As a white man of a certain age, I aroused no suspicion when I went to the election eve rally of a Houston tea party group, the King Street Patriots. The Patriots work out of a strip center office at the Northwest Mall next to that of a Republican politician with the promising name of John Faulk.
He should not be a confused with the late humorist and First Amendment advocate John Henry Faulk. John Henry grew up in Austin and claimed never to have met a Republican until he went to New York in the late 1940s. He told his mother that they were nothing to be scared of. “Momma,” he wrote, “ I found a whole pack of Republicans up here. Great big ol’ fat gentle thangs. So tame you could walk up and pet ‘em.”
The King Street Patriots resolutely claim to be the gentle kind of Republicans, and were mocking the stories that their poll watchers have been intimidating elderly black voters at the early voting stations in Harris County. If anything, say the Patriots (they often call themselves that no matter what Dr. Johnson said), they are the ones who have been intimidated. They have complained that black politicians, responding to voter complaints have been electioneering at the Harris County polls.
Borris Miles, a state represenative who answered a complaint at the polls in the minority neighborhood of Sunnyside, says things wouldn’t have gotten ugly if the election judges had been doing their jobs. Poll watchers can be appointed by any candidate or party, but they are supposed to watch, not comment to voters or hover around them. So as election day dawned with thunderstorms, the leading story of the Harris County elections is not about who is going to win, but whether there will be confrontations at the voting booths.
The King Street Patriots served cookies and pledged allegiance at their rally, and had a nice young woman of color sing “God Bless America,” and dabbed their eyes at the beauty of it all, but underneath, they are an angry bunch of white people who believe they have been swindled.
Yet Congressman John Culberson, who probably represents most of the King Street Patriots, does not even face a Democratic opponent. John Faulk, the Republican next door, does not stand a chance against incumbent Sheila Jackson Lee for the 18thCongressional seat, previously held by Mickey Leland and Barbara Jordan. Rick Perry has a ten-point lead over Bill White. What race is there for blacks to steal?
With their logo of a man toting a rifle with a bayonet, the King Street Patriots invoke the tactics of the Bostonians who tarred and feathered tax collectors. They forget that tarring and feathering was one of the Klan’s lighter punishments for blacks. If they looked at Southern history instead of Boston history, they might remember that whites always had a set of poll watchers ready to humiliate black voters and send them away. The King Street Patriots seem ignorant of the racial history they’re stirring up. They’re naïve to think that black voters will offer them a cookie or try petting them, though it might be worth a try.