Once a Yankee, always a Yankee. Every once in a while, I get a certain error message in the eyes of native Dallasites too polite to tell me. "ERROR...ERROR...FATAL YANKEE-THINKING ERROR."
I got that look a lot last week when I was going to lunch with people, calling them up on the phone to chat, asking if Terrell Bolton could be a good old boy. I wasn't suggesting that our recently fired police chief was, in fact, a good old boy. I was trying to find out if he could become one, because, as far as I can tell, there are major benefits. I might even put in for it myself.
ERROR...ERROR...YANKEE CANNOT BECOME GOOD OLD BOY. NO MATTER WHAT.
I was right in there with the rest of the mad dogs calling for the firing of the city's first African-American police chief, Bolton, on a variety of grounds. Fake drugs, high crime, hiding the ball, cops out of control, bad morale, weird management style: It all added up to a lousy job.
Now he's long gone, and The Dallas Morning News is publishing a series of top-notch investigative stories showing that Dallas County Sheriff Jim Bowles, a white man, has a long-standing cozy relationship with a jail contractor from whom Bowles has accepted meals and fishing trips and with whom he had some kind of bad-smelling deal to install a driveway at his home. All of which would add up, it seems to me, to the sheriff doing a lousy job, among other more serious possibilities.
But every day...I am talking every single day for the past month...I get phone calls from my fellow mad dogs out there, lobbying me to write something that would exonerate the sheriff. The argument for it goes like this:
Well, Schutze, he's an old guy (75 years), and he probably has stayed at the helm too long, but he just loves being the sheriff, and he's basically a good guy, and all that going to lunch and fishin' at Rockport, you know, that's just sheriff culture from way back. And, Jim, it's not like he thought he was doing anything wrong. He's just, you know, an old country boy. Wink-wink. He's just a good old boy. Wink-wink.
Well, see, wink-wink, tiddlywinks. The winks don't count for me, because I'm a stupid Yankee, and I don't wink right. If Terrell Bolton were a good old boy, would he not still be in office? Wink-wink?
You know, Terrell just loves being the chief, and that stuff with the misleading press conferences on the fake-drugs scandal, shoot, man, that's just City Hall culture. Riding around with his posse in all those limos, c'mon, the man never thought he was doing anything wrong. He's just, you know...Terrell grew up out there in the country back in Louisiana, and he's just a typical good old boy.
I sort of get it, and I sort of don't. In all my conversations, it's like being a good old boy is a get-out-of-jail-free card. You're dumb. You're sloppy. You break the rules. You're over the hill. And because you're a good old boy, those are all the good things about you.
So why wouldn't we all want a card like that? How do you get one?
I went to lunch with Allen Gwinn, who runs the Web page Dallas.org. He has done some really good work ferreting out various kinds of scampery at Dallas City Hall. Gwinn was right out there on the fringe with me calling for Bolton to get the ax. He still sponsors a special page dedicated to anti-Bolton information.
His regular Web page has a special section dedicated to the domestic-abuse conviction of school board member Ron Price, who is black. I have always been extremely suspicious of the way that case went down, and I have real questions about whether Price was treated fairly. But that's a story for another day, and I respect Gwinn's work on it.
Gwinn has another special section dedicated to the heroin conviction in San Francisco in 1952 of former Dallas City Councilman Al Lipscomb, who is black. Gwinn traveled to San Francisco to work on this for his page and came up with some interesting new wrinkles on this very old stiff of a story. He found, for example, that the undercover cop who wanted to bust Lipscomb for selling drugs 52 years ago kept getting foiled because every time the young and resourceful Lipscomb sold him "heroin," the stuff turned out to be table salt. One difference between San Francisco in 1952 and Dallas in 2002, I guess, was that back then they knew how to test the drugs.
