Like many throughout the state, last night I tuned into to watch the Democratic debate between business owner Farouk Shami and former Houston mayor Bill White. White is favorite among the Dems and for a state that is politically and culturally changing in many areas, he symbolizes that potential. However, while I’d take White over Mr Good Hair Perry and Cheerleader Kay Bailey, I feel he came across way too cautious and I know I’m definitely not alone in my feelings.
Like it or not. personality, enthusiasm and just good ole fashion straight from the hip plain talk can go a long way in waking up, inspiring and exciting the legions of people who don’t vote because they feel candidates are not about the business of sincerely addressing their issues and concerns. Far too often people are left feeling like they are being treated as statistics and or part of a voting demographic to be conquered and not engaged. And while I recognize there are policy wonks who will insist that playing to the pool of ‘likely voters’ is a tried and true method, there’s rapidly coming a day when that won’t work. That pool is shrinking and politicians especially someone like White is going to have to step out his comfort zone just a bit and connect better with the people. What do I mean by that?
White doesn’t need to show up in fancy clothes or adopt new slang and pretend to be someone he isn’t. But it does mean he has to have a better sense of what large portions of the people he wants to govern are thinking and earnestly address them. A certain part of him has got to be he’s the guy who wanna have that proverbial beer with. But he also has to be the guy you wanna play basketball with, go shopping with,shoot pool with, go to the car show or rap concerts with or simply hang out on the corner with.. etc. He has to expnad and understand not everyone in Texas drinks or wants to drink beer.
Here’s the bottom line.. Rick Perry excites his base better than White is exciting his right now.. That’s not good. If White wins the March primary he’ll have lots of people voting for him because they can’t stand Perry or the Republicans in general and not because people who are ready to seriously ride hard for him.. Thats gotta change or its gonna be wrap come November.. It’s that serious and that simple.
People like to take shots at Farouk Shami and say he’s quirky because of his accent and all that, but lets keep it real. He excited people last night. His straight ahead talk and sincerity made people sit up and watch. He connected big time on two important issues, immigration and the death penalty. He talked about treating those who are undocumented as ‘Human beings’. In fact he used that word ‘Human’ 2 or 3 times… I don’t know what the so called policy experts said or how it polled , but Faraouk connectedwith people who often feel as if they are seen as invisible and even treated as second class or a burden to the rest of society. Farouk talked about building bridges and not walls with our neighbors in Mexico, much like we do with Canada. Again that connected. Lots of people in Texas and in fact all over the country can and do relate to that statement. It went a long ways. It made people in the room I was at sit and pay attention. It made folks go look up Farouk and see what his other policies were.
After Farouk spoke on immigration, as predicted there are the racist types who immediately started making their objections known by talking and texting crazy..There was one Neandertal type woman who immediately started tweeting how incredulous she was at Farouk’s suggestion of us working with and seeing our neighbors to the south as fellow human beings who are often in dire need and not some foreign enemy who needs to be spit upon. ‘Build a Bridge with Mexico? How about sending them to Jail’ she tweeted..
Is this the crowd we wanna play to? Isn’t this an outdated way of thinking? Isn’t this very 1980s? Bill White’s response on immigration seemed to suggest that he was playing to that crowd.. Not in policy obviously, but in the sense of him trying to minimize critcism and pushback. That’s not riding for your supporters.. That’s called playing them and people can sense that. As I said earlier, people in Texas are tired of being played.. We say let such people holding attitudes like that woman go back to their caves and let’s build with the people who see the world differently.
Memo to politicians: Millions of people throughout the state DO NOT see their family, friends, neighbors and the people of Mexico as enemies. It doesn’t matter how many Border Patrol shows they run on TV or how many reports of drug cartels we air on the evening news.. The average person sees things very differently. If we can get to that point in our thinking we can start to craft meaningful legislation that is benificial for everyone involved.
Even though Bill White is currently the favorite, if Farouk’s words start to get out to the millions who didn’t bother to watch last nights debate, he may get a few folks to go to the polls and give White a serious run for the money. As the former mayor of one of the largest and most diverse cities in the country, White should’ve have echoed similar sentiments as Farouk in an unabashed, undaunted way versus trying to cover all his political bases. Immigration is a human thing at the end of the day, not a policy thing… Its best we recognize that now, before we’re forced to in the near future…
On the issue of the death penalty, Farouk came out the box swinging when he pretty much said ‘Hell naw- we need a moratorium’. He said too many innocent people have been executed and it’s time for a pause. That drew loud applause where I was at. His remarks drew praise on the Facebook and Tweeter feeds I was on… When pressed by the lame ass reporter who was trying to play ‘Gotcha’ versus simply asking questions, Shami didn’t waver, he boldly restated his position.. ‘We need a moratorium to on the death penalty’.
