It’s not often that you hear a politician come right out and speak the brutal truth. But in the wake of his defeat on Tuesday in the Republican primary, Railroad Commissioner Victor Carrillo did just that. A Rick Perry appointee who was subsequently elected in 2004, Carrillo, the commission’s chairman, spent more than $620,000 in his primary contest. He sent nearly 500,000 mailers to Republican households. He aired radio ads, did robocalls, bought print ads—you know, the things you do when you’re trying to win a campaign.
Carrillo’s opponent, an obscure fellow from Giddings, blew through a grand total of $33,000. He hardly ran a campaign at all, as far as anybody could tell. And he gave the incumbent a thumpin’, as W. would say, taking more than 60 percent of the statewide vote.
Golly: What could explain such a thing?
Victor Carrillo knows: It was all in the name. His opponent’s? David Porter. Good old Caucasian-sounding, milktoasty David Porter.
In an explosive post-primary letter sent to his supporters (full text below), Carrillo laid it out: “Given the choice between ‘Porter’ and ‘Carrillo’ — unfortunately, the Hispanic-surname was a serious setback from which I could never recover although I did all in my power to overcome this built-in bias.”
Carrillo is unquestionably right. No reasonable person could deny that there exists—as Observer staff writer Forrest Wilder called it in a post-2008 election story on the subject—a “Latino Factor” when Texas voters go to the polls. Testing the “bias” Carrillo speaks of, Wilder and Democratic political demographer Leland Beatty analyzed election returns involving Democratic judicial candidates Linda Reyna Yanez and J.R. Molina. Both faced Republican incumbents. Both lost. And both were significantly outpolled by white Democratic challengers facing Republican incumbents in parallel races. The whiter the county, the greater the discrepency between the Latino Democrats and their Caucasian counterparts. “This is just as plain as the nose on your face,” Beatty said.
That was in a general election. In a Texas Republican primary, it’s reasonable to expect the “Latino Factor” to be magnified considerably.
Some pundits have attempted to shift the blame away from the many Republican voters who clearly chose Porter over Carrillo for reasons of racial comfort. Paul Burka scolded the GOP leadership for leaving Carrillo “to fight on his own,” and asserts that it’s “painfully obvious that no one but Victor Carrillo gave a damn about whether he won or not.” Dallas Morning News editorial writer Jim Mitchell took Carrillo to task for making “the ugliest exit I’ve ever seen.”
Mitchell was referring, in part, to Carrillo’s blunt words about Porter, whom he called “an unknown, no-campaign, no-qualification CPA from Midland residing in Giddings filed on the last day that he could file while I was waiting in Abilene to bury my dad. He has never held any elected office, has no geoscience, industry, or legal experience other than doing tax returns for oil and gas companies.”
You are not supposed to say such things, true or not. Carrillo’s no-holds-barred accusation of racial bias clearly makes just about everybody uncomfortable. Most pundits have focused their opinions on a side issue: “What does this say about the Texas Republican Party?”
It says this: The Texas Republican Party is an ever-whiter shade of pale. It also says that the Republican base is comprised of voters who don’t study up much on the down-ballot races. And it says that these folks tend to vote for the name that sounds safest and most familiar when they have no other basis for choosing. Latino voters often do the same thing, in the other direction. There just aren’t many of them itching to vote in Republican primaries these days.
Rocket science this ain’t.
Republicans are, of course, recoiling at Carrillo’s “ugly” outburst—how dare he speak the truth so plainly? But they ought to be taking it the way it was most likely intended: as a big, bracing, and necessary slap in the face. Yes, Victor Carrillo was undoubtedly mad as fire when he dashed off that letter (and who can blame him?). But this was also Carrillo’s career-defying attempt to knock some sense into his party before it devolves into a whites-only club that will have a devil of a time competing for votes in the emerging Texas.
Here’s the full text of Carrillo’s letter: Dear Family, Friends, Colleagues, Supporters:
As you now surely know, last night I was defeated (61% / 39%) in my statewide Republican Primary by my opponent, David Porter. Porter, an unknown, no-campaign, no-qualification CPA from Midland residing in Giddings filed on the last day that he could file while I was waiting in Abilene to bury my dad. He has never held any elected office, has no geoscience, industry, or legal experience other than doing tax returns for oil and gas companies.
I was handily defeated in spite of spending over $600,000 to do the following:
1) Distribute two direct mail pieces to almost 500,000 Republican primary households;
2) Run a 60-second radio spot on TX State Radio Network, supplemented by key conservative talk and Christian radio stations;
3) Run ads in several targeted newspapers;
4) RoboCalls to thousands of “Independent” households;
6) Actively campaign in-person by my campaign staff and me.
Early polling showed that the typical GOP primary voter has very little info about the position of Railroad Commissioner, what we do, or who my opponent or I were. Given the choice between “Porter” and “Carrillo” — unfortunately, the Hispanic-surname was a serious setback from which I could never recover although I did all in my power to overcome this built-in bias. I saw it last time but was able to win because the “non-Carrillo” vote was spread among three Anglo GOP primary opponents instead of just one. Also, the political dynamics have changed some since 2004.
Many of you have begun to call and/or write to express your concern over the whole situation. You are correct to be concerned over the fact that the GOP (our party) still has these tendencies to not be able to elect or retain highly qualified candidates who WANT to continue serving the public as I do. It is indeed a shame. Nevertheless, I refuse to walk away in shame because I know that my team and I did just about all we could have done to ensure that the primary electorate knew of my qualifications, expertise, and experience. The rest was beyond my control. I also urge party leaders to not alienate the Hispanic/Latino voter in Texas, as we now comprise about 39% of the population and we remain the fastest-growing minority group in the nation.
However, none of you should be concerned about me and my family or my staff. Justin, my dedicated chief of staff and former student, gave up an excellent position to come back to help me through a most difficult time in my personal life with regard to my health and campaign. He remains a trusted friend and advisor and I will do all I can to ensure that he and his dear family are well positioned to allow his true, full potential to shine.
As for me and my family, I have learned much over the last several months of personal tragedy — after my own brain surgery/recovery, the death of my half-brother at Thanksgiving, and the death of my Dad (my best friend) in January:
THE SPECIFIC OUTCOME OF MY PATH IN LIFE IS NOT IN MY CONTROL, BUT WHOLLY IN THE MERCIFUL HANDS OF MY LORD & SAVIOR. HE, BEING SOVEREIGN, KNOWS WHAT IS BEST FOR ME & HE ALONE REMAINS IN FULL CONTROL! AS FOR ME, IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL!
So please don’t fret over my situation! God has known my path from before the beginning of time and He guides my path and I am fully confident that He will work things out for His ultimate glory! I do, however, seek your continued prayers for my wife (Joy) and my daughters (Laura, Christina, Grace), that they not overly worry about our future. I also covet your ongoing prayers for my 86year old mother (Alicia), who continues to grieve the loss of her firstborn son and my dad within a six-week time period.