Bye, Bye, Bonilla

Article excerpt

The Political fallout from recent events in Williamson County, Texas, may reach far beyond the county lines. Those politicians who used "family values" to make political hay may end up short of fodder come November. Congressman Henry Bonilla (Republican-San Antonio) is a case in point.

Bonilla is one of a host of minority candidates the Republican Party began promoting in the early 1990s. Blacks who are anti-black, women who are anti-women, Hispanics who are anti-Hispanic--these were the people recruited by the Republicans as candidates, a strategy heralded by the appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. As Paul Robeson, Jr., observed in his recent book Paul Robeson, Jr., Speaks to America, there was to be "no more crude race card with its clearly recognizable appeal to the racism of white males, but a continued attack on feminism, on those perceived to lack prescribed family values, and on group rights."

Thus, the political battle lines are no longer drawn along race or ethnic lines but, rather, along religious, "family values," and class lines. As Robeson observes, those who would not or could not "enter this new national brotherhood and sister, hood were to be cast as retrograde elements bent on subverting our core American values at the behest of those ever-treacherous liberals who have replaced the Communists as the new subversives."

Playing on religious fervor and especially anti-gay prejudice, the Republican Party has been able to maneuver significant portions of historically disenfranchised constituencies--African-Americans, Hispanics, women, and the like--into supporting minority candidates like Bonilla who consistently, and other, wise, would not represent their issues. If the Republican Party had to slap around a few queers, poor and working-class people, and feminists to achieve this, so be it--the overall political and economic benefits were worth it.

But as events in Williamson County have shown, these benefits have proven to be shortlived. In early December 1993, Apple Computer Corporation became