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(L-R) Bruce Austin, Dave Wilson (L-R) Bruce Austin, Dave Wilson
13 November 2013 Written by  Jeffrey L. Boney

A NATIONAL SPECTACLE: Local Race Makes Houston The Laughingstock of America

All eyes have been on the city of Houston over the past week because of one recent political race that has garnered national attention and shocked many outside observers.

 If you haven’t heard the story by now, let us bring you up to speed.

In a complete shocker to many political observers, incumbent Houston Community College System (HCCS) District II Trustee Bruce Austin, who is Black, was defeated by his challenger Dave Wilson, who is White, by only 26 votes (Wilson-5,961 votes/Austin-5,935 votes).

Austin has served in his position on the HCCS Board of Trustees since 1989, and was chairman from 1990 to 1992 and again from 2000 to 2002.

That experience and tenure wasn’t enough to overcome the strategy used by Wilson to win the election; a strategy that many people are calling deceptive and appalling.

Wilson, who had unsuccessfully run in several different local political races prior to this one, decided to take a shot at the HCCS Trustee job, even though he knew he was running in an overwhelmingly black district. 

What was his strategy?  Wilson implemented a strategy to subtly convince voters that he was black; a strategy that proved successful.

This story has garnered national attention from appearing in the Huffington Post; national news outlets such as MSNBC; and being turned into a major comedy bit on the “Jimmy Kimmel Show” this past Monday.

“The national attention being given to my legitimate victory is being misdirected from the real reason why my opponent lost,” said Wilson. “I ran on my opponent’s record of not providing scholarships to the needy children in this district, cutting backroom deals with downtown power brokers and spending money overseas when Houston Community College’s enrollment is down and tuition is up.  That is the real reason I ran and I have been an advocate in the community on these issues for years.”

While Wilson is claiming legitimate victory, he admittedly states that he knew what he was doing and was not sure if the strategy he implemented would really work.

Well it did!

Wilson sent campaign fliers to community members that used stock photos of African-Americans with messages like, “Please vote for our friend and neighbor, Dave Wilson.”

One of the most impressive illusions performed, was a mailer that was sent to voters indicating that Wilson was being endorsed by “Ron Wilson.”  This is important to note, because many Houstonians remember former African-American state Rep. Ron Wilson, who helped create the Texas Human Rights Commission and who led the fight to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a recognized holiday in the state. Interestingly enough, Wilson wasn’t lying about being endorsed by “Ron Wilson.” The “Ron Wilson” he was talking about being endorsed by, however, was actually a cousin, with the same name, who lives in Iowa and who Wilson grew up playing baseball with.

Wilson said that the people in his district are not stupid and takes offense to any argument that the voters in his district are not intelligent voters. Wilson claims that in spite of him using this tactic to seek elected office, he believes that the voters in his district are more concerned about what he plans to do as the new HCCS Trustee going forward rather than whether he deceived them about being Black in order to get their votes. 

After the results came in showing that he lost, Austin stated that he was “disgusted” by the mailers and that he would possibly pursue a recount, since he lost by 26-votes.  Austin tried to provide a response to the mailer, which clearly caught him off guard, with his own fliers showing Wilson’s face, calling him a “right-wing hate monger” and saying he “advocated bringing back chain gangs to clean highways.”

Wilson says that he didn’t run to hurt the Black community, because he is a Republican.

“That is an absolute lie,” said Wilson. “My opponent sent out a mailer to the entire district, with my picture on it, informing everyone that I was White. Voters were tired of Bruce Austin’s inability to lead and represent the district, and they voted for me because of that.”

Many in the community have asked how an elected official, who has been in office since 1989 in a predominately African-American district, could allow anyone to come in and “fool” the voters into voting for someone else.   

While many people believe that the election results are reflection of Wilson’s deceptive tactics, there are many others who believe that the results are a reflection of the fact that voters wanted someone other than Austin to be their elected representative. There were 26 more people who voted for Wilson than they did for Austin, so only those 11,896 voters that voted in that political race can tell us why they voted the way they did.

When asked how he planned to handle the needs of his new constituents, Wilson said that he will fight for them the same way he would want someone to fight for him.

“My commitment to the district is making sure we have a strong and educated workforce and increasing the amount of scholarship money that goes to students in this district,” said Wilson.

You get what you vote for and elections are too important to overlook and ignore. Many people believe this outcome and this national attention, is just the sort of kick-in-the-butt result that Black folks need in order to wake up and get engaged in the political process.