I’ve met a middle-aged, mannered PR flack who, when Ciro Rodriguez was mentioned, threatened to kick the former congressman’s ass if he ever met him. The offense? Ciro supported sending that iconic balsero Elián Gonzalez back to Cuba.
Manuela from Natalia, a town not far from Castroville, reserves the same single-issue anger for her Congressman Henry Bonilla: At the Saturday farmer’s market on Jackson-Keller, standing over a table of ghost-white eggplants, the baby boomer squeezes her hands in the air, mock-choking imaginary carotid arteries, while describing the seven-term incumbent as a Social Security Lockbox raider. His 1999 vote to put the S.S. surplus in the hands of I.O.U.-receipt writers is hard to defend — and sure the Alliance for Retired Americans gave him a goose-egg score last year — but should we execute Emperor Maximilian? (Manuela elaborated further with an imaginary shotgun).
In case you haven’t developed your one-thing-to-hate-about-the-candidates-for-Congressional-District-23 yet (Hurry! The runoff election is Tuesday), consider the items below; which admittedly contain a bias against the incumbent, Bonilla, to counter the anoxic-brain-injury sufferers on the daily’s editorial board, who reason that the Republican should be voted back into the Democrat-controlled House because he’s held an Appropriations Committee post a while.
But Craig Goodman, a political-science professor at Texas Tech, suggests that Bonilla could be a shadowy backbencher and even less effective now that his party won’t control the agenda. Then there’s that little matter of payback, which is always a bitch when you’re the one getting it. Bonilla could be up for a horse head in his bed (see also CATTLE entry below), for aggressive tactics like threatening Democratic lawmaker Marcy Kaptur of Ohio when she offered a last-minute amendment, saying he would zero out any project that benefited her constituents if she didn’t shut up. Now she’s the senior Democratic lady on the Appropriations Committee.
And although he was deposed in 2004 due to the magic of redistricting, Ciro spent seven years in Congress, so you shouldn’t expect him to start out at the bottom if elected, Goodman said. “He’s been a fairly loyal Democrat. It’s up to the party leaders, and I’d be surprised if they made him the least-senior Democrat. Obviously, taking someone like Bonilla out would be a major coup.” (Nancy Pelosi has already sent Ciro a few thousand dollars and a “Wish you were here” postcard.)
HATING ON ROOTS AND FOLLICLES
You probably remember that mural at South San Antonio High School, painted by a 2000 Latino Studies class, as the “wall of honor” that got a little whiteout after an honoree turned felon (Raul Prado, former school-board member convicted for public corruption in 2004). Now we draw your eyes past the sad Tejano singer in the clown suit, past the painted-over felon, to the trio the South Side sent to Congress: Ciro Rodriguez (D), the late Frank Tejeda (D), and Henry Bonilla (R). Henry is the only South San graduate among them. And November 7 election results say Ciro was the top vote-getter on the South Side, including the precinct containing Henry’s alma mater (Ciro got 112 votes there to Henry’s 45). Henry likes to brag that he never ran for student council in school, and one can’t help but think even then Hispanics suspected he wasn’t down (maybe he preferred the Osmond’s “One Bad Apple” to Paul Revere & the Raider’s “Lament of the Cherokee Reservation” for class of ’71 song?) and would run off with the prom money (like he did the American Dream PAC’s dough, a front organization that funneled jet and hotel fare to him and Tom DeLay’s legal-defense fund).
Bonilla ran away, however, with North Bexar County — particularly Anglo-centric places like the UTSA-area precinct he haunted all election season (getting 186 votes to Ciro’s 45). Maybe South San should consider exporting a section of its mural up I-10? Or his alma mater should erect a plaque with this inscription, courtesy Inthepink.com: “Republican Congressman Henry Bonilla launched his re-election campaign at his childhood house on the South Side in the newly created District 23. Bonilla hasn’t been back to the South Side since he left at 16, promising to become a rich white Congressman.”
Ciro has shown great flexibility since D-triple-C field coordinators parachuted in last month to save his campaign. His wife, Carolina Peña, and former spokeswoman, Gina Castañeda, are no longer in charge of mistakenly sending out press releases about his CD-23 campaign on his old CD-28 letterhead — the district he inherited from lifelong political foe Frank Tejeda, and lost after the 2003 redistricting pitted Ciro against a Laredo Dem on his hometurf. But one antiquated holdover remains: Ciro’s moustache. He looks like a French inspector.
There are tomes about facial hair, politicians, and the appearance of trustworthiness (well, I found an article about Al Gore’s beard on Slate.com) that say whiskers aren’t worn in modern politics for a reason (the Mayor would look 65 if he lost his!). Shaping and selling a political image is precisely what a former slick newsman who’d never run for office before does best (notice Henry’s naked upper lip, ignore the lies). It may seem like a small thing, but consider Democrat Diane Farrell, who ABC News highlighted in October for looking prettier on her second bid for a Connecticut congressional seat (she stopped wearing her blond hair in a bun). Farrell lost, and the analysts at the Rothenberg Political Report say Ciro will, too. But isn’t looking better than Republicans the real revenge?
