Political Intelligence


Skinning the Congresscritter

“Ain’t it amazing what George Bush can do,” says Susan DuQuesnay Bankston.

The 57-year-old mother of three is at a former car dealership in Rosenberg, west of Houston, which recently became the first-ever headquarters of the Fort Bend Democrats’ club. Despite Fort Bend’s role in regularly electing Republicans like U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Sugar Land), the county is currently witnessing a bit of a Democratic resurgence, galvanized by the disastrous policies of the Bush Administration. Bankston, a longtime progressive and sixth-generation Texan, is enjoying every minute of it.

And so is Juanita Jean Herownself.

Juanita is the Richmond-based proprietress of the World’s Most Dangerous Beauty Salon, Inc. She is also Bankston’s alter ego and muse, a fictitious character who long graced a column in the Fort Bend Star and can now be found on Bankston’s website, Brazosriver.com.

Juanita and the folks at the beauty salon spend their days having fun at the expense of corrupt politicians and hypocritical holy rollers—both of which seem to be in abundance in Fort Bend. “Juanita Jean has long contended that the more a man tells you he is a Christian, the tighter you need to hold on to your purse,” observes Bankston.

In particular, the folks at the beauty salon talk a bunch about “Congressvarmint Extraordinary Tom DuhLay.” Just the other day, they were going through a list of “how many Tom DeLay and friends does it take to screw in a light bulb?” jokes. Among the many correct answers were “two—one to screw the light bulb and one to do likewise to his constituents; 432—one to hold the bulb and 431 Marinara Island sweatshop workers to turn the room; 15—one to screw in the bulb, three to set up a fake charity for poor little abused light bulbs, and 11 to count the cash; and 0—Tom’s constituents are accustomed to being in the dark.”

Back in 2003, there was much consternation at Juanita’s shop when DeLay went to the Middle East. “Tom believes that if he personally starts the opening of the Seven Seals while he’s in Israel, he’ll get a front row seat at Armageddon,” wrote Bankston at the time. “So, if you catch him on CNN riding around on a white horse with a bow and a crown, you better call your Momma and tell her to get the Women’s Prayer Union together over at Hallelujah Hall real quick because there ain’t nothing good that’s gonna come of this.”

Although Bankston often sees the congressman when he comes to town, he hasn’t spoken to her in about 20 years. “He just fixes me with a Christian glare,” she says at the club. “Nothing makes him madder than laughing at him.”

It probably didn’t help that for months after DeLay almost came to blows with fellow congressman David Obey (D-Wisconsin) in 1997, Bankston hollered “Sugar Ray DeLay” whenever she saw him.

Bankston wasn’t always a local celebrity, gleefully lampooning the foibles of the high and mighty and those who just think they are. She took to writing in the early 1980s when her son “embarrassed the hell out of me by joining the ROTC and going to Baylor.” “If he had dyed his hair purple, said he was gay, and moved to San Francisco, I could have handled that,” she says. Struck by her predicament, she wrote a funny column about it for the Houston Chronicle. Beverly Carter, editor of the Fort Bend Star, read the piece and promptly asked Bankston to write some more columns. “Nobody had ever called people names before in Fort Bend, and a lot of people were very upset,” recalls Carter. “As much trouble as she gets me in, her stuff still cracks me up.”

Back at the former car dealership, Bankston is saying goodbye to her son, Bryan, who stopped by for a visit. After an eight-year stint in the Air Force, he quit the service. Now, disgusted with the war and the president’s approach to the military, Bryan is a strong Fort Bend Democrat. “It’s another thing George Bush did for America,” she says approvingly. “[Bryan] came back into the fold with force.”

Task Force Toppling?

Could the era of Texas’ notorious regional narcotics task forces be ending? Possibly. A number of city officials across the state have reflected on the expensive lesson learned by the City of Amarillo—which earlier this year paid a $5 million settlement to victims of the much-discredited Tulia drug sting—and have pulled out of their local task forces in order to avoid the negative publicity, scandalous headlines, and hefty civil suits that seem to plague these law enforcement entities.

On August 31, the North Central Texas Narcotics Task Force, which covered Denton and Grayson Counties, ceased operations thanks to a July decision by Denton County Sheriff Weldon Lucas to disband the 15-year-old agency. As part of the move, the task force is returning what remains of its $418,738 Byrne grant to Gov. Rick Perry’s office, which administers Byrne funds. August 31 also marked the end of the South Plains Regional Narcotics Task Force, which has conducted narcotics investigations and stings in Lubbock and 17 outlying counties for more than 15 years. In mid-August, the Lubbock Police Department pulled out of South Plains and forfeited its role as administrator of the task force’s $655,650 Byrne grant.

