When you vote this month, there is one candidate whose name you won’t see on the ballot – neighborhood resident and insurance agent Bill “Bulldog” Cunningham.
In fact, Cunningham says, in the race for the Texas House of Representatives District 108 seat, citizens really aren’t getting a chance to vote at all.
Cunningham began campaigning to fill the seat in January. He hoped to finish out the term of John Carona, who resigned from the House after winning the District 16 Senate seat, from which John Leedom had retired. Cunningham campaigned under the belief that a special election to fill Carona’s remaining term would be held Aug. 10. If Cunningham had won the special election, he would be the Republican incumbent running for a full two-year term this November. But the Aug. 10 election was never held.
Instead, the governor’s office announced that the special election, simultaneously filling the House seat for the two month’s remaining in Carona’s term and for the next full term, which starts Jan. 1.
And rather than having the Republican residents of District 108 elect their candidate to appear on the ballot, the Dallas County Republican Party allowed 58 precinct chairman to make the decision.
“That’s the election code. It may not be fair, but that’s what we have to do,” says Bob Driegert, Dallas County Republican chairman.
“A special election would just fill the last few months of the term,” Driegert says. “The legislature is not even in session.
“A special election is costly.”
The timing of Leedom’s resignation started this ball rolling. Although by the end of 1996 Leedom’s resignation had been rumored for months, he waited until immediately after the March primary to make his official announcement.
If Leedom had announced his resignation before the primary, his seat could have been filled in the primary election, and Carona would have had to resign his House seat to run for the Senate. Carona couldn’t run two races at once during the primary, Driegert says.
“John Leedom was afraid if he resigned in time for a primary race, there may have been three of four representatives run for his seat instead of their own. He was concerned it would cause a turnover in the state legislature,” Driegert says.
If the November election wasn’t approaching, Driegert says a special election would be held for the District 108 House seat – which represents part of our neighborhood and the Park Cities.
Most experienced political candidates would have known the election code was set up in such a way that the precinct chairs were likely to wind up selecting the Republican nominee, Driegert says.
Cunningham says he is a newcomer to the political scene. Once he discovered how the election code worked, Cunningham says he had 11 days to lobby the Republican precinct chairs, compared to the many months his opponent – Carolyn Galloway of the Park Cities – spent lobbying them. Galloway is a former unpaid lobbyist for the Eagle Forum, a group known for its pro-life efforts.
“I spent about $25,000 in 11 days, and she (Galloway) beat me by six votes,” Cunningham says. “Everything was done under the law, but in essence, it was a controlled election. I feel like the public should have an opportunity to vote on their representative.”
Until recently, there wasn’t even a Democratic candidate for District 108, and it looked as if the Republican candidate would walk away with the House seat uncontested. But now there will be a choice. Real estate appraiser Phil Bird, who calls himself a conservative, pro-business Democrat, has decided to run against Galloway in the strongly Republican district.
“Carolyn Galloway is going to win hands down,” Driegert says. “We’re not very concerned about it.”
But Bird disagrees. His campaign literature promotes him as a “responsible and experienced alternative in this election…who will not be diverted by extreme side-issues.”
Whoever wins, Cunningham plans to run against him or her two years from now.
“I wanted to go down and make a difference in things that would affect us in our day-to-day lives,” Cunningham says. “I can’t believe they (the Republican Party) led me into a minefield and detonated me the way they did.
“People aren’t going to forget this.”
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