Coloring Book

It's the race that killed race.

You wake up one day, and the city's not white anymore.

First thing we have to say: You sure have been asleep a long time. This didn't just happen overnight. Must have been some party.

But then we have to ask: So what? Every insider in Dallas politics knows one thing: Someday soon, people are going to wake up and discover that the official face of Dallas County--Republican and white for so long--has turned Democrat and tan. The insiders wonder if this year's race for district attorney is the big moment.

Three white men in the March Republican primary. Three black men in the Democratic primary. Gotta go one way or the other. It does make a difference who is Dallas County DA. But does it make any difference what color he is?

You may think it makes no personal difference to you who gets elected. The district attorney prosecutes people for crime. Maybe you figure you don't do crime.

But what if you wreck your car after a party and get charged with manslaughter? Or some drunk runs into a member of your family? Or your brother-in-law calls with a crazy story about the cops grinding up pool-cue chalk to look like cocaine and planting it in his pickup truck?

That happened, remember. In 2001, Dallas police and the Dallas County DA sent innocent people to prison on drug charges that turned out to be completely trumped up. The fake-drugs scandal may be five years old, but the lesson is fresh: The fact that somebody wears a badge or has a title guarantees nothing.

Whose badge? Whose title? That's why we have elections.

So, sure, give us an honest DA who will put the bad guys away and not frame my brother-in-law. But which party do we vote for? Which color? The ballot finger falters.

Incumbent DA Bill Hill, a 63-year-old Republican in office since 1999, caught local politicians flat-footed when he announced late in the game that he wouldn't run again. Rumors were rampant. I was never able to run anything down, from Hill or anybody else, except that he had done his bit and was ready to move on. Whatever his motive, his departure set the scene for an already awkward campaign season.

We're still a month away from the March 7 primary, and pretty much everybody in the election is already trying to bounce the race issue around in weird, under-the-elbow, reverse-English triple rim shots that nobody except the politicians themselves could possibly ever understand.

Try to follow this. You'll need to get your crayons out.

A couple weeks ago, Republican candidate Judge Dan Wyde--color him white--started showing pictures of Democratic candidate Craig Watkins--color him black--to Republican voter groups (just wear out your white crayon).

Republican primary opponents Toby Shook and Vic Cunningham (white) denounced Wyde (white) for not so subtly pointing out Watkins' color (black), but Wyde (white) said he only wanted to warn Republican voters (white) that his opponents (white) will have trouble with Democratic voters (black, white, brown, tie-dyed).

Now look what a mess you've made! Clear your desks and try to keep up.

Maybe race is being used in such absurdly extraneous and nonsensical ways in this election because we've finally just worn it out. Maybe by the time we get to the November 7 general election we may actually be able to concentrate on who'd make the best DA.

The thing the insiders are focused on is The Great Demographic Wave. Ed Valentine, a Dallas political consultant who works for both Republicans and Democrats, sees a clear trend over the last six years toward a Democratic majority in Dallas County.

By looking closely at who really voted in the last three elections, Valentine says, he can come up with a pretty close count: "If I combine all three, without any duplication, the Republican households versus the Democrat households, then Democrats are leading by about 30,000."

That's big news in a DA's race where a total vote of about 400,000 can be anticipated. And it's not like we haven't already seen the wave in action. Two years ago it swept a lesbian Latina Democrat and total political cipher into the sheriff's office, defeating a way-back, wired-up, white-boy Republican.

Now the Democrats and the Republicans think anybody can win, depending on the wave. It's rub-a-dub-dub, three Republicans in one tub, three Democrats in another, all of them bobbing in the surf waiting to see which gets swept to shore first.

Normally I hate to write about Democrats and Republicans. I used to consider myself a Democrat. Now I look at local Democrats, and they seem like a bunch of nice people standing around waiting for the bus. Their platform is, "We want public office."