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"For most Democrats, the fact that he ran as a Republican two years ago is the biggest strike against him," Gandy says.
Even the Stonewall Democrats, a gay and lesbian political club, were bothered by his party-hopping. "Yes, we were a little leery," says Christy Kinsler, the group's past president. "Democrats in general are not real trusting of people who used to be Republicans." Wightman-Cervantes had hoped the gay community would embrace him because of his civil rights work on its behalf. But nearly every gay and lesbian group around the state has instead endorsed Gandy. "Bobby comes across as brash and abrupt," Kinsler says. "Gandy has held elected office before, and he just looks more senatorial."
If his party-changing wasn't bad enough, his name-changing didn't exactly make him the candidate of choice for Democratic activists. In December, Wightman-Cervantes says, he informed state Democratic headquarters he intended to place his name on the ballot by adding his mother's maiden name to that of his father's last name, saying it was a well-established tradition within the Hispanic culture. "Everyone had full disclosure way in advance," he says. "There was no problem."
Wightman-Cervantes claims his decision was based on cultural reasons. "Anyone who knows me knows what a big part my Nicaraguan heritage plays in my life." Yet his timing smacks of political opportunism, which he reluctantly admits also factored into his thinking. "I am not stupid. Every time an Hispanic runs at the top of the ticket, the Hispanic community turns out."
But on January 27, he received a letter from Molly Beth Malcolm, the chair of the Texas Democratic Party, informing him that she had concluded that Cervantes was not part of his legal name. Therefore she was certifying him on the ballot as "Bobby Wightman."
Two days later, Wightman-Cervantes filed a lawsuit with the 3rd District Court of Appeals in Austin, asking that the name Bobby Wightman-Cervantes be placed on the ballot. He alleged that Malcolm violated the election code and had discriminated against him based on his Hispanic heritage. Both the state appeals court and the Texas Supreme Court denied his claims -- the name Bobby Wightman will appear on the Democratic primary ballot.
That didn't stop Wightman-Cervantes, who had his name changed legally and threatened to file a federal lawsuit if he didn't get his way. To him, this was just some backroom deal struck to placate the Tejano Democrats seeking retribution against him for representing Mexican-American Democrats.
"At the end of the day, the fact that Molly Beth Malcolm is an idiot and got herself into a battle between Tejano Democrats and MAD is not serving the Democratic Party," Wightman-Cervantes says.
Gandy sees this whole Cervantes issue as "Wightman's little tantrum," a distraction from who will be the best candidate to take on Kay Bailey Hutchison. "I was the one who asked the party to look into it," he says. "I knew that Wightman was misrepresenting himself, trying to pull a fast one."
Certainly the best candidate in the eyes of Democratic Party loyalists is Gandy. He has received the endorsement of every major Democratic group in the state, save the Mexican-American Democrats, who stand behind Wightman and his right to use the name Cervantes. Gandy says he is one of the few candidates in the race who is not "on medication" and considers Wightman-Cervantes "his own worst enemy. He rarely shows up for candidate forums, even after he agrees to be there."
But when he does show up, Wightman-Cervantes can stump with the best of them. "If I am elected, I will stand on the Senate floor from day one and humiliate everyone in the room until every woman in this country who is pregnant is guaranteed prenatal care. I will stand on that Senate floor and humiliate them until every child in this country has health insurance. I will stand on that Senate floor and humiliate them into using the budget surplus to make sure that every senior citizen never again has to go without medication. Charles Gandy is not going to do that. He's a politician. I'm not."
Although he has no money to speak of, and even less support, he intends to keep running as Cervantes and to carry the Hispanic vote on primary day, March 14. And if, by some amazing turn of fortune, he manages to tilt a windmill and win the Democratic primary, Kay Bailey Hutchison should take notice:
She may have her landslide victory come November, but she'll know she's been in one hell of a fight.