It’d be hard to miss us. I’m the black woman blissed out over the ripening Republican crackup (although the 2003 GOP-led redistricting effort was such an effective gerrymander that, excluding the indicted Tom DeLay’s vacated seat and Congressman Henry Bonilla’s district — declared unconstitutionally designed — every Texas incumbent in a 2006 U.S. House race would make it back to Capitol Hill). And Dave’s the Semitic beanpole in preposterous disguise (Exhibit A: the Rick Perry baseball cap). Even the barista at Ruta Maya Riverwalk, who caffeinates our election-night resolve, says no way we’re infiltrating Bonilla’s “victory party” tonight, this Super Tuesday.
Might the Republicans mistake us for a bouncy interracial couple, rather than a frenzied pair of undercover altweekly journalists? I squeak.
“In my party, not in my family,” says affected-twang Dave — funny — but by 8:15 p.m. we’ve got low hopes and Bonilla’s got 51 percent of the vote with only a handful of precincts in, according to my mother, who takes a break from Dancing With the Stars to report.
Given the Current’s rather condescending attitude toward Congressional District 23’s seven-term goon `see “The Proper Care & Feeding of Congressmen,” November 1-7, 2006`, one can imagine why we tried to don invisibility cloaks to venture into the Bonilla realm, hoping to see some special-election comeuppance.
One thing’s certain: there’s no Republican retinal scan in the Marriott Rivercenter ballroom. And the political antennae of the two women at the door scribbling out Texans for Henry Bonilla name tags do not detect anything strange about “Kay Dee” and Dave, the manic pair who descend on the table of extra disguises (Bonilla buttons, balloons, paddles, stickers) inside the entryway like Pottermaniacs at the summer’s most anticipated book release.
“It’s so fine,” Frank Guerra, the incumbent’s longtime PR ally, addresses the 150-person crowd and starts laying down bad-news asphalt sometime around 9 p.m. “We’re going to wait until the end, but we’re hovering at 50 percent.” 50 percent plus one vote would prevent a runoff in this eight-person race — er, seven since Democrat Rick Bolanos dropped from financial exhaustion last month. Bolanos was still on the ballot and getting 2 percent of the vote, Guerra tells the dejected crowd, who respond by hanging their heads further into their lemon-lime Sierra Mists (the bitter drink of the evening, a bartender reports). The ballroom starts to look like a loafing area, an exercise yard for people on edge and witnessing, on two big screen TVs, how to lock a party out of the national agenda. Dave and I are drinking margaritas.
“I’m so mad at Uresti,” I overhear the congressman’s aide, Mark Sanchez, say by the buffet table, talking about one Southside San Antonio challenger (who ends up in third place with 11.7 percent of the vote).
“The Democrats just got out more of the early vote,” a frustrated Louise Underwood-Botts, a precinct captain from Bexar County’s north side, commiserates with me on my second trip to the buffet. I never actually say “damn those blue devils,” so I don’t outright lie.
The only fibber in the room is the candidate. He takes the stage around a quarter to 10 p.m. (when bloggers were already calling it a runoff).
“I’m optimistic we can put this thing away tonight!” is as much a fantasy as his interpretation of the decision that landed him in this crowded race in the first place. “The Supreme Court said because I’m a Republican, I didn’t qualify as a Hispanic!” he says, cuing laughter and applause from the largely white audience.
Actually, the court said the 2003 GOP-led redistricting effort redrew Bonilla’s district simply to enhance his political fortunes, and resulted in the impermissible dilution of Latino voting strength in CD-23, a violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. (For the record, it was the Current who called Bonilla a vendido, not the high court.)
“So they moved the goal post down another 100 yards, and `there are` seven teams against us,” says Bonilla; it’s a clunky analogy that does not sit well with Dave.
“Actually, the Bonilla race was less like a football game and more like the Hogwarts Quidditch Cup,” Dave would later say, after Bonilla topped out at 48.6 percent (Democrat and former Congressman Ciro “Runoff Rod” Rodriguez came in second). All the schools are represented, and any sensible audience knows Harry’s heroic Gryffindor are the faves, but would be happy if Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw won, too. Anyone but the overly funded, glib, and cunning Slytherin.
Turns out the Marriott had been infiltrated by at least one other non-Bonilla supporter: The bellhop lives behind UTSA in CD-23, and happily admitted he didn’t vote for the incumbent. Because we were in character, we gave him a disapproving look.