza” (our race) are often called names, including “coconut” (brown on the outside, white on the inside). Such names don’t bother me, because for too long, our community has suffered from incompetent representation, who seek their own advancement over achieving tangible results for the people they represent. I will not vote for someone just because we share a heritage.
I cannot vote for Elba Garcia because her actions seem motivated by personal gain, not a drive to serve. She only recently moved into a million dollar home in Mayfield’s district, making her eligible to run. During her primary race, Garcia’s campaign set up a table outside a polling place and passed out breakfast tacos to voters, who were then asked to vote for her. Such actions violate federal election laws, even if it is a matter of trying to buy votes with tacos. The district attorney, a Garcia supporter, never investigated the matter.
Such is the state of politics in Dallas, where the same politicians make the rounds of political offices to remain employed and votes are bought with breakfast tacos. When decent public servants like Ken Mayfield seek our vote, they are dismissed simply because they aren’t the right race. I only hope that voters get so tired of the state of our city that they will stop checking the color of one’s skin and start looking for any content of character.
Sources: The Advocate, Dallas Economic Development Fact Sheet, Dallas Morning News, Morning News:Epker/Jasso Runoff, Morning News: Garcia Campaign Offers Free Food