The last time Richard Sledge Harvey ran for office, his defeat was sealed when opponent Ted Lyon pointed out Harvey's unfortunate tendency to land his private airplane with the landing gear up.
After licking his wounds for six years, Harvey is back, making another pass at the District 2 seat in the state Senate.
Politics is proving no kinder this time around for the Tyler Republican.
During this campaign, Harvey is spending much of his time trying to explain that he never really meant to claim that he spent six years as an investigator for the Texas Rangers.
It was an accident, his campaign manager insists. A typographical error, in fact. Harvey does promise to be tough on crime, but the candidate's previous boasts that he helped apprehend criminals as a member of the state's most elite law enforcement agency were misunderstood.
"He was never a Texas Ranger," says campaign manager Hank Clements. "In one letter we sent out in the primary it had a typo where it said Texas Ranger instead of Special Texas Ranger."
Harvey was a Special Texas Ranger in the early 1970s, state records show. The designation was an honorary one, given to friends of the state Department of Public Safety so they could carry fancy badges, hang around with real Rangers and do occasional grunt work for investigators like fetching coffee at stakeouts. The Special Ranger program was dropped in 1975.
Harvey's attempt to parlay such trifles into a "law enforcement background," has backfired on him, leaving Democrats chuckling.
"I don't think there's enough litter in the litter box for Harvey to cover this one with," says David Cain's campaign manager, Tim Reeves. "I guess if he was an admiral in the Texas Navy he'd tell us he led the Battle of Midway."
That Harvey is in the race against Cain at all speaks to the GOP's lack of optimism in the District 2 race.
The two men are facing off in a district that has been left without an incumbent after the redistricting dust settled. Democrat Lyon represented District 2 for 10 years--beating Harvey in both 1984 and 1988 for the seat--but lost in 1992 to Republican Florence Shapiro.
Before 1992, the district had been staunchly Democratic, and the GOP didn't mind offering up Harvey as a sacrificial lamb against the Democrats, especially since Harvey was glad to pour buckets of his own money into the doomed campaigns.
But for the 1992 race, the district was redrawn to include Collin County, tipping the balance to the Republicans. Shapiro, a former mayor of Plano, jumped in and won the seat.
Last year, however, the final round of legal squabbles between Democrats and Republicans was resolved with the state Senate lines redrawn yet again.
Collin County, and Shapiro, were moved into District 8, leaving District 2 once again heavily Democratic--and without a sitting senator.
The newest District 2 takes in parts of Oak Cliff, Lakewood, Pleasant Grove, Mesquite, and Balch Springs and then reaches in a band across East Texas to include Tyler.
With few Republicans interested in the apparently futile task of running for the seat, Harvey strode back into the ring. As in previous campaigns, Harvey set out to run as a staunch conservative with strong East Texas roots. A cowboy hat and a grin would be the beefy cattle rancher's main weapons.
Harvey decried Cain as a weak-kneed liberal--"All hat and no cowboy," is the way one Harvey flier portrays Cain--while promising that he would push for more prisons and tougher sentences for convicted criminals.
Harvey promptly found himself running for cover.
Cain's campaign has gleefully distributed copies of editorials Harvey has written over the years for the Texas Tribune, the monthly newspaper he owns.
Among other things, Harvey has called Nelson Mandela a Communist and argued the South African blacks are too violent to run their own country. He has explained how public education was a secret plot hatched by socialists, and called the Social Security system a "sinkhole" that should be dismantled.
On health care reform, Harvey has proposed that the government simply give each uninsured American $4,000 to buy an insurance policy, a plan that the Cain campaign claims works out to about $148 billion a year.
But it is Harvey's exuberant description of his association with the venerated Texas Rangers that has gotten him into the most trouble.
When he announced his candidacy last year, Harvey issued a press release saying he "is a Texas Ranger who will make fighting crime a priority."
Harvey's own newspaper, in announcing his Senate bid, said Harvey's "experience as a Texas Ranger will aid him in improving the judicial system and its battle against crime."
Masquerading as a Texas Ranger is a lot harder than claiming, say, that you were once a Marine. Given the near mythical status of the real Rangers, not to mention their small number, the agency has little trouble keeping track of its own.
Harvey's pronouncements did not go quite as far as in 1988, when he told reporters he had "six years experience as a Texas Ranger investigator," but they were enough to draw the attention of State Rep. Keith Oakley.
Oakley, a Democrat and chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, asked the state Department of Public Safety to clear up Harvey's ties to the Rangers.
In a September letter, DPS Director James Wilson wrote Oakley that Harvey "has never been an employee of the Texas Department of Public Safety or the Texas Rangers."
Between 1971 and 1975, Wilson wrote, Harvey was a Special Ranger, which was "more of an honorary status than a law enforcement status."
Armed with the letter, lawmen from the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas toured District 2 decrying Harvey as "some rich guy" who was lying about his background to drum up votes.
In response to the criticism, Harvey sent out copies of a Basic Certificate from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Education--the agency that basically gives Texas peace officers their credentials.
The certificate, Harvey claims, proves that he has law enforcement training. A clerk at the standards commission, however, was hard pressed to find any record showing Harvey was a qualified peace officer.
"I'm not finding a record on him at all," she said. "I've got nothing to even know what to assume. It must have been some kind of a funny deal."
Harvey may have been issued a certificate for some reason back in the 1970s, she said, but he appears nowhere on the lists of current licensed police officers.
Maybe so, campaign manager Clements says, but Harvey did perform some tasks in his honorary role almost 20 years ago.
Harvey got to carry a gun, Clements says, and did "help in maintaining some law enforcement issues under the guide of a Texas Ranger."
"He transported prisoners in his plane," Clements says. "To and from L.A. To and from Chicago. He did it at his own expense."
And flying with Harvey can be an expensive proposition.
Tyler area newspapers still get letters to the editor poking fun at Harvey for his aviation mishaps, which became fodder for Lyon's campaign against Harvey in 1988.
During a debate in that race, Lyon asked Harvey if it was true that he had landed his plane three times with the landing gear up.
Rising to his own defense, Harvey protested that he had only done so twice.
Lyon later aired a television ad featuring a wayward airplane headed for the runway as nearby citizens ran for cover. Harvey's campaign went down in flames.
Clements says he does not know how long it has been since DPS last asked Harvey to give prisoners--or real Texas Rangers--a lift in his plane.
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