Until last week, Salman Bhojani was just running for Euless City Council. The Euless attorney, who became a U.S. citizen in 2006 before putting himself through law school at SMU, thought his suburb's council could use a little more diversity, and decided to do something about. Then state Rep. Jonathan Stickland got involved.
Stickland, the face of the most conservative wing of the Texas House, the Texas Freedom Caucus, launched a series of verbal assaults on Bhojani last week, attacking him as a Muslim and "lifelong Democrat" with " ideas for our community [that] would scare a majority of our residents."
After denying to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Friday that he believed voters should consider Bhojani's faith before casting their ballots, Stickland attacked Bhojani again on Monday.
"URGENT EULESS ELECTION ALERT," Stickland posted on Facebook, "Progressive liberal Salman Bhojani is a dangerous man. He is actively campaigning on gun control, LGBT issues, increases in spending, and raising taxes. The Democrat party [sic] is supporting and endorsing him as a 'big win' for their party. Now some of the most liberal elected officials from across the state are voicing their support."
Tuesday afternoon, Bhojani told the Observer that he's been bewildered by Stickland's attacks, because he's been running a locally focused, nonpartisan campaign for a local, nonpartisan office. Stickland did not return requests for comment.
"On one side, my spirits are really down. It doesn't feel good, the hatred that we're getting. That's gotten us off-track," Bhojani says. "It's totally caught us off-guard, but I think that there are a lot of great people in Euless that will come to our rescue when they see all the hatred we're getting."
When he decided to run, Bhojani says, he had no idea that anyone would bring his religion into the race.
"I'm not a politician. I'm just a regular person trying to do my civic duty by serving on the City Council," Bhojani says. "I've been on the Park Board for four years. I've just tried to do whatever I can do — I lead a Boy Scout troop in Euless — it's just the same ethic of giving back. I did not expect that an elected representative, and my own state representative at that, would go against me and my faith. Talk to me about the city, about policies and my goals for the city, I'm all game for that. But lies and bigotry and bringing up religion — look, being an attorney, I know there's a separation of church and state. There's no religious test to be on the council or in any elected office."
Bhojani says that he's sworn to uphold the constitution twice, both when he became citizen and when he was sworn in as a lawyer. He'll fight to protect the Second Amendment as strongly as any other, he said.
"I haven't even made a statement about guns," Bhojani says. "Every word of the Constitution, I've sworn to uphold it. The Second Amendment is part of the Constitution. There are people who come in on both sides and say either 'we hate guns' or 'we love guns,' but what does that have to do with our city? Why are we talking about the national issues? Go petition the federal government if you like or don't like the Second Amendment."
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Rather than pushing a liberal agenda, Bhojani said he wants a place on the council to represent young families like his — he has two school-aged children — and to bring to local government the perspective of someone who's grown several small businesses. It wouldn't hurt Euless to have minority representation on the council either, he says.
"We need to have the City Council look more like the citizens of Euless. If I do get elected, I'll be the first minority in the history of Euless to get elected to City Council," Bhojani says. "That's really powerful. That tells you how much that is needed in our city. I'm not saying that you should vote for me because I'm brown, but I am saying that I represent the diversity that is lacking on the City Council right now."
In addition to his online attacks against Bhojani, Stickland has given almost $15,000 in cash and in-kind donations — including paid-block walking and more than $1,500 worth of postage — to the attorney's election opponent, retired teacher Molly Maddux, who also did not return a request to comment for this story.
Euless' council election is Saturday.