Meanwhile on the other side of the room, White was again trying to cover all the bases. He said something about respecting the voters, respecting the process, respecting the courts blah blah blah. He came across wishy washy, like he was kinda, sorta, maybe willing to let someone off if he/she was innocent.. You could literally see his brain working in overdrive to see how he could best say the ‘right thing’ without offending the over-the-top tea party types who would take him to the woodshed for saying anything less than ‘People on death row need to die’…
Taking bold steps and earnestly speaking to various audiences is not being reckless. It’s called being a leader and as far as I can recall, Texas Governors like them or not and trust me I haven’t liked the last two, have been known to speak directly to their constituents and get them reved up.. White has the advantage of appealing to a larger audience of folks who are currently turned off..and turning them on. It seems like he has yet to go after them, but Farouk did.. and that’s a good thing.. He needs to continue down that path..
One topic that both candidates seemed to miss was on the issue of jobs. Yes, lots of people need jobs. The economy is bad, bills need to be paid , many are barely making it..Everyone understands that. However, what was missing in the discussion was evidence of conversations with communities and people who are out of work as to exactly what they need. It’s more than just having a job.. It’s about what type of job and whether or not it fulfilling. Are we talking about entry level manufacturing jobs, office jobs, green Jobs? Is this what people are saying they want?
Sound leadership says we go beyond giving people something to do just for a paycheck.. Part of the reason America hasn’t been as competitive as we could in the global economy is because folks feel uninpsired by the work they do. Why not take the bold step of creating jobs that will be here for the long haul because folks working them feel they have a stake in them? We ideally should be playing to their strengths and hopefully developing something that has richer meaning.
For example, to this day, I am hard pressed to find anyone who really knows what is a Green Job. The common answer I get is ‘installing solar panels’. My mom is who is older and out of work and not in the best of health is not interested or capable of installing solar panels. So what are we really talking about when you say ‘Green Jobs’? Are these entry level positions or something with mobility? Can I one day make partner? Move into management? Be the Solar panel provider versus installer?
One thing that has always stood out is the entrepreneurial spirit of folks in places like Houston. Known and admired all over the country for its thriving music scene, there are a couple of generations of people who’ve grown up in H-Town wanting to ‘run their own businesses and many do.. I have to wonder if any candidate have tapped into this resevoir of talent and taken into account their perspectives when crafting job policy? Have any of these candidates spoken to the entrepreneurs of today’s generation? What ideas do iconic figures and leaders like a Trae, Bun B, Matt Sonzala, Slim Thug, K-Rino, J Prince, Chingo Bling, Brother Jesse and so many others have to say?
Yes, I realize some of these people are artists, but many those same artists not only have created and provided jobs for the people around them. In addition prior to becoming well known and finacially able to live solely off their craft, many had to hustle and make do with their own jobs. These individuals have set examples for many who look up to them all over the country. Are we talking to them here in Texas?
Take a popular artist like Chamillionaire. He was recently in California’s Silicon valley where he give a keynote about new technology and digital media. He was there opening people’s eyes about new job possibilities. Has anyone running for governor in Texas tapped him to see what suggestions he has? This is an especially important point in the age of social media, computers and digital devices. I know people who can flip computers and make them do things they weren’t initially designed to do.. Should we be looking in that direction and finding ways to enhances those skill sets?
In a recent interview with new mayor Annisse Parker, she talked to us about how Houston is rapidly becoming a destination place for the arts and how she wants to continue moving things in that vein. What does that mean for new jobs? Does Houston become Hollywood South? Do we start crafting new facilities and exploring what opportunities exist in that arena. Do we become a destination place for film festivals, indy media etc..? Its gotta be more than solar panels.. The job I have is writing, broadcasting and basically communicating.. I’m not trying to install some panels.. But I might be willing to work at crafting important messages form a company or agency.. Again we have to think outside the box here in the new Texas and part of that is recognizing what people are needing and enthusiastically embracing.
All in all, there is a great opportunity to tap the untapped and bring them into the process of electing Texas’ next governor. One can play the same old game and go for the so called likely voters.. or we can appeal to those who feel disconnected.. The choice is yours