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CAMPAIGN JOURNAL On the Road With Victor Morales BY ARMANDO L. VILLAREAL Odessa/gig Springs/Lamesa/Lubbock August 14-15 Icaught up with Victor Morales at Manuel’ s Restaurant in Odessa, where a crowd of fifty people had already gathered by the time the candidate entered. Morales greeted each person with a handshake and a smile. Two Mexican-American women, standing off to one side of the room, tell me that this is their first political event ever. They came because, they said, “…es uno de nosotros, y venimos apoyarlo” he’s one of us, we’re here to support him. An Anglo businessman, in coat and tie, admits that it has been a while since he was active in politics, and that Morales has brought him back. The crowd is mostly local Democratic Party regulars, and the room is lively with chatter, until the chairman of the Ector County Democrats introduces Morales. “I entered this race,” begins Morales, “because I was tired and angry at Phil Gramm. And I waited, and no one came forth whom I felt could take Gramm on. So I stepped forward.” He moves on to immigration, telling the crowd how his grandparents came from Mexico and how grateful he is to this country. Yet he adds he has no problem with President Clinton ordering 1,000 additional guards to patrol the border. Then, with a hand of caution to the air and raised eyebrows he says, “But, we have to watch that baton swinging. Those people have human rights too!” . He proceeds through social security, health care, gun control, with anecdotes to advance each topic. Then he takes questions, and a working man, his voice filled with quiet indignation, asks Morales if he is aware of House Resolution 558, which would allow northeast states to dispose of their nuclear waste near Sierra Blanca. “I ask, because Phil Gramm voted for it. And I would like to know where you stand on the environment.” Morales responds that he is “pro-environment,” then discusses the issue in the manner of a high school science teacher, explaining the need to protect the environment. As for Sierra Blanca, Morales says he is not familiar with the controversy, and adds, “I will look into it.” Later a lively crowd is gathered at Woodson Park, where the sound system is blaring Tejano singer Michael Salgado’s “Cruz de Madera,” a choice that fits the homespun quality of the Morales campaign.. Teenage beauty contestants vying for a LULAC scholarship share the playground space with local officials and candidates working the crowd. A couple of local TV crews set up away from one another on the green grass, waiting for interviews. There is even a delegation of bikers, in black t-shirts emblazoned “Legislative Warriors.” They had met Morales at the state Democratic Convention in Dallas and are now supporting him. During the speakers’ introductions, I walk over to Bill Addington, who had asked Morales earlier about the radioactive waste project. For the past five years Addington has also been fighting the 91,000-acre Sierra Blanca sewer sludge project, which spreads tons of dewatered New York sewage sludge on the Mile High Ranch outside the town. He has also been leading the statewide fight against the Low Level Nuclear Waste Authority’s attempt to secure a permit to dispose of waste in Sierra . Blanca. “You know, Governor Bush and Phil Gramm are promoting the use of my home to be the nation’s pay toilet,” Addington says. He wants Morales to take a strong position against the nuclear waste dump. The next morning Morales is in Big Springacross from the county courthouse in the open-air plaza that was once the site of the Opera House. A crowd of twenty has come out to meet Morales, who appears tired until he is energized by the small crowd. When Morales finishes his remarks, a slender, elderly man steps up, and in a deliberate voice tells Morales he likes what he heard and hands him a check. Then he leaves the plaza. Neighbors tell me that the man is ninety years old, and no one in the crowd recalls him ever contributing to or openly supporting a political campaign. With Morales, it seems, connections are made through individuals and not institutions. The campaign moves on to Lamesa, thirty minutes northwest. Inside the Dawson County Commissioners’ Court is another small crowd, perhaps twenty-five people. As he had in Odessa and Big Spring, Morales explains why he is running and outlines the issues he is running on. In his truck, returning to Lubbock, Morales recalls that his primary opponent, John Bryant, had endorsements from former Governor Ann Richards, former U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright, and U.S. Representative Henry B. Gonzalezas well as labor unions and teacher groups. “That’s something you’d expect from the very beginning,” Morales said, “that the establishment people were going to go with Bryant.” What has he learned, on his quest for the U.S. Senate, about Texas and Texans? A small smile lights his face. He looks out at the open road, as if searching for the answer. “Seems like no one likes Phil Gramm, but he keeps getting elected!” He recalls how he has been traveling all these months talking with Texans, repeatedly discovering their abundant disgust with Gramm. After a moment’s pause, Morales recalls the early weeks of the campaign. He talks of the “little people” as family. People who helped him with a tenor twenty-dollar bill. People who offered him a place to spend the night, and who gave him taquitos to keep him going. These are the real heroes, he insists, the people who make it possible for him to continue in spite of all the odds. He insists, “I win every day. I am still amazed at how far I have gotten.” Just then someone coming up on the road behind us recognizes the truck and waves, and Morales responds with a wave and a smile. He drives on. Armando L. Villareal is a political consultant who has spent the last twenty-five years working in the U.S. and with emerging democracies in Latin American and in South Africa. 18 THE TEXAS OBSERVER SEPTEMBER 27, 1996