On Friday, Houston news station KHOU reported on the surprising election of Dave Wilson, a white anti-gay activist who beat a 24-year incumbent in a heavily Democratic and African-American district at least in part by pretending to be black. That story has blown up, but what few outlets are noting is that Wilson is a longtime and, heretofore, unsuccessful foe of the college system he has just joined.
During his run for District II trustee of the Houston Community College System, Wilson’s campaign materials never showed his face. Instead, they featured black families beside the words, “Please vote for our friend and neighbor Dave Wilson.” One mailer crowed, “Endorsed by Ron Wilson,” suggesting the support of a former state representative who is African American. But actually the endorsement came from Wilson’s cousin Ron, who lives in Iowa.
Wilson, an electrician known locally for nuisance lawsuits and homophobia, doesn’t deny his intent to mislead. “Every time a politician talks, he’s out there deceiving voters,” Wilson told KHOU.
But besides being non-representative of his district politically and racially, Wilson joins the ranks of conservative neophytes elected to political bodies they openly despise. At a tea party event in October of last year, Wilson delivered a 76-slide presentation on why voters should reject the $425 million bond proposal to fund HCC, the gist of which was that enrollment was down and money is expensive. Despite his heroic PowerPoint, that bond passed. In 2011, Wilson sued the HCC trustees to prevent the purchase of land Wilson claimed was overpriced. The suit was summarily dismissed with prejudice and Wilson had to pay court costs.
Most of Wilson’s 20 years of relapsing-remitting political activity in Houston has gone like that. But he has had one other taste of victory. Before turning his eye on HCC, Wilson fought homosexuality. In 2001, he gathered enough signatures to put a referendum on the ballot denying benefits to same-sex partners of city employees. That referendum passed. He followed up by running for mayor on an anti-gay platform, sending out tens of thousands of mailers saying Annise Parker, who is gay, should not be mayor because “homosexual behavior leads to extinction.”
In 2009, Wilson’s homophobia took a pitying stance. In one flier, he said, “I have nothing but compassion, respect, and sensitivity toward those trapped in homosexual behavior.” But by the time Parker won a second term, Wilson had gotten uglier. A capture of campaign website from December of 2011 features a Bible verse from Romans over an unsigned cartoon of Parker high-fiving Jerry Sandusky while saying, “You’re hired!”
The electorate that, perhaps inadvertently, elected Wilson last week also granted Parker a third mayoral term.
Wilson hinted at his new campaign strategy during his last failed run. Perhaps sensing that gay-bashing had lost its value as an electoral tool, Wilson released a statement two days before the 2011 election stating that he was not in the Ku Klux Klan, that Parker’s camp had spread a rumor to that effect, and that he had been a member of the NAACP for several years.
How much Wilson’s racial subterfuge helped him in last week’s election is unknown. The HCC system has been plagued by poor performance, and other trustees were forced into runoffs. But the effect could have been tiny and still decisive. Wilson beat incumbent Bruce Austin by only 26 votes in a race with more than 11,000 cast. Austin has asked for a recount, but with electronic voting, a reversal seems unlikely. An HCC trustee term is six years.