Those who believe that Dallas state Rep. Eric Johnson is a stalking horse candidate, the tool of a cabal of wealthy people opposed to Scott Griggs as mayor, might be called paranoid — if they weren't so damned right.
We have audio to prove it, thanks to an anonymous source.
The recording from a fundraiser held on Johnson's behalf Wednesday night in North Dallas at the home of Maggie and Robert Murchison captures Jeanne Phillips, a former U.S. ambassador and a current senior vice president for Hunt Consolidated Inc., speaking to a group including Johnson, Dallas City Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates and Dallas ISD school board member Dustin Marshall about how she and Dallas oil tycoon Ray Hunt decided Johnson was the best person to represent their interests at City Hall.
"I first met Eric at SMU. I chair the Simmons School board, and he's a member of the executive board," Phillips says. "About four months ago, he walked into our office, and Ray Hunt and I sat down and visited with him. In the middle of the meeting, we said, 'Sorry, do you mind if we just step outside? We need to visit with each other for a minute.' I'm sure (Johnson) thought that was strange. It was strange for us. We've never done it in all the time we've worked together. We went outside in the hall, and both of us at the same time said, 'This is the guy. This is the guy. This is the one we've been waiting for.'"
Before meeting Johnson, Phillips says on the tape, she and Hunt planned to wait until the inevitable runoff to support a candidate. They had one outcome they were trying to avoid, according to Phillips, but believed there were multiple suitable candidates in the race.
"We planned to stay out of the race in the first round. A lot of good people were running, and we just knew one thing, and I'm going to be very direct here, we did not want to see Scott Griggs elected mayor," Phillips says.
Griggs, Phillips told the crowd, isn't actually capable of lowering their property taxes.
"(Griggs) is running all over this district and all over North Dallas saying he has a plan to reduce property taxes. I don't believe he has that plan, and even if he does have a plan, it's not going to reduce property taxes," Phillips says.
Phillips then whips out the outside agitator card, that favorite tool of anti-progressives. Griggs' campaign is getting fundraising and organizing help from Our Revolution, a progressive political organization born out of Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign.
"I think that this is dangerous — and I've been in politics my whole career — it's dangerous for outside groups to come into our hometown and run a national agenda, regardless of what side of the aisle you're on. You know, Eric's a big Democrat and I'm a big Republican, but we're both Dallas. That's what we're for in this race," Phillips says.
Johnson needs cash, Phillips says, to keep up with Griggs' outside fundraising and to close the motivation gap between the two candidates' supporters.
"If you have some spare change — if you decide not to go to dinner tonight, and you think, 'I would've spent $150 or $500 on dinner' — think about helping us in these last few days," Phillips says. "The expenses of a campaign are ridiculous, and his opponent has enough outside money to go on TV. We are not going to be on TV."
"If you don't do anything else after tonight," Phillips continues, "tell people, 'This is not over. This is a race. It's not a coronation. It's a race, and we're up against a very serious opponent who will not rest because his supporters have a different reason for going to the polls.' They're against things. We're for things."
In response to an interview request from the Observer, Phillips provided the following written statement instead:
"Ray Hunt and I first met with Eric Johnson after he had announced publicly that he had filed to run for Mayor of Dallas. We were immediately very impressed with him as a person of character and an experienced problem-solving leader, and we are proud to be supporting him in this run-off election.”