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Race for the Loompaland Beltway


Lukin Gilliland — now that’s an unusual name — Lukin Gilliland
Lukin Gilliland for U.S. Congress: The new golden ticket?
Lukin Gilliland — now that’s an unusual name — Lukin Gilliland. Sounds like a character from a Roald Dahl children’s book. And as the field of seven lucky challengers in the Congressional District 23 race is trimmed to six — and as everyone gets more bothered and breathless about the chances of jettisoning seven-term incumbent Congressman Henry Bonilla and taking over the Republican-rubber-stamp factory (two weeks ago the National Journal ranked CD-23 in the Top 60 competitive races, out of the entire 435 House seats up for election) — Gilliland, a Democratic-party fundraiser and Alamo-Heights homesteader, could be hovering a bubble or two nearer the race’s roof: His campaign got a fizzy-lift last week when Rick Bolaños dropped out of the CD-23 race and endorsed him.

“I guess you can say I’m taking one for the team, and getting behind a stronger candidate,” an emotional Bolaños said after it became clear he’d mangled his piggy bank, compromised his health stumping from South Bexar County to El Paso (sleeping in his truck), and exasperated his wife. He couldn’t last through another three weeks of the other Democrats poaching his blockwalkers and putting his volunteers on their payrolls, either. And did I mention his wife was mad? Poor Bolaños: The Vietnam vet held the original golden ticket to compete against Bonilla after he won 30,000 votes in the March Democratic primary. That victory was thrown down the garbage chute, along with the former borders of the strange CD-23, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned unconstitutional and discriminatory changes to its Hispanic-voter head count — Tom DeLay had carved them out of the giant peach of a district during the 2003 Texas redistricting to protect his spoiled and vulnerable boy, Bonilla.
“Am I disgusted? Sure I am, but I feel like I did the right thing,” Bolaños said.

How much of a boost did Bolaños give Gilliland?

I held a living-room screening of KLRN’s candidates’ forum, taped October 15, and asked a one-person focus group to assess the congressional hopefuls. (Bonilla did not appear at this or any other forum; he’s been too busy with Cheney-and-chicken fundraisers and gun-shop photo-ops.)

The participant, my boyfriend, liked the burly guy in the U.S. flag tie best. (Was it the way Bolaños emphatically corrected the moderator when she introduced him as a Republican? The sardonic delivery of lines like, “People like Henry Bonilla no longer care about the commonwealth … they vote for the corporate wealth”?) Remove Bolaños from the equation and the participant is drawn to “the John Wayne guy,” the quarter-horse trainer with the South-Texas-white-man tan and swagger: Gilliland. (“He just seems strong and centered,” the participant said. “Like he knows what he wants. I don’t know if he’s any good, but he creates a clear thought and ends it with a period.”)

To his credit, Gilliland railed against the elephant absent from the room and, no matter the question, made the case that the failings of the incumbent were the key issues in the CD-23 race. An answer about President Bush’s permanent tax cuts morphed into: “Even though Henry Bonilla has been on the Appropriations Committee and has been part of the leadership team, we still rank, according to US News & World Report, 49th in the amount of tax money we get back. So I think we need to make sure we’re getting our tax money back into Texas first before we talk about tax repeals.”

For a candidate that does not live in CD-23 (he has hunted in the district, he wants you to know), Gilliland has snagged some marquee San Antonio and West Texas endorsements: state senators (Leticia Van de Putte and retiring Gonzalo Barrientos), state reps (Pete Gallego, Mike Villarreal; and Robert Puente’s moonlighting as Gilliland’s treasurer), and San Antonio councilpersons (Art Hall, Richard Perez, Delicia Herrera, and Roland Gutierrez) among them. And the coveted Tejeda endorsement that challenger Albert Uresti had been waiting for? In Gilliland’s camp.

But I don’t put much stock in endorsements. Uresti stole the important AFL-CIO recommendation out from under Ciro Rodriguez’s hesitant feet, and still the former congressman’s coffers are fatter than any of the challengers — $850,000 according to the latest Federal Elections Commission reports (Uresti reported $5,000; Gilliland the supposed moneyman: $390,000). Bolaños got the historically Republican-leaning National Farmers Union endorsement, and now he’s out to pasture. And did you see the Express-News’ “reluctant” Bonilla endorsement? They’re holding out hope that one day his House leadership positions will manifest into something for his district and not just his party (14 years and counting, guys.) — that maybe he’ll abandon “Beltway tactics” like protecting DeLay even after he was indicted for conspiracy and money laundering.

Voters should shove that silly recommendation in the recycling bin and tell Bonilla, “You get nothing! You lose! Good day, sir!”

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