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JOURNAL Mary Choate: The Law South of the Red River TEXARKANA Four years ago when Mary Choate ran for sheriff of Bowie County here in far northeast Texas, some voters especially older white males chuckled as if . she were the star of the TV sit-corn, “She’s the Sheriff.” But the former Texarkana policewoman proved she was serious. She forced a runoff and narrowly lost to incumbent Thomas Hodge, in his second term. On Super Tuesday this year, Mary Choate stronger and more savvy led five men, including Hodge, in the Democratic primary. Nobody laughed this time. Among her staunchest supporters were older, rural, white males. “You know,” a tall, weatherbeaten white man told me, “I believe that woman’s gonna beat Hodge this time.” In the April 12 runoff she did, and part of the reason is revealed in what a white farmer in his 70s confided: “I used to think a woman didn’t have any business being sheriff, but I decided maybe that woman’ll change things!” “That woman,” as many still refer to Mary Choate, has not only changed Bowie Countians’ perception of a woman’s role but also, unintentionally or not, has delivered an astonishing blow to the local power brokers. Reform was never openly mentioned in the campaign, and Choate eschews an anti-establishment label \(she was, after all, endorsed by the Texarkana but politics here may never be the same again. The good-ol’-boy network is far from moribund, but it has absorbed a telling punch. In running a remarkably clean but aggressive race Choate came off as a gentle giantkiller. In defeating Hodge 6,236 to 5,738 with 52 percent of the vote, Choate ran a gauntlet deeply tainted by blatant sexism, which mostly never came to public scrutiny. Her signs were knocked down, in apparently systematic fashion, all over the county; one weekend her signs were defaced wholesale by spray paint. Even more damaging were slanderous rumors which have become an expected feature of Bowie County politics with baseless sexual innuendoes. In most ways, the attack on her was a rerun of the 1984 race. In addition this time, she became the target of negative ads openly tied to the Hodge candidacy. James Presley is a long-time Observer contributor who lives in Texarkana. Going into the stretch, with Hodge seeming to be losing ground, large newspaper ads compared Hodge with the “Other Candidate,” touching upon personal matters such as marital status \(Hodge: “Married 26 years”; Choate: “Single for past seven \(Hodge: “Member of Buchanan First Baptist Church”; Choate: “Candidate has not publicly revealed a religious affiliagrounds, the ads emphasized Hodge had attended high school in Texas, Choate in Arkansas a chauvinistic ploy in this border region, and that Hodge was an exMarine while Choate had no military record. The ad attack on Choate became a campaign issue. Choate responded with an ad of her own. \(“I am an active member of the Church on the Rock Texarkana, but most important, I am a born-again, Spirit-filled Christian. I am also active in Music Ministries in Baptist, Methodist, Assembly of God, and other churches.” She explained that she has been divorced for seven years. Ironically, her family was an essential factor in her campaign, particularly her father, gritty retired Master Sgt. A. M. Choate, who worked day and night in her behalf. Controversy has accompanied Bowie County politics in recent years. Computer breakdowns at crucial stages of vote counting frequently crop up. Such a malfunction occurred in the 1984 tally when Hodge narrowly Won by 322 votes; the final count was delayed for several hours, leaving a residue of suspicion in some minds. A similar breakdown followed on Super Tuesday this year. A few days earlier, absentee-vote fraud claims had been made in a commissioner’s campaign. On April 12 rumors floated over the county that a member of the Texas Secretary of State’s office had arrived to observe the election. The report apparently was true, though the representative was not present in an official capacity. This time vote-counting progressed, unimpeded by breakdown. Among Choate’s qualifications are seven years with the Texarkana Police Department, a B.S. in law enforcement and an M.S. in interdisciplinary studies from East Texas State University at Texarkana. She came to broad public notice in the early 1980s as director of the Crime Stoppers program, for which she made frequent TV appearances and gained a high public profile. Her skills as a public speaker, particularly useful in making her own TV spots, proved to be a considerable asset. She campaigned strenuously on the drug issue. “As an adolescent in the late 1960s, she said, “I saw friends develop drug problems. Some were incarcerated.” She told of the drug-related crimes she’d seen as a policewoman. The day after her victory, she was looking forward to formulating an action plan for her term beginning January 1, shoring up communication with the public, a restructuring of the office, and an anti-drug campaign that would involve the public, incorporating features of the Silent Witness and Crime Stoppers programs. She will not be the first female sheriff in the state. According to the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas, F. .L. Sproul of Jeff Davis County gained that distinction when she was elected in 1934. Six others have followed: Alice Thomerson of Aransas would make Mary Choate the eighth woman to serve as sheriff in Texas and the fourth to be elected without first having been appointed to fill , a vacancy caused by her husband’s death. Amusingly, in the hullabaloo over her sex, both opponents and voters appear to have overlooked an equally significant fact. Mary Choate is 33 years old, which will make her, as far as anyone can remember, the youngest sheriff in the county’s history. Not to mention that she’ll be the first high sheriff here with a master’s degree. Or a bachelor’s degree. James Presley A Toxic Sample for the Attorney General AUSTIN A southeast Harris County group, perhaps the most dogged backyard environmentalists in the state, brought their muted protest and a sample of the industrial waste they claim has destroyed their community to Austin recently where they requested a meeting with Attorney General Jim Mattox. Highlands residents Eva Fontenot, Gloria Chaplin, Fannie Cook, and Nora Talent, who are restrained from publicly speaking by a gag order related to a civil suit, stood silently while the group’s spokesman, Norvel Wilburn, met with a small group of reporters gathered at the entrance of the ‘Supreme Court Building. Wilburn said that the group was in Austin to request a meeting THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11