PATRICIA MOORE Ben Reyes located at the crossroads of two venerable Hispanic neighborhoods, Denver Harbor, and Magnolia. Members of the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project worked simultaneously getting record numbers of Latinos registered to vote. Green and Whitmire’s consultants, meanwhile, played a numbers game with computers, precincts lists, voters rolls and fax machines. They put together a Cadillac of a mailballot campaign, completely overshadowing any similar efforts by Martinez and Reyes. Green and Whitmire threw the bulk of their resources into the technique knowing it would be the key to victory. “We didn’t have a cause. Ben and Roman had the crusade going on,” said McClung. “We knew we had support in the black community and strong Anglo support. We had to use whatever means were legal and available to extend our support at the polls.” With a combination of big bucks, organization, political acumen and old fashioned racial division, Green and Whitmire prevailed. “Let’s just say we were caught totally unaware,” said John Castillo, Reyes’ campaign manager. “And we’ll never be that unaware again.” McClung’s strategy began with obtaining a list of senior citizens who had voted early in previous elections. By plugging those names into a data bank, campaign workers were able to send out applications for ballots, follow the process through the county clerk’s office, pinpoint the day the ballot would be mailed, and even show up on a voter’s doorstep within minutes after the mail arrived. It was an expensive and labor-intensive procedure that reportedly cost Whitmire more than $150,000 in the runoff. Much of that was spent in Acres Homes, a predominately black community that had supported him in the past. Green, meanwhile, worked low -income elderly whites in blue-collar enclaves like Galena Park and Jacinto City. “It was a divide and conquer strategy,” said Tatcho Mindiola Jr., an associate professor of sociology and director of the Mexican-American Studies program at the University of Houston. “Use racial tension to solidify your white vote and then divide the minorities, the blacks from the browns.” Jeff Crosby, an Austin-based political consultant for Emory & Young, which managed Reyes’ direct mail and phone operations, said he had recommended an aggressive mail-vote program but his candidate was limited by time and money. “Ben had the organization to do something like this but it would have caused him to suspend other activities which were more productive to him: Building up his base in the Hispanic community, going door-to-door, dropping off leaflets, putting up signs,” he said. “You get in these situations where you have to make a decision: Is it worth it for me to spend all my time on this? Obviously this program was going to work, but it was more productive to Green than it would have been for Ben.” Reyes, Martinez and local activists focused instead on turning out a record Hispanic vote. Nearly 24,000 new Hispanic voters signed up to vote last year. Many of them went to the polls: The Hispanic vote increased from about 2,000 votes cast in the 29th Congressional District in 1990 to 18,000 in 1992. Total Hispanic turnout which traditionally comprises about 6 percent of the electorate in Houston municipal elections swelled to 50 percent for the congressional contest. In the final analysis, however, Green won 50.3% to 49.7% and Whitmire beat Martinez 52.3% to 47.6%. Green received 1,739 early votes in comparison to 992 for Reyes. Whitmire received 2,839 early votes while Martinez received only 951. Neither Green nor Whitmire make any excuses for playing hardball. Whitmire claims he was running not only against Martinez, but an entire slate of Hispanic candidates and this was the only way he could level the playing field. Green says he was simply employing the same technique that Reyes had used successfully albeit on a much smaller scale in past elections. “I guess the only thing that we did wrong was win the election,” says Green. Hispanic activists, however, see a darker side to the process. “Let’s face it, those voters were out there to be plucked,” says Andy Hernandez, president of the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project based in San Antonio. “But there’s a deeper problem here, which is that these votes 8 OCTOBER 30, 1992
You May Also Like
The documentary in Falfurrias is sinister and spiritual.