But Gwinn also has a section of his Web site dedicated to proving that Sheriff Bowles, the only white guy on the page, is the victim of a political vendetta; that a raid of his office seeking evidence for a grand jury investigation was staged; that the investigation of Bowles is costing the taxpayers a lot of money, and so on.
When I met him for lunch, Gwinn had a stack of documents to show me to prove that Bowles hasn't done all that much wrong. I had already seen all of these documents at least three times in the previous month, along with all sorts of other stuff alleging that Bowles' main opponent in the upcoming election, Danny Chandler, is the spawn of Satan.
I drove out to DFW Airport several weeks ago on a Saturday night to meet a private detective who offered me a "sworn affidavit" alleging all sorts of nefarious history on Chandler. Only problem: It wasn't sworn. In fact, it wasn't signed. In fact, there was no name on it. But I love visiting the airport on the weekend.
So anyway, we went to lunch, and Gwinn wanted to show me this stack of stuff. And finally I said, "Just in terms of proportionality, why does Bowles deserve any break? Aren't you giving him a break or a consideration that you wouldn't have given Bolton?"
He said: "If somebody does something wrongly or not, where is the profit? Where is the unfair benefit? Bowles wasn't driving around in a Cadillac or living in different houses or a yacht."
I asked: "Where was the benefit for Bolton?"
Three big blinks.
"Bolton was an idiot," he said.
Ah, but time-out here. I know all kinds of very serious people who will say absolutely that Bolton is not an idiot. That's not the problem. I spoke with a former high federal law enforcement official once who told me it would be "a serious miscalculation" to imagine that Bolton is anything but quite bright. The question is what he chooses to do with his bright.
I know a former Dallas police chief--critical of the way Bolton handled his tenure as chief--who said that Bolton could even have become a brilliant chief if he had been given five years' more seasoning before getting the job.
I know regular cops, including white regular cops, who worked with Bolton when he was on his way up and thought very well of him.
I'm just saying Bolton has lots of people on his side, too. People who like him, respect him, think he has it coming and going. Whereas, even among Bowles' most ardent defenders, even from Gwinn, I don't hear anything all that flattering about the sheriff.
If this is a straight-up I.Q. test, then Bolton takes the day. But somehow the sheriff's I.Q. problems are rendered almost a virtue every time somebody reminds me that he's a good old boy. I guess good old boys have some kind of reverse I.Q. The lower the better.
Let me point out one other thing. There are people around the sheriff right now, within the sheriff's uniformed ranks, who are getting real tired of being called before the grand jury because the sheriff took them out to lunch or on fishing trips with contractors. From their point of view, the sheriff's mistakes were hardly innocent. Those mistakes in judgment are coming back to haunt other people who felt they had no choice but to follow the leader to lunch.
I called Sharon Boyd, another Web-page guru who I hope is a friend. She was a major Bolton-baiter, and now she's on this save-the-sheriff kick, too. Boyd does excellent work on her page with a number of issues, especially the Trinity River and the Cowboys football stadium. She has personal ties to Bowles because her father was a deputy with him.
"I stand kind of where Allen is," she said, "because I've known Bowles most of my life. He and my dad were friends. I think it's really crappy that suddenly we have a new set of rules, when they all play by the same rules down there."
Sure. I don't quite follow the thing with the set of rules. I'm just terribly eager myself not to wind up in the Big House, so I always try to go by whatever is the most up-to-date set of rules. I like to keep up. Maybe I'm not enough of a gambler.
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SHOW ME HOW
But the point is, Bolton has loyal defenders, too, people who are daughters of old friends, tons of people who love him. Not me. But people.
So what if Bolton were white? And Bowles were black? What if Bolton could be a good old boy? And Bowles could not? Then would the same people who wanted to crucify Bolton have said he should be forgiven? And would Bowles be the devil spawn?
I'm not saying everybody thinks that way. But it's an interesting thing to ponder, isn't it? Meanwhile, what if we just agree that major law enforcement officials who do lousy jobs need to be replaced? Keep it simple, eh?