Southern Dallas Voter Editorial leads to Letter from Commissioner John Wiley Price

There’s a pretty good little dust up going on at the Dallas Morning News Opinion Blog. It revolves around low voter turnout in Southern Dallas for last week’s election. The comments section has digressed into a discussion of DISD and ironically enough this post will too.

OK, so here are a few excerpts from the Editorial Piece on voter turnout (Southern Dallas Squanders Election Opportunity).

  • When it comes to choosing leaders for southern Dallas, Saturday’s election results offer troubling insights into voters’ vision of the future. The people haven’t spoken; they yawned.
  • Of particular concern was District 7 anchored in historic South Dallas, where seven challengers ran to unseat incumbent City Council member Carolyn Davis. Still, only 3,939 voters showed up – barely 1 in 10 of those registered – and Davis got into a June 13 runoff against Dallas schools trustee Ron Price.
  • District 7 voters passed up the opportunity to elect the Rev. Donald Parish, whose record of leadership made him the best choice. This newspaper cannot, in good faith, recommend Davis or Price for a job neither deserves.
  • When southern Dallas residents complain about lousy code enforcement, crumbling streets or lack of jobs, the first question they must ask themselves is what they have done to improve their own lives. The No. 1 action available is to study candidates’ record and vote.

And here are parts of Commissioner Price’s response:

  • Your editorial was a biting indictment of southern-sector voters. It is one that I believe was one-sided and unfair, especially to your readers who don’t know this city’s history.
  • As a longtime student of Dallas’ political machinations, I can tell you that money drives voters…..Traditionally, campaigns north of the Trinity are funded at least 10 times that of their southern counterparts — whether they produce the votes or not.
  • There is no excuse, and I share your concern that the voting bloc was too low in southern Dallas. However, I would remind you that when there is an initiative that must be approved, South Dallas comes through.

Price goes on to suggests that Belo -the parent company of The Morning News- has been one of the biggest benefactors of Southern Dallas voters via the American Airlines Center (which Belo 8 sits in front of) and the Convention Center Hotel which will lie near a number of Belo properties.

My take…..the tone of the Morning News editorial board was a bit extreme and I’m guessing it has something to do with the time the feel they’ve invested in Southern Dallas. I’m not a big fan of the Editorial endorsement/recommendation, even though their thoughts on District 7 aren’t far off. But giving Southern Dallas voters a pen lashing isn’t accomplishing much in my opinion.

Someone asked me why none of the young candidates that I supported in Southern Dallas were able to break through. My theory was that the council as a whole has been better than it’s individual parts. The fact that meetings no longer degenerate into shouting matches and near brawls is progress – unfortunately.

In one of my Rants on Channel 8’s Inside Texas Politics, I suggested that Dallas deserves better leadership. I still believe that. But if Dallas voters -especially in South Dallas’ District 7- don’t agree with me, I’m not of a mind to chastise them for it.

It’s frustrating across the board, but the young guns knew it was going to take unusually high voter turnout to help them get over the hump. They were expecting some of the Obama voters coming back to the polls for a May municipal election. Didn’t happen.

Last year, Roland Martin suggested we should vote on the first Saturday of November for the Presidential Election. Sounds good in theory, but if the goal is to increase voter turnout, you’d only get a slight change. Those who want to vote find a way. With 32 states allowing no excuse pre-Election Day voting, how much of a difference could moving the general to Saturday really make? Saturday didn’t do candidates any favors here last week.

Still while Southern Dallas was called out, the turnout here wasn’t that different from the rest of Dallas County.

Dallas County Voting May 9, 2009

10.61 %

I talked to friends last Saturday in every part of North Texas who sat out municipal elections. Meanwhile my pregnant wife wobbled in (sorry sweetie) to T.W. Browne and cast her vote in the District 3 Council race and on Props 1 & 2.

Like Commissioner Price said: there is no excuse. Southern Dallas -or anywhere with a high African-American population concentration- should have double the turnout as other parts of town on election day. After the poll taxes, grandfather clauses and voter intimidation that our forefathers endured, black folks should run to the ballot box even if they take the Brewster’s Millions approach: None of the Above.

But that’s not the case and it’s sad. And it makes the job of community advocates that much harder because not only do have you have to fight the proverbial man (a.k.a. institutional racism), but also the internal apathy that plagues our community.

Today on Freddie Haynes Unscripted Pastor Haynes was discussing how President Obama’s stimulus package affects DISD and how the better funding of schools could help the districts poor graduations rates.  He did this in honor of the 55th Anniversary of Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education.

There is absolutely no doubt that inner city schools need a makeover. In our neighborhood, waking on the campus of Justin Kimball and T.W. Browne is like stepping back into the 50’s. It’s shameful, and yet the teachers there make the best of what they’ve got. Schools like Kimball exist across the U.S., and their students deserve to have access to the latest and greatest technology.

Yet if parents do not become partners in the education system, then the gains made by these investments will only be incremental. We’ve got to stop making pointing the finger in one direction without looking at the problems on the other end as well.

Ironically enough I just listened to a sermon that my Uncle Jimmy has been hounding me about for a couple of months now. It was more of a lecture by Dr. Mack King Carter at the National Baptist Convention USA’s Congress of Christian Education. Carter preached a familiar text from Genesis -The Creation Story- that was also the foundation of Dr. Juwanzaa Kunjufu’s book. Dr. Carter’s thesis: No Excuses.

Until we expect better from one another -to be better neighbors, better stewards, better consumers, better builders, better voters- our community won’t be taken seriously. Our voting muscles should not be reserved for “big ticket” items and national elections. As the great Pogo said: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

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