By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Rose Renfroe didn't exactly call her Democratic opponent Scott Chase a pedophile, but she came awfully close. Now he's refusing to support her in her race against Republican incumbent Ken Mayfield, bucking the time-honored political convention of putting party ahead of principle.
"I'm not supporting Rose Renfroe or Ken Mayfield in the general election," he says. "Neither of them is qualified. Let me restate that. Rose is clearly not qualified and is dishonest to boot."
This is your Dallas County Democratic Party, always ready to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In 2004, voters elected three Democratic judges countywide, ending the GOP stranglehold on the judiciary, while propelling Democrat Lupe Valdez into the sheriff's office. But whatever momentum the party built may come to a crashing halt thanks to a series of bumbling candidates whose thin credentials seem to suggest that the Dallas County Democratic Party (and its constituents) are not quite ready for prime time.
"I think they're absolutely desperate and grasping at anyone who has the inclination to put their name on the ballot and see what happens," says Mike Walz, the executive director of the Dallas County Republican Party. "They're just throwing anything up and seeing what sticks."
Renfroe illustrates Walz's put-down so effortlessly, she might as well be a Republican Trojan horse. On March 7, the day of the primary, Renfroe's campaign sent out a recorded message assailing a decision Chase made as a part-time administrative judge for the city of Dallas. In a complicated proceeding, Chase reinstated a Dallas police officer who had been fired for having an improper relationship with a minor. After the young girl recanted her allegations, Chase concluded the charges against the officer were frivolous.
The merits of Chase's decision are certainly fair game in a political primary. Elections are tests of judgment after all. But Renfroe's campaign basically said that putting Chase in office would be like casting your 14-year-old daughter in a Roman Polanski movie.
"We can not allow this man who condones pedophiles to serve in our community," said the recorded message Renfroe's campaign sent out on the day of the primary. "This could happen if we don't get out and vote. I urge you to join me today in electing Rose Renfroe, Democratic County Commissioner, to protect our community and our children."
Renfroe says she had nothing to do with the election day phone calls. "I didn't record the message, I didn't write the message and I didn't hear the message," Renfroe says. "Maybe the little girl's mother authorized it."
That's hardly the only cheap stunt in Renfroe's race against Chase. The blond, blue-eyed Renfroe managed to include her supposed nickname on the ballot, "Rosita," claiming that was a pet name her late husband had for her. (At least he didn't call her "Snookums.") To Chase, however, it was a clumsy but effective ploy to win Hispanic votes in Oak Cliff neighborhoods, which comprise the heart of District 4. Renfroe wound up winning by 38 votes.
Before she became Rosita, Renfroe served as a Dallas City Council member in the 1970s where she made a name for herself as an anti-busing advocate, speaking at rallies and crusading for a constitutional amendment against forced busing. As a Dallas County commissioner, Renfroe wouldn't preside over those types of issues, but it's worth noting that she hasn't exactly had a Paul to Damascus moment on whether busing was a necessary means to achieve integration.
"It was an experiment that didn't work," she says. "I think everybody who was involved in it thinks that it did not work."
Kirk McPike, the vice president of communications for the Dallas County Young Democrats, which endorsed Chase over Renfroe in the primary, didn't bite when asked if Renfroe's views on busing were in line with Democratic values. "We're supportive of our local ticket," is all he said when asked about whether Renfroe had the right stuff for the job.
Of course, Renfroe might as well be Eleanor Roosevelt compared with the Democratic candidate for district attorney. Craig Watkins, who crushed his two challengers in the March 7 primary, has had to overcome a mountain of legal problems. That's an odd position for someone who aspires to become the top attorney in the county. Last February, The Dallas Morning Newsreported that Watkins failed to pay taxes, resulting in $100,000 in liens. Small business owners took him to court to compel him to pay outstanding bills while city attorneys placed a lien on his property after he defaulted on a $20,000 loan from the South Dallas/Fair Park Trust Fund.
Then there's this bit of irony: In July, this paper reported ("Craig's List," July 20) how Watkins had been sued over a breach of contract by the office he now hopes to lead. Watkins had agreed to pay the district attorney's office for a daily report of inmates booked into the jail, but shortly after he entered into the contract he stopped paying his fee. In July 2004, Watkins agreed to pay the prosecutor's office $7,675, and in exchange the suit against him was dropped. Watkins, however, failed to promptly pay back the full amount of the agreed settlement, and the district attorney's office threatened to seize his assets.