Dear Bill White …
Dear Mayor White,
Like so many Texans who’ve long been panting, gasping and praying for a viable alternative to the perpetual campaigning and epic misgovernance of Rick Perry, I’ve been feeling unusually perky since you announced your run for governor late last year. Your three terms as mayor of Houston demonstrated that it’s possible for a Texas politician to be competent, (moderately) progressive and popular all at once. Your act of political courage and moral compassion after Hurricane Katrina, inspiring and challenging your city to welcome and embrace 250,000 of their suffering fellow Americans, was enough to make the rest of the country believe—if only for a brief spell—that Texans are human beings after all.
You became, as the cliche went, “The Great White Hope” for those who’d like to see Texas give good government a spin. For the first time since 1994, the prospect of electing a non-Bush or non-Perry as governor didn’t seem like a total pipe dream. Your business and national political connections promised to help you scare up the dollars crucial to winning in this big ol’ state of multiple media markets. As the former Democratic state chair, and a native of San Antonio, you know your way around the state. And as an exemplar of good old-fashioned responsible governing, we just knew you would make a bright-light contrast to a guy who can’t stand the government he’s supposed to be running on our behalf.
It’s true, of course, that we could see—who couldn’t?—that you weren’t exactly a neon-lights sort of guy. You look like an average fellow, if average fellows were bald and big-eared with sparkly blue eyes, and you talk a little slow and wonky. But there again, we thought, this made you look less like another slick, aw-shucksin’, full-of-bull politician. (Such as, for instance, the one you’re running against.)
Most of all, Mayor White, we looked at you—and your record—and saw somebody with integrity. Somebody whose “Texas values” weren’t about states’ rights and gun-toting bravado, but about doing things right and well and conscientiously. Everything about you seemed to invite trust and faith.
Now you’ve gone and stepped in it. You’ve tested our faith and dampened our hope. Right out of the gate, after you rode a solid campaign to an easy primary victory, you started your general-election challenge to Gov. Perry by making the kind of big old honking amateurish blunder we figured you—of all people—would be immune from.
When you said you weren’t going to release your tax forms, with some complicated and all-too-politicianish excuse, you opened yourself up to an out-of-the-gate assault from the hatchet men on the Perry team. You set yourself up to be defined as shady—even if you’re not.
Every day that you stay stubborn about this, you’re losing ground. You can’t afford to lose one inch more to the meanest, savviest political team in Texas since Bush and Rove left for the White House.
But more than that, you’re giving those who’ve been investing their fondest hopes—and, in some cases, a portion of their life’s savings—in you reason to doubt. Maybe we don’t believe, even now, that you’re actually the sort of guy who has dark, scummy things lurking in his tax returns. But we can’t help thinking that you just might be the kind of politician—yet again—who champions smart policies, means well, would be far superior in office to the joker we’ve got, but who turns out to be a Grade A numbnuts when it comes to running a winning campaign.
For folks like me, the fact that you’re a Democrat doesn’t mean all that much—though it would be nice to have some healthy two-party competition in this state. The fact that you’re bright and demonstrably competent, and that you want to run Texas responsibly for a change, is what matters the most. Not only do Texans need somebody with your brains and—we’re still pretty sure—your above-average honesty in the state’s higest office, we also need to have a high-level political debate over the genuine problems we face. Even if you didn’t win, we figured you’d raise the bar and stir at least a little awareness of how dire things are in Texas schools, with Texas health care, and with the state’s deregulated utilities and insurance companies.
But nobody’s going to be listening if your campaign flies off the rails as soon as it pulls out of the station. And there’s a chance that a whole lot of people aren’t going to trust what you say if you don’t step up immediately and walk your talk of integrity and transparency.
Texas surely needs your kind of politics, Mayor White, more than you need to keep your tax returns private. For the sake of the things you say you stand for, on behalf of the praying and gasping and suffering, I’m begging you: Release those suckers. (And not just for 2009.) Release them yesterday. Get past this unnecessary load of hoo-ha that you’ve brought down on your own head. And get back out there and start telling Texans what their government can, and should, do to promote their welfare again.
Yours very beseechingly,