Confessions of a serial block-walker

I occupy the bottom rung of the political ladder: I’m a block-walker canvassing San Antonio neighborhoods for a single-term Republican congressman. But you can learn a lot block-walking, like the fact that, less than a month before the election, there’s remarkably little passion on either side. The flatness is almost palpable, from casual conversations to the surprising absence of bumper-stickers.

Not like 2010, when people were enraged about Obamacare and the bailouts. Back then, tea partiers joined with Republicans alarmed enough to leave their country clubs and walk block-by-block asking for votes. During that campaign, I talked with a tight-jawed rancher who underlined the stakes: “Either ballots or bullets, whatever it takes to stop those fools in Washington.” In 2010, that groundswell elected Republican Francisco Canseco to represent Texas’ 23rd Congressional District. Canseco defeated the Pelosi Democrat he was running against by almost 10 points.

Victories seldom last in Texas because anger is a transient emotion while party loyalties are the DNA linking otherwise dysfunctional families. So a counter-attack was expected — especially after the newly elected Congressman Canseco became a prominent member of the House Republican majority and a close ally of vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan. In August, “Quico” Canseco was even featured in a Republican convention video aimed at Hispanic voters, along with New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Earlier this year, the boundaries of the 23rd District were moved to incorporate more working-class precincts to the south and west of the upscale neighborhoods of northwest San Antonio, which has long been one of the district’s biggest population centers. The Democrats quickly seized the advantage, nominating Pete Gallego, an environmental activist from the western reaches of a ridiculously gerrymandered district that now spans more than 500 miles, all the way from the middle of the state to suburban El Paso.

Even in Texas, that’s a lot of ground to cover; campaign officials estimate that the two sides have spent over $5 million already, mostly in barrage TV ads targeted for prime time. The other night during “Dancing with the Stars,” it was hard to tell who was ahead: Shawn and Derek, Kirstie and Max — or Quico and Pete.

Probably the most dishonest ad aired by either campaign is a Gallego ad charging that Canseco has voted against military pay and benefits. He hasn’t, but here in Military City, USA, those are fighting words. The ad also ignores Canseco’s strong opposition to sequestering the defense budget. Even worse, Gallego is pictured with draft-dodger Bill Clinton and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who was last glimpsed sitting next to Michelle Obama at the DNC. Their glib assurance: “We’ll fight just as hard for our military as they do for us.”

None of them has the slightest idea just how well our military can fight. But sadly, neither do people in those smugly gated communities on the northwest side of San Antonio, whose kids typically enroll in college rather than enlisting in the military. In those genteel climes, I have twice been asked for my permit to distribute campaign literature door-to-door. “This is private property and we even have community ordnances against soliciting,” one man blustered. I barely managed to control my temper before asking whether he had actually read the Constitution that I have spent a lifetime defending (I’m a retired Army colonel).