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Trash Talking

Digging through somebody's trash is one of those reporting tactics that we at the Dallas Observer try to avoid, but this time the temptation was too great. The Tony Sanchez gubernatorial campaign brought its trash to us.

The Observer's offices are located in downtown Dallas, across the street from a tiny brick building that housed the Sanchez campaign's Dallas headquarters. As it turns out, their landlord was our landlord and, throughout the duration of the campaign's temporary lease, our trash bin became their trash bin.

In the months leading up to the November 5 election, Sanchez workers would occasionally trudge over and unload trash, typically leftover fliers advertising campaign events at which the Laredo Democrat stumped for votes. The propaganda looked as interesting as a discarded sock.

All that changed on November 7, two days after Republican Rick Perry trounced Sanchez despite being outspent by the billionaire banker. Early that afternoon, a brown van pulled up and two Sanchez workers started heaving overstuffed plastic garbage bags into the gaping container. The men, who carried out their task with long, sour faces, quietly stuffed the canister until the last remnants of the Sanchez campaign rose up in a tantalizing heap, topped off by a half dozen empty boxes from CiCi's Pizza.

As part of his $64 million campaign, Sanchez spent $60 million of his personal fortune, a record in Texas that breaks down to $36 per vote. (Perry, by comparison, spent just $9 per vote.) Last month, as details of Sanchez's spending were reported, Perry's camp complained, needlessly it turns out, that Sanchez was running a lavish and undisciplined operation--a "cruise ship," one Austin insider called it, on which millions were spent on confetti, pizza and paychecks.

But the CiCi's pizza boxes--"Fresh taste at a great price"--suggested there was more to the story. Was the Sanchez campaign trying to be frugal? Or were its campaign organizers really spending Sanchez's money like tipsy passengers on the Love Boat? Once the brown van drove off, we started digging.

Some of the trash was predictable. There were piles of weathered yard signs, reams of unused fliers reminding residents to vote early and stacks of untouched glossy literature that boasted how Sanchez was "A leader as Hardworking as Texas." At least his printer was hardworking.

Deep in the dig were the memos. These were not confidential documents revealing any juicy secrets. They do, however, shed light on what it was like to work for Sanchez. Contrary to the Perry camp's suspicions, Sanchez's organizers did try to instill discipline in the troops. Unexcused tardiness was not tolerated and neither were employees who dawdled at lunchtime, according to the "general office rules" memo.

"If you must leave to pick up lunch, you may not be gone for longer than 30 minutes and should eat here," the rules state. "Too many times, groups of people leave at the same time to go pick up something at the same place. You cannot do this from now on. Only ONE person may leave to pick up lunch. Don't just leave because you want to leave."

Like many employers, the Sanchez camp discovered that it's not easy finding good help, even when you have oodles of cash to throw around. "During the hours listed above, you must work, not talk, gossip, chill out, catch up, or whatever you want to call it," the memo states. "Do not play games on the computers...if we find you playing on the computers, you will be asked to leave. The computers are for work ONLY!!!"

Other employees had to be reminded to be neat.

"We are not your maids and we are not your mothers. Our office is a reflection of the campaign. We have volunteers, elected officials and others come into this office on a regular basis--it needs to be clean. Do you want them to think we're slobs?

"This is a very casual office," the rules continued, "but if a senior staff member sees an organizer showing a little too much flesh, etc. you will be asked to leave and change your clothes. No cigarettes behind your ears, no excessive gold jewelry, etc."

Early in the race, Sanchez predicted that he would ride into the governor's mansion on a wave of minority, mostly Spanish-speaking voters who would turn out at the voting booths in record numbers. This was to be accomplished by the "knock and drag" strategy, in which paid foot soldiers--each earning $50 for an eight-hour shift, according to one memo--would knock on the doors of Sanchez supporters, drop off literature and offer certain voters a ride to the polls. This was no small undertaking, according to the knock and drag instructions memo distributed to the troops.

"Thank you for being an active part in the most far reaching governor's campaign in Texas history. In Dallas alone this campaign is going to knock on or distribute information to over 80,000 doors three separate times," the memo states. "It is very important to remember that you are a representative of the Tony Sanchez Campaign. You must present yourself as upstanding and admirable because you are the most powerful contact most people will have throughout the election."

Little did the troops know that the campaign wasn't always upstanding and admirable with them, according to one memo, written for their supervisors. It states, "we will provide gas money only if people ask (you shouldn't mention it)."

In other ways, the campaign was generous. Besides the pay, doled out at the end of the day in cash, each walker got a banana for breakfast and a free lunch. They were also given bottled water, granola bars and a hooded rain poncho, purchased from Wal-Mart (the six unopened ponchos we found will come in handy some day). Working material included two Bic pens, a map of their route, a copy of the voter's rights law and a script in Spanish (¿Votara usted por Tony Sanchez?).

Door knocking is an easy job, but the supervisors were instructed not to take anything for granted. In the mornings, while the grunts were eating their bananas, the supervisors were required to "role play" how to knock on a door and drop off the literature.

"This isn't too hard to master, but testing has shown us that unless you are extremely clear and explain this multiple times, people will do things like not drop lit at houses that aren't on the list...or otherwise not follow the instructions."

Anyone who slacked off on the job would regret it. "If someone is not doing their job," the supervisors were instructed, "warn them that if you don't start seeing lit on the doors, they will not be paid, and they will have to sit in the van with you until the day is done."

The threats may have worked: Although Perry walked away with a 19-point margin of victory, Sanchez only lost Dallas County by 5 points after capturing 47 percent of the vote. (Just 37 percent of the county's registered voters bothered to vote.)

With just three bags down and a trash bin full of them to go through, Tony--not Sanchez, just plain Tony--showed up. Tony appeared to be homeless, and he said he was just looking for something of value--clothing, furniture, anything. Tony climbed into the bin and started digging.

When asked whom he voted for, Tony shrugged and said, "I can't vote."

A half-hour later, Tony stood over his find and frowned. All he got was a half-drunk bottle of water, a bottle of glass cleaner, a bottle of Hawaiian Tropic sun block and two tomato-stained Tupperware bins. "He didn't leave much," Tony said.

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