Butt Naked

Jesse Jones, emperor of Singing Hills, had no clothes, it seems

To the extent black Dallas is southern Dallas--and I'm not sure how much water that cliché still holds--then black Dallas wants to be known as a solid bloc these days.

I see a crack.

Southern Dallas did defeat two recent ballot propositions for so-called "strong mayor" reforms at City Hall. In the March 7 Democratic primary, southern Dallas did make Craig Watkins the Democratic nominee in the race for district attorney. But those elections had a lot to do with solidarity against people perceived as invaders from the north.

Barbara Mallory Caraway, in a photo of uncertain vintage
Barbara Mallory Caraway, in a photo of uncertain vintage

What happens when there are no blue-bellies at the gates? How solid is the bloc, and how strong a hold on southern Dallas voters does the traditional southern Dallas leadership hold? Judging by the District 110 Texas House race, I'd say less than it thinks, less than it used to.

In that contest Barbara Mallory Caraway should have gotten her butt kicked up one side of the block and down the other, and Jesse Jones, the seven-term incumbent backed by virtually all of southern Dallas political royalty, should have trotted into office on palm leaves.

But it was Jones' well-financed, heavily endorsed butt that took the kicking. Caraway won against the solon of Singing Hills, the well-off African-American neighborhood near Loop 12 (Ledbetter Drive) and Interstate 35.

And that was in spite of Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk and state Senator Royce West on black radio every few seconds hectoring everybody to go be good Democrats and send Dr. Jones back to Austin for his eighth tour of duty.

Caraway, a 49-year-old former Dallas City Council member, fooled them all when she beat Jones, a 74-year-old professor of chemistry at Baylor University in Waco. She beat him by only 78 votes, but only 4,598 people voted, less than 5 percent of the district's voting-age population.

That number--5 percent--is an important part of the picture. We're still talking about a part of town where hardly anybody votes. Given what they get back for it, I can understand why.

The list of bills Jones has authored over the years reflects a certain...how to put it...political approach. Or lack thereof. Jones, by the way, didn't respond to my many attempts to reach him. He never does. For me or anybody.

There was that recent law proposed by the good professor, "Relating to the operation of lawn mowers," second only to the bill for which he is perhaps best-known, "Designating the cast iron Dutch oven as the official State Cooking Implement."

The daring Baylor professor also fought the good fight for his bill, "Congratulating Coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson and the Baylor Lady Bears for winning the 2005 NCAA Women's National Basketball Championship."

And I can't move on without mentioning my own personal favorite in his 14-year tenure, the bill "Recognizing the renaming of the Good Street Missionary Society to the Wilene Dade Missionary Society of the Good Street Baptist Church." I can just hear les misérables chanting that one at the barricades.

Rumors are rampant that the professor hasn't actually occupied his home in the Singing Hills area in South Oak Cliff for some years since signing on with the faculty at Baylor 75 miles to the south. I would have asked him about that had I been able to reach him. And gosh, a thought here all of a sudden: Could that have had anything to do with why it was so hard to get him on the horn?

But it all works for him. Nice fat checks from the restaurant association, the homebuilders association, the trial lawyers association--all that nice white money--just keeps rooooolling in like a river of honey. I'm never quite sure how that squares with the notion of southern Dallas hegemony, but I guess money's where you find it.

What was even more valuable to the solon of Singing Hills was his incumbency. That alone rendered him a stalwart and hero of the local Democratic Party, worth defending at any and every cost. An incumbent Democrat in Dallas is like the director's son at the all-girl's camp--handsome and flawless by definition.

It's the main reason he was supported by the holy trinity of Dallas black politics, Kirk, Price and West. I wasn't able to reach West, but I think he's actually busy.

"He is an incumbent," Kirk told me, "and he's a good friend. I think he has very well and honorably represented that district.

"My endorsement of Dr. Jones was solely related to my respect and admiration and gratitude for the job that he had done and was not at all any commentary or reflection on Barbara Mallory Caraway, for whom I hold equal respect and admiration."

Price said: "Dr. Jones has been a good soldier. There was no reason to be against him. He carried legislation for Dallas County. How do you go against somebody who has been a good soldier? It's not as if any of them have been kicking up any dust down there in the Legislature."

But maybe people want more than a good soldier. Maybe they want change on the ground. Caraway basically beat Jones in a band of precincts she carried by heavy margins in the triangle formed by I-35, I-45 and Loop 12. If you start driving those streets on the western end near I-35 and work your way east, you see a pronounced trend.

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