Updated 5:15 a.m. Sept. 2.
In case you’ve been getting your Dallas ethics scandals confused, this post is about state Rep. Joe Driver of Garland—not about state Reps. Terri Hodge and Linda Harper-Brown or U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson.
Perhaps you remember: Driver is the 18-year incumbent who admitted to the AP that he’s been double-billing the state for years. Reporter Jay Root found more than $17,000 of taxpayer money that the representative had pocketed. One launched investigation later, Driver has repaid his campaign almost $50,000, while various editorial boards call for resignation and tough investigations. Things are not looking good for the self-proclaimed fiscal conservative.
Luckily for the Democrats, they had already been targeting the race in Driver’s District 113. Jamie Dorris, one of those young professionals that political parties love so much, has the support of Annie’s List and major party donor John Mostyn.
If a scandal had to break against a Republican, it couldn’t have happened in a better race for the Ds. Many scandals don’t have electoral consequences, either because there’s no challenger or the district simply isn’t competitive. This race is far from over, and Driver is still in it for the win, but by some stroke of luck, this happened to be one of the seven challenger races the Democrats were already focused on. In addition, they’re hoping to make gains in districts 105, 114, 138, 144, 56 and 17. (District 105 also features another scandal-plagued Republican incumbent in Harper-Brown.)
In general, Democratic groups are choosing to recruit and support a few potential candidates—quality over quantity, if you will. “What matters the most,” says Jeff Rotkoff, executive director of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, “is that the right candidates run in the right districts.” Rather than spread money out, they’re concentrating it in only a few races.
In the past, this district has not been much of a focus for the Ds; Driver has won with at least 58 percent of the vote the past three cycles, and between 1994 and 2002, he did not have an opponent at all. Had the AP story broken during almost any other year—and it seems Driver has been double-billing the whole time—the Democrats might not have been able to mount a tough challenge.
This year, they may have gotten lucky. The Ds actively targeted the district, and everyone associated with the Dorris campaign seems eager to tell me that the race was already close. Thanks to those big donations from Mostyn ($20,000) and Annie’s List (combined $25,000), she reported raising almost $70,000 in the July filings—well before the scandal broke. Driver’s campaign raised $111,000.
“It was definitely on our list to watch before this,” says Robert Jones, the Annie’s List political director. “That’s why we took the time to recruit Jamie and support her financially.” He won’t say how much they’ll give total, but Jones points out that in competitive races, Annie’s List has given upwards of $100,000.
Dorris seemed eager to stick to her message when I spoke with her last week. (The message being that she’s your normal, church-going local running against a politician who’s lost touch.) “I’m just an average person who just really wanted to make a difference in the community,” she says.
Her campaign manager, Michael Points, says it more directly. “This race is between Jamie Dorris who is not a career politician, whose mother is a nurse…who was taught in the Church of Christ what is right and what is wrong,” says manager Michael Point.
Her campaign has capitalized on the scandal; the campaign site devotes almost one-third of the homepage to scandal coverage. The Dallas Morning News has already proclaimed the race more competitive.
“We’ve done very well since the story broke,” says Points. “We’ve launched pretty aggressive online fundraising.”
Meanwhile, Dorris acknowledges the need for more challenges. “This [scandal] is a great example of why we do need choice,” she says. Then she tells me about going into a pizza shop, where some of the people recognized her. “You’re running against that guy who took our money,” they said.
That’s probably not a bad way to get known.