HATING ON CATTLE
Like horses? Prefer to ride or roast them? When the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act galloped around the House this year, Henry Bonilla said butcher your tired steeds and send them to stick-resistant slow cookers in horse-eating countries (did you know horse is a Kazakh delicacy?). The Humane Society of the United States says nearly 100,000 horses are butchered and sold abroad annually. Two of the nation’s three horse-butchering plants are here in Texas, and as you read this, the Senate is considering the bill to shut them down. In my heart of hearts, I believe Henry’s not drooling at the idea of dining on equine (full disclosure: I sampled horse tongue in a Russian restaurant in LA). Henry’s probably trying to protect any and all Texas meat industries, like he did with beef during the 2003 U.S. Mad-Cow scare. Remember how he fought country-of-origin labeling, saying the burden would be too costly for the industry? That’s more compelling than a case of the fatal Creutzfeldt-Jakob brain melt any day.
ON PLAYING DIRTY
Back in 1992, just six weeks before the election, the San Antonio Light discovered that Henry’s campaign used KENS staff and equipment to produce a campaign ad (he didn’t have today’s mountain of money: the Beef PAC hardly knew him). His wife at the time, anchor Deborah Knapp, used newsroom computers to organize political donations, and anchor Chris Marrou planned to host a fundraiser, the Light said, all while KENS covered Henry’s candidacy.
Henry’s a cybersquatter, says Rick Bolanos, the Dem who walked away with the primary win in March (later annulled). Bolanos filed a $1-million federal lawsuit in October alleging that Henry’s campaign treasurer, Jill DeYoung, bought 25 web-domain variations on the Dem challengers name, which redirected browsers to Bolanos2006.com, a webpage with a skeletal “coming soon” announcement. Bolanos said the fake sites registered 25,000 hits, possibly from potential donors and major news outlets seeking interviews. “`DeYoung` needs to be arrested and `Bonilla` needs to be spanked,” he said.
For the Leave No Defense Contractor Behind files … Despite the 2005 Pentagon audit that said Halliburton was overcharging the government (by a mere $100 million), Henry has sent more contracts their way (the Halliburton PAC sent a $1,000 campaign thank-you donation this year). But when the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee lawmaker voted to give small-arms ammo manufacturer Alliant Techsystems a total of $776 million in contracts in the 2002 leadup to war in Iraq, he got a nice lil kickback — he had boosted the value of his wife’s thousands of dollars in Alliant stock and become a war profiteer.
If only military personnel had such a friend, the Disabled American Veterans say. They gave Henry a zero for not supporting an amendment to the Military Quality of Life appropriations bill for trauma care and prosthetics, and benefits for surviving spouses with children. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America give him a 66 for voting against increasing military-survivor benefits and opposing expanding the TRICARE health-insurance program to the National Guard and U.S. reservists.
“It sounds like Ciro is more sympathetic `to military personnel` issues, from what I hear on TV,” said Cynthia Rangel, whose son, 1994 South San High School graduate and U.S. Air Force firefighter Ray Rangel, died in Iraq in February 2005, leaving behind a wife and four children. American Legion Post 399 on Southcross was renamed to honor Ray last month.
What’s heavier than Henry’s attack ads on Ciro’s alleged links to a “known terrorist” with ties to Libya (the Express-News reports Ciro received a 1998 donation from a shady character before any criminal investigation into his shadiness)? Henry’s hindsight hypocrisy, says Capitolannex.com. Henry may stump on Meet the Press about the dangers illegal immigration poses to national security. But if his beloved HR 4437 had been law in 1993, he’d be a felon for employing an undocumented British nanny for seven years. Henry swore she was “no burden on society whatsoever,” according to Roll Call (citing the Houston Post). But it wasn’t until he was investigated by the Justice Department that it was revealed he hadn’t paid Social Security or taxes on her wages. So, what’s the statute of limitations on sizing up a candidate’s terrible judgment?
OTHER SLINGS AND ARROWS
Ciro is weighed down also by the enmity focused on his brother, Bexar County Commissioner Chico Rodriguez (who supports dissolving the Bexar Metropolitan Water District and helped abolish the justice of the peace seat of a political foe). Word is, Rodriguez haters of the Dem persuasion have reached out to Henry in recent days, they’re that damn mad (as in crazy).
Would you believe it cost $45,400 more to run Ciro’s Capitol Hill office than Henry’s? According to the Statement of Disbursements that catalogued the official expenses of House members in 2002, Ciro likes taxicabs. He didn’t take $311,563 worth. But one can imagine Henry building up his war chest over the years by taking the subway to Rayburn. Oh, and catering to special interests and paying undocumented workers in tax-free cash. Ciro, you have a lot to learn.