Forward Times - Public Inquest

Black Out
By Ed Wendt
Houston Press Club 1998 Print Journalist of the Year

One veteran party activist called this year's Texas Democratic Convention "the whitest" in recent memory. She was referring to the party's leadership under new state chair Charles Soecting, a white lawyer who was elected to a full term by delegates Saturday. He had been appointed by the State Democratic Executive Committee to serve out the term of former chair Molly Beth Malcolm.

The latest rift between Soecting and grass roots black Democrats involves the open mistreatment of Democrat House Speaker Pro Tem Sylvester Turner after professional political consultant Garnet Coleman whined about plans for Turner to speak at the convention.

Coleman and a handful of liberal Democrats complained to Soecting when they learned that Turner was slated to speak during prime convention time. Coleman, who represents Montrose and Third Ward in the state legislature, told the San Antonio Express News that Turner should not be allowed to speak because he is second in command to Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick. He also criticized Turner for failing to join 51 other House Democrats in fleeing to Ardmore, Oklahoma to prevent the House from considering Republican-backed redistricting legislation during the regular session.

Coleman, owner of Coleman Strategies political consulting firm, has made big bucks off of Democrat candidates in recent years. He openly worked for multi-millionaire businessman Bill White against Turner in last year's mayor's race. He also was a key supporter of US Rep. Chris Bell's unsuccessful Democratic primary campaign against Judge Alexander Green for the new, predominately black 9th US Congressional District seat.

Turner was a major Green backer, along with State Representative Al Edwards and other grass root Democrats. Soecting and the Democratic Party Establishment endorsed Bell over Green. Soecting even contributed $1,000 to Bell's campaign.

Soecting has tried to mend fences with Green since Green slaughtered Bell in the primary. Green says it was during a pre-convention meeting between Green, Soecting, and Turner that Soecting agreed that Turner would speak at the convention on Saturday morning.

"Sylvester did not seek out the opportunity to speak," Green told Public Inquest. "Charles Soecting offered him a speaking slot at the convention and said Sylvester would speak Saturday morning." Turner and his supporters were up bright and early Saturday morning, but before the convention convened at 11 AM, Turner's aide, Sue Davis, was informed that Turner would not be allowed to speak until after 3 PM, when most delegates would have already left the convention. Turner, Green, and many grass root black Democrats cried foul.

"Soecting did not honor his commitment," Judge Green insists. "We went to the convention with hopes of being unified, but that has not been accomplished." To compound the offense, Turner was scheduled to speak at the funeral of an Acres Homes pastor at 1 PM and could not rearrange his schedule. Judge Green, former NAACP president Howard Jefferson, and others tried their best to convince Soecting and other state party bosses to live up to the original agreement for Turner to speak between 11 AM and 12 PM. But the bosses refused to budge. "If we let him speak, it will upset Garnet Coleman," one party boss was quoted. "Who in the hell do they think Garnet Coleman is?" an angry Turner loyalist asked. "He certainly does not speak for the black community. Take Montrose out of his district, and he would never win reelection."

Mike Lavigne, Texas Democratic Party spokesman and former aide to State Senator Rodney Ellis, insists Turner was never scheduled to speak Saturday morning. "He was always scheduled to speak at 3 O'clock," Lavigne claims. Turner left the convention around 12:30 PM for the Acres Homes pastor's funeral. "If you disrespect me," he informed party bosses, "you disrespect the people of my district."

From his behavior at the convention, it appears that Soecting may have changed his mind about mending fences with Green, Turner, and grass root blacks who backed Green for congress and Turner for mayor. He told main stream media reporters the Texas Democratic Party is "going to unite if people start acting like grownups and start uniting." It may be Soecting, Coleman, and other party bosses who should to "start uniting," Turner's supporters insist. "They are disrespecting the men, woman, and children of my district," Turner told Public Inquest. "They are disrespecting the base of the party and I am not going to permit it." 'The chairman of the Democratic Party called me prior to me leaving on a trip out of the country," Turner explained. "He told me I would be speaking (Saturday) morning. I see now that that was nothing but rouge."

State Representative Helen Giddings, a Dallas Democrat, expressed disappointment at Turner's treatment by Soecting and the party establishment. "We've got to have somebody who understands how to pull the party together," she told Public Inquest. "You've got to hold everybody in the tent and then reach out to other people." She says Turner's treatment "is puzzling" to say the least. Turner left the convention with final words for Soecting and his henchmen. "If anybody claims that the original agreement was that I would be speaking anytime after 12, that is an outright lie." So much for Democratic Party unity and plantation politics. Commentary

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