In explaining their decision to withdraw, Lubbock police department officials cited rising insurance premiums and fees, the need for officers to focus on city drug cases, and an excessive expenditure of officers’ time and travel to cover such a vast area. However, increased liability risks were also a major factor. Lubbock lies just south of the area once served by the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Trafficking Task Force, which employed Tom Coleman—the officer primarily responsible for the botched up Tulia sting. As the Panhandle task force’s grant administrator, Amarillo became financially liable for Coleman’s actions, even though the sheriff’s department of neighboring Swisher County hired him. The Panhandle task force disbanded this spring.

Moving southward, the City of Laredo has pulled out of the Laredo Multi-Agency Narcotics Task Force, also forfeiting its role as grant administrator and reducing the task force by half. The Laredo Morning Times reported that the Laredo city manager and police chief said their reasons for withdrawing were “purely economical and budgetary.” Webb County will administer the $1.14 million Byrne grant for the task force, which also covers Zapata County. Meanwhile, the DPS stepped into the area once covered by the troubled 81st Judicial District Narcotics Task Force by creating the 11-county Regional Narcotics Task Force, launched in July. The DPS will oversee the new task force, which includes San Antonio and South Texas; this year it received more than $1.5 million in Byrne grant start-up funds from Perry’s office. Unlike traditional task forces, it will target drug trafficking organizations instead of low-level, individual dealers.

In the midst of change—much of which comes as good news for task force critics, including the ACLU of Texas—some folks still can’t let go. One is state Rep. Delwin Jones (R-Lubbock), who on August 23 called a meeting in Levelland with representatives from the DPS and law enforcement agencies still participating in the South Plains task force in an attempt to find a replacement grantee. No other task force participant accepted the job, leading Jones to look to the DPS for assistance. The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal also reports that Jones plans to introduce legislation this session to keep the South Plains task force running.

Perhaps it’s time for Rep. Jones to reread his copy of Too Far Off Task, the 2002 report by the ACLU of Texas that cataloged two dozen task force scandals from Tulia to Hearne. But if Jones needs a fresh scandal to convince him that the task force model simply doesn’t work, he might try calling up Blair Davis, a Houston-area landscape contractor. In late July, Davis was visited by several pistol-wielding officers from the Byrne-funded Harris County Organized Crime and Narcotics Task Force. The landscape contractor’s “crime” was growing hibiscus—which looks somewhat like marijuana, but with white flowers—in plain view in his front yard. No word yet on whether Davis will sue.

Perry’s Purse-strings

The recent news that Houston homebuilder Bob Perry bankrolled the shady Swift Boat Veterans for Truth assault on John Kerry with $200,000 in seed money brings two questions to mind: Is there any Texas GOP-affiliated outfit Perry doesn’t fund (maybe a Young Republicans lemonade stand in Lubbock)? And what would happen to the Texas GOP if, God forbid, he spent his political contributions elsewhere—like, say, purchasing Marlon Brando’s island?

In the past four years, Perry has made a total of $5.2 million in contributions to various Texan Republican efforts, according to the campaign finance hawks at Texans for Public Justice. That includes contributions to everything from Bush’s runs for president to Rick Perry’s campaign for governor to the Tom DeLay-inspired Texans for a Republican Majority PAC that’s now the focus of a Travis County grand jury investigation into campaign finance violations. Regular Observer readers will recall that Perry wrote checks to state Republican campaigns totaling an astounding $4 million in 2002 alone. That easily made him the state’s foremost political moneyman.

That kind of moolah goes a long way in state-level campaigns. Perry’s financing was essential to the Republican takeover of the Texas House and continued domination of statewide offices in 2002. The Lege later passed tort reform legislation that will help Perry in various civil lawsuits against him (at least 60 suits in the past 15 years). And Gov. Rick Perry (no relation) appointed Bob Perry’s right-hand man to the new state Residential Construction Commission that will resolve disputes between consumers and homebuilders like Bob Perry.

Strangely enough, a relatively small donation to the Swift Boat veterans has thrust the reclusive Perry into the political spotlight he had previously managed to avoid. On August 28, about 40 Kerry supporters and military veterans showed up at Perry’s suburban Houston home to protest his backing of the Swift Boat group, the Associated Press reported. Protestors rang Perry’s doorbell three times, and, when no one answered, they left a note on the doorstep asking Perry to halt his contributions. Since Perry grants fewer interviews than J.D. Salinger, there’s no word on whether he’ll continue funding the Swift Boat group. In the meantime, if Democrats truly want to reclaim power in Texas, they may want to start by hiding Bob Perry’s checkbook.