Democrats! Are you going to let John Wiley Price run your party? Really?
Dear Dallas County Democratic Party:
This is a letter from me to you. Don't read it in front of the kids.
You are newly in the majority in Dallas County. While Texas turns more and more Republican, you guys have caught the demographic wave in the other direction. That's so great for you.
So now, newly ensconced as a voting majority on the county commissioners court—the elective board that runs county government—with a plausible shot at dominating city politics as well (more on that in a moment), you have chosen to turn over effective leadership of your party to Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price.
Are you off your meds? Did you suffer a tragic head injury? Are you being commanded by a God-like voice that speaks to you through the air conditioning ducts? Has the guy got a Glock in your back?
Are you really going to take this moment of golden opportunity and hand it off to the man who recently addressed citizens of his county by saying, "You are all white. Go to hell"?
Wait. Stop. Please. Listen to me. This is so important. Just this one thing.
You know he's not a Democrat, right?
You know that. He never has been. Not even a little bit. Oh, I know he wears the jacket. But nobody with any sense has ever believed this man was a Democrat.
In the early years of his career during redistricting after the 1980 census, Price worked with Republicans to try to shaft Martin Frost, a high-tenured Democrat in Congress, working to draw Frost out of his district so the Republicans could carve off half of it in the suburbs and Price could grab the rest. He wanted to go to Washington from Dallas' new minority seat, and he didn't care how.
That's why, when the Democrats drew the final lines, they put lots of middle-class black people in the new Dallas minority district, knowing the black middle class would never vote for Price. Eddie Bernice Johnson got the seat instead, and Frost kept his.
That might even have been OK, if it meant Johnson was all about the bougies, but Price was sort of a Mickey Leland-style Democrat, a supposed champion of the least among us. But c'mon. You know that's a load. Price is a champion of the H. Ross Perot clan.
There's a reason the Perots gave Price's main political operative, Kathy Nealy, her own suite in the American Airlines Center Arena when it was completed in 2001. That was a big wet kiss: Thank you, Commissioner, for helping us defeat all those lefties who wanted the city to spend its money on basic services.
Democrats, I'm talking to you. Does that sound like a Democrat? Are you suffering a lot of confusion lately, like when you leave the house you can't remember how to get back home? Do you honestly believe that John Wiley Price is a champion of working people?
He's never done a thing for working people. In fact he has so perfectly and completely internalized the values of the rich white people for whom he carries water that he actually despises work and the chumps who do it.
Not to beat a dead horse or anything, but I think I need to remind you of the exchanges I had with him two years ago when I was writing about his efforts to stymie development of the Inland Port Project in southern Dallas—a massive high-tech shipping and warehousing development, which, by the way, is still moving toward completion in spite of Price's efforts to hamstring it.
Every inch and every hour the Inland Port Project lost in momentum as the result of Price's actions was money in the bank for the Perots' directly competing Alliance Airport Center in Fort Worth. I don't think that was a coincidence, do you?
In 2008 I asked Price how he could kiss off the promise of 63,000 jobs in southern Dallas, where there never has been a base of industrial jobs, and by never I mean not since the Civil War. He told me that hourly-wage industrial jobs are demeaning and are associated with slavery.
That came up because I came across a letter through an Open Records request in which Price had spoken disdainfully of the promise of jobs in the Inland Project. He said, "During slavery, everybody had a job."
He and I spoke about it twice on the phone, and then he spoke about it again on the radio. In my second conversation with him—I was calling back to give him a chance to reconsider—I said, "During slavery nobody had a job."
He said, "They did have a job. What was it called then?"
"It's called slavery," I said. "They stole their lives."
"Slavery, Jim, that's an institution. And the effort of the institution was working. And working traditionally is a job. I am going to tell you the nickname that most African-Americans have for a job. It's called a slave."
I told him I had worked for five years in the car factories in Detroit when I was young, amid people from everywhere in the world, Ireland, the Middle East, Estonia, the American South, who were lifting up their families by working. They all believed work was honorable, even noble if you don't have any money and you do have mouths to feed.
He sneered. He said, "Yeah, we've heard all those stories, Jim. Just go up North, and you'll get rich."
Please remember what he did want. He wanted the owners of a family-owned company from California to give a significant slice of ownership in their company to a group of his friends in return for their protection from political trouble in southern Dallas.
I really have to insist that you think this through, Democrats. This is a man who does not respect work or workers. He thinks he's a Perot. He thinks he deserves ownership—equity, he called it—in other people's companies.
When I talked to him, I said the way most people get equity is to pay for it. But he said no. He was trading something of value—his political power—for equity. So the guy thinks he's a tycoon.
Is that who's going to run the brave new Dallas County Democratic Party?
You are aware, I am sure, that Price's two top political associates, the aforementioned Kathy Nealy and Willis Johnson, are squiring mayoral candidate Michael Rawlings around southern Dallas. Rawlings is emerging as the anointed of the Dallas Citizens Council crowd.
Nothing new here. Price and company have always worked the Citizens Council side of the street. He never saw a big-ticket item he didn't like. Price and Nealy have been working this same deal since the 1998 Trinity River toll road bond election—trading the vote in southern Dallas for a promise of economic benefit on down the road.
Take a long hard look around southern Dallas. Do you see any new permanent employment or signs of economic vibrancy that came from those deals? I see a suite at the basketball arena. I don't think it's open to the public.
Please put this in the balance as well. Price, Nealy and Johnson are running a broken-down political machine based on techniques they learned decades ago from the last Jim Mattox labor-Democrats, dependent on a rapidly dwindling base of elderly voters who vote by early mail-in ballot.
In the most recent election, in spite of the new demographics that have put you Democrats back in the driver's seat, the Republicans beat you two-to-one in the early vote. Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, who was supposed to be your top-of-the-ticket superstar, barely squeaked back into office.
That South Dallas machine is old. It's weak. It's running on fumes. And there are people out there already who think that could be why Price ran off Bruce Sherbet, the head of the elections department. The whole Sherbet saga leaves you, the Democrats, open to the suspicion that somebody wants to game the early vote in ways Sherbet would not have allowed. I called Price for comment. He was too busy to take my call.
So you're in the majority now. Why do you need to risk all this damage to your credibility? Price's accusation—that the elections department was being run by Republicans—comes off as something between a cover story and paranoia, especially given that Darlene Ewing, chairman of your party in the county, has spoken in support of Sherbet.
Here's the other thing. Let's say you do want a minority face on your party. Great. Only right. Dallas County is chock full of smart, sophisticated black and Hispanic people who could be brought along into leadership. I think of Joyce Foreman, who used to be on the DART board, Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College, Rene Martinez, who knows where all the bones are buried—tons of people. But people like that are not going to work for John Wiley Price, and he's not going to work with them.
You need to get to work on charter reform for the city, ditch the non-partisan system and jack up the pay to a level people can live on. You have to create a viable career path. You have to—you know—actually do something.
Remember this story from your own backyard. When the Obama/Hillary primary came to town, the John Wiley Price contingent ran the Hillary campaign and got their clocks cleaned. Know why? They're no good.
They have no moral center. They sell out their own community. They want money. Their big trick is to carry some of the money around to the preachers. Even that sad old routine barely works any more.
And their base—their vote base—is shrinking. Yours is growing. Think about it. You're on the uptick. Price is on the down. So why would you let him run the show?
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Observer's biggest stories.