Dallas County Democratic Party chair Darlene Ewing said she's accustomed to dealing with typical political gamesmanship during campaign season like distorting records and taking words out of context, but she felt it necessary to "take a stand" against the Republicans and chair Jonathan Neerman for running "an orchestrated campaign of running on lies."
"I would call upon Mr. Neerman to run on issues, to run on the real record, come up with something more creative than lie, lie, lie," Ewing said at a press conference held yesterday afternoon at party headquarters near Fair Park.
Ewing listed several examples in an attempt to back up her claim, mentioning that Republican Stefani Carter has incorrectly said Carol Kent illegally paid herself for lodging expenses from the state because she had already reimbursed herself with campaign funds; Republican Kenneth Sheets said Allen Vaught voted for a tax increase when he didn't; and Republicans Linda Harper Brown and Rodney Anderson said Kirk England and Loretta Haldenwang support a state income tax based solely on the two not taking a stance against it.
"I can say I don't take a stand on whether aliens landed in New Mexico, but that doesn't mean they did or they didn't," Ewing said.
Neerman stresses that Ewing didn't cite anything he said and each candidate has to answer the accusations for themselves since the county party does not run their campaigns.
"It's like that line from Airplane!: 'Sorry, stewardess, I don't speak jive.' I don't know what she's talking about," he tells Unfair Park. "What is she talking about? It's her typical rambling that's incoherent."
Particular attention was paid to yesterday's Dallas Morning News story about three criminal defense attorneys supporting Republican district attorney candidate Danny Clancy who are questioning two men recently exonerated by Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins. (Seemed like a repeat of a DMN story from August penned by the same author.) Watkins was scheduled to appear at the presser but did not attend because of an emergency briefing regarding the Gary Green death-penalty case.
"They shouldn't be baiting and switching the press by calling charade press conferences where they claim that Craig Watkins is going to be there and then mysteriously he doesn't show up just to get in the press," Neerman says. "That's dishonest."
Watkins calls Neerman's bait-and-switch claim "elementary" and says he doesn't place any blame for the story or anything else at the feet of Neerman or the party. He says Clancy is ultimately responsible.
"You have these attacks -- I'm accused of stealing people's tires," he says while laughing. "I'm accused of freeing people who shouldn't be free when there's no evidence of that. It's just lies and innuendos, and I'd just hope in this last week that we'd have some honesty from the other side."
When reminded that Clancy didn't comment on the story about the exonerations, Watkins told us that if his supporters were doing "underhanded things like that," he'd be compelled to make a statement.
"I would say, 'That's not indicative of who I am, the Craig Watkins's administration or this campaign,' and I think it's unfortunate that he chose to stay quiet on this issue because this job requires you to man up," he says. "You have to stand up for what's right even if it may not be what's politically expedient for you."
Clancy says he had no idea that the story was in the works (Neerman says the same thing) and he's sure that Toby Shook, Bill Wirskye and Bill Cox are making the best decision for their client, not what will help him win his race against Watkins. He claims that the story and his campaign aren't connected, and he didn't comment because he doesn't know any more about the case than the average citizen.
"I don't know enough about it," he says. "I don't know what the evidence is."
The DA's race has changed dramatically in the last few days, Clancy says, with Watkins going "on the offensive."
"I think that they're panicked right now."
Watkins says Clancy's supporters have been doing his dirty work since the beginning of his campaign, claiming that he was subpoenaed by one to testify in the case involving the molestation of a 10-year-old girl and that Clancy's father has subpoenaed him in cases he knows nothing about. Meanwhile, Watkins stresses that he has "stuck to the issues," which includes touting his conviction integrity unit, gang unit, sexual assault unit, animal cruelty unit, grant money obtained and legislation he helped pass.
"His largest public accomplishment is being appointed by Rick Perry," he says of Clancy.
Ewing explained that she held the press conference because all the television and radio spots have been purchased at this point.
"It's the only way you can respond to this last minute ambush sort of overlying campaigning they're doing," she said.
However, Neerman says it shows how unprepared their party and candidates were that they didn't buy up enough media time weeks ago. He also says calling the press conference "smacks of desperation."
"You don't whine to referee that your opponent is not playing fair. You go out there and fight back."
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Ewing said she's "very comfortable" that early vote and mail-in ballots are favoring the Democrats even more so than when they swept in 2006, alleging that it's Neerman who's the worried one.
"They say when political people are behind, then they go to the gutter," she said. "They get desperate."
While Ewing talked about sticking to the candidates' records, Neerman challenged Ewing to discuss the record of Watkins as DA. Clancy and Watkins debated twice, but Neerman points out that the first debate involved pre-screened questions and no follow-ups from the moderator, and the second one included questions from an audience that had members of Watkins's church, the DA's office and his campaign in attendance.
"If the Democratic candidates are going to run away and hide and not debate on their record, that's something for her to deal with," he says. "If Darlene wants to have a debate about the DA's record, she can name the time and place, and I'll be there."