Mistaken identities, presumed conspiracies just a part of political campaign landscape
Feb. 2, 2018 at 12:09 a.m.
Gregg County Clerk candidate Michelle Gilley spent Monday fighting the flu and answering phone calls to explain she's not the Michelle Gilley being sued by a local hospital.
By Wednesday, she was laughing about it. Headaches like that are part of the campaign field manual, it appears.
"You need to talk to Connie, too — Connie Wade," Gilley said of the retiring county clerk. "When Connie was running, someone had Googled her name, and it was a theft-by-check case against Connie Wade."
It would be a political bombshell if the woman hoping voters will let her handle the county's vital records was headed for her own type of record.
No matter, though, it wasn't the same Connie Wade, just as the defendant whose name appeared in Monday's "Lawsuits Filed" column in the News-Journal is not the Michelle Gilley who's running for county clerk.
"I don't think (Wade's) made the paper like mine," candidate Gilley said. "And especially on the same day as the story about campaign contributions and what we spent. People called me and said, 'I know it isn't you. But, you know, this is in the paper.'"
The campaign headaches of the clerk and her aspiring successor (Gilley and White Oak Republican Douglas "Dugg" Burks are on the March 6 GOP primary ballot) are as common as they are unexpected.
They're the kind of wrench that clunks onto a campaign through no fault of the candidate.
"It's just one of those things," Gilley said from the courthouse, where she is a court coordinator and not about to land herself in a defendant's chair.
Longtime local campaign adviser John Green probably has prescribed a mountain of aspirin to candidates tapped by the fickle finger of fate. It happens sometimes when an overenthusiastic supporter writes an impolitic comment on a campaign's Facebook page, he said. Or puts a sign in the wrong yard.
"I had a candidate that was putting up a sign," Green recalled. "And the guy mistakenly put it at the wrong address. And that person was upset because he was a supporter of the other candidate. ... And the other candidate found out and thought it was some kind of conspiracy."
Conspiracy theories and campaign signs are close neighbors in local politics. If someone's signs go missing, there's obviously a coordinated effort behind it. At least, that's what the victim can be forgiven for insisting.
"One election we had, on election night, someone ran around and stole all the T-posts from everybody's signs," Green said. "I guess somebody was building a fence or something."
The late Bill Jennings, by all accounts, was one of the most meticulous, mild-mannered candidates of the modern Gregg County era.
Green recalled the district attorney's successful campaign for district judge included a panicked afternoon Jennings was planting 4-foot-by-8-foot campaign signs at H.G. Mosley and Bill Owens parkways.
Green's sign provider, he said, uses old signs as slip-covers to protect new ones like Jennings was carrying in his pickup. Of course, an "Obama for President" scrap sign was wrapped around Jennings' new one.
The wind picked up and blew the Obama sign out of the truck, Green said.
"And Bill's out there trying to scramble around and get this Obama sign, because he was a lifelong Republican," Green said.
State Rep. Jay Dean can only wish he had been Jennings chasing embarrassment along Longview's inner loop.
The Longview Republican was campaigning door-to-door, like candidates are supposed to do, when a nice woman answered her door.
"And this little dog came out and peed on his new shoes while the lady was talking to him," Green said. "So, Jay just looked at the lady and said, 'Well, I guess you're going to vote for me now.'"
The consultant said Dean, Jennings and now Gilley know what to do about such blows.
"Politics doesn't need to be personal," Green said. "And I would tell my client to keep campaigning on the reasons they got into it. Campaign time is short, and it's getting shorter every day. And you've just got to keep moving forward."