SMU's Jillson Says Local Democratic Elected Officials "Are Not to Be Trusted," Questions Friends Chosen By Jenkins

Much like Richard Allen's interview, our conversation with Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson didn't make it into the cover story on Dallas County Judge Jim Foster appearing in last week's paper version of Unfair Park. But that's not to say Jillson's opinions about Foster, runoff candidate Clay Jenkins (dubbed "Mr. Unknown" in Schutze's latest column) and the local Democratic Party aren't worth mentioning.

Jillson says Foster has evolved in the more than three years he's been in office and credits him for overcoming a steep learning curve. It was apparent that Foster knew "remarkably little" about the commissioners court when he took the job, he says, and Commissioner John Wiley Price abandoned him early on because Foster was "unwilling to take instruction down to the most minute detail."

He describes Foster's capabilities as modest, but Jillson stresses that Dallas County Democratic Party "insiders" like Price, U.S. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson and state Senator Royce West made the least out of them.

"Tripping him and then doing the lemon meringue pie in the face every chance they had was unnecessary and detrimental to good governance in Dallas County," he says.

These insiders quickly coalesced behind Jenkins, a relatively unknown civil lawyer and co-owner of a dental health services company who's spent most of his life in Waxahachie and maintains a residence there. Jillson says his reservation about Jenkins is "the friends he has chosen," citing their support of former State Representative Terri Hodge, who pleaded guilty on February 3 to one count of fraud and false statements on an income tax return in connection with the Dallas City Hall corruption trial in exchange for the dismissal of her remaining charges, which included eight counts of bribery. (U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn is scheduled to sentence Hodge on April 27, the same day Don and Sheila Hill begin serving their long prison sentences.)

The majority of Hodge's support evaporated only after her guilty plea, even though Jillson says she was "clearly guilty and going to be called to account in court." In fact, Dallas County Democratic Party chair Darlene Ewing donated money to Hodge's campaign less than a month before her plea deal, in which Hodge admitted to accepting more than $30,000 in subsidized rent and other financial assistance from affordable-housing developers Brian and Cheryl Potashnik, who both pleaded guilty in June 2009, and Hodge also used some of her campaign funds for personal use. Jillson says the Hodge situation was "a travesty" for the local party, and he adds that insiders have been wrong in opposing Foster's decision to hire former FBI Agent Danny Defenbaugh to investigate Democratic Constables Jaime Cortes and Derick Evans, "who, like Terri Hodge, are sort of evidently out of control."

"It strikes me that the Dallas Democratic Party -- at least its elected officials -- are not to be trusted and should be viewed skeptically," he says.

A Democratic consultant not speaking for attribution tells Unfair Park that meeting Jenkins for the first time was "really weird." They asked him about being a Democrat and where he's from, and Jenkins told them that his dad was a lifelong Democrat and his family has lived all over Texas.

"He was real evasive about it. He didn't really answer either one of those questions," the source says. "He can't even give you a straight answer. Not only that, but he didn't even look me in the eye."

The consultant saw Jenkins arrive at two separate Democratic functions in one evening, claiming he didn't appear to know anyone and left soon after having his picture taken. "It was the same thing at both events. He didn't stay long enough to have a conversation with anybody."

The introduction between Jenkins and the consultant was made by Robert Medrano -- one of four Medrano family members supporting Jenkins. The source says Jenkins indicated that he would consider hiring them as a consultant, but he never returned their phone calls. But when they asked Medrano why he subsequently endorsed Jenkins, he said it was because Jenkins claimed that he had chosen the consultant to work on his campaign, when in fact he hadn't.

"You're looking around for someone who actually knows this guy," the consultant says. "I haven't met that person yet."

Former Democratic state Representative Sam Coats says Jenkins was able to get support from within the party through his time working on President Barack Obama's campaign. (Jenkins has claimed to be the Texas director of voter protection for Obama in some cases and his Dallas-based campaign lawyer in others, but he refused to clarify his position when we asked.) Coats also notes that Jenkins' mother, JoAnn, is a powerful Democrat in Ellis County and the state as a veteran member of the State Democratic Executive Committee.

Larry Duncan, a former Dallas City Council member and Jenkins' opponent in the April 13 runoff election, says when seeking endorsements for the primary, most politicos cited Jenkins' mother's strong ties to the Democratic Party as their reason for backing Jenkins. But Duncan doesn't buy it.

"My sense of it is, and I've been doing this a while, for some people -- for Commissioner Price and for Senator West -- it was the inland port and having control of the commissioners court because Mr. Jenkins will do what they want."

And once you've got Price and West in your camp, it becomes an uphill battle for anyone who stands in their way. Jillson says the two have the closest thing there is to a political machine in Dallas, which they utilize to recruit candidates, support candidates and turn out voters for elections. As a result, the backing of West and Price is highly sought after by those seeking Democratic votes in South Dallas.

"I think they use that power for both good and ill," Jillson says. "And as they bring that influence on behalf of Clay Jenkins, it remains to be seen whether it's for good or ill, but they certainly used it for ill in the Terri Hodge business."

Price refused comment for the Foster story despite numerous in-person requests for an interview. Johnson and West did not respond to interview requests made through Phoebe Silag and Kelvin Bass, respectively.

Neil Emmons, one of 107 precinct chairs supporting Jenkins, claims that Jenkins was not recruited and says he's run a "wonderful" campaign. "He's worked hard. He's brought everybody together behind his campaign, and maybe that's what we need as county judge is a consensus builder who knows how to devise and implement one hell of a plan."

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Sam Merten
Contact: Sam Merten