By Ken Allard, Republished from the Washington Times, Monday, June 15, 2015
A quietly determined underdog triumphed over an entrenched political machine. A potential vice-presidential candidate in 2016 was abandoned by his political base. And the underdog began her victory speech by shouting “To God Be The Glory!” – a felony anywhere but in Texas.
All those things happened on Saturday when Ivy Taylor became the first black woman elected as San Antonio’s mayor. Initially given little chance, she defeated former State Senator Leticia Van de Putte by a 52-48 margin, her victory delivered by a multicultural coalition of evangelical voters. Anywhere else, invoking the Almighty’s blessing might seem like a dubious strategy. But Mayor Ivy led her own prayer meetings in a campaign that counted on Bible-belt religious faith to overcome hard-wired dividing lines of race, class and ethnicity.
Other than Ms. Van De Putte, the night’s biggest loser was Ms. Taylor’s processor, former mayor Julian Castro. Mr. Castro, now Secretary-of-Something-or-Other under Barack Obama, is busily scoring Washington resume points as a potential 2016 running–mate for Hillary Clinton. With San Antonio’s media salivating on command, the former mayor must have assumed that his machine could elect a trained Chihuahua as his successor.
But Mr. Castro never understood the long-term effects of the divisiveness he stirred up in 2013 while railroading a “non-discrimination ordinance” that granted protected status to the LGBT community. It was never really clear why easy-going, laid-back San Antonio had a gay-rights problem to begin with. Why did it need draconian legislation to fix a non-existent problem? But the rising young caudillo was off to conquer Washington: So opponents were beaten down, religious leaders co-opted and the new measure enacted.
One of the few City Council members who voted “NO” was Ivy Taylor, then one of its most junior members. If you remember Bible stories, then you may also remember how often the phrase, “and suddenly” seems to crop up. Well, Mr. Castro resigned his post and suddenly Ivy Taylor was somehow appointed as interim mayor. Another piece of Mr. Castro’s legacy legislation seemed hell-bent for passage: And suddenly there was Ivy Taylor insisting that the city couldn’t afford it. Texas Monthly began calling Ivy “the anti-Castro:” And suddenly there was a whole city applauding the courage and leadership of its new mayor.
Ivy’s rising popularity with the local conservative and evangelical communities – black and white, Protestant and Catholic – outraged the power-brokers of the Castro machine. It got even worse when she announced her candidacy for a full-term. Ernesto Ancira, a widely- known local business leader, became her campaign treasurer. He told me, “San Antonio has long been dominated by congressmen, judges and entrenched business interests. But Ivy Taylor was something different.”
The contest quickly settled into a two-lady race between Ivy and Leticia Van de Putte, Wendy Davis’ one-time running-mate but now championing San Antonio’s entrenched Democratic machine. Her well-funded TV ad campaign first suggested inevitability and occasionally even a coronation. But as the runoff drew closer, Leticia’s ads got ugly, even suggesting the interim mayor was soft on black crime. “Yeah, it was like Willy Horton had come to San Antonio,” one of Ivy’s supporters told me at a rally. San Antonio’s reigning media outlets never questioned Leticia’s tactics: But as direct beneficiaries of all those advertising dollars, why would they?
Because evangelicals are sometimes reluctant to vote their values, would they now show up at the polls? Others worried because some Texas elections have historically been decided by means other than what purists might call 100% legal. But the Election Day turnout was heavy and steady, as if voters knew what they wanted.”Every time I hear Leticia, she sounds more and more like Hillary!” one voter shouted outside a polling station. The last word belonged to Ivy, who told her supporters, “because of you we have achieved the unexpected and the unprecedented.”
So what lessons can we draw for 2016?
Any hint that a coronation is afoot invites contempt and opposition. As well it should. If your faith is real, then don’t hesitate to appeal to the great values Americans share in common, regardless of the cynics. Mr. Reagan understood that and not only won the presidency but changed the world as well. Talking candidly about faith has the benefit of making the media viscerally uncomfortable. To the delight of everyone else. In complexity theory, a butterfly flapping its wings can cause cyclones half a world away. In politics, an underdog armed with faith and courage can change an entire city. As Ivy Taylor just did.
Ken Allard, a retired Army colonel, is a military analyst and author on national-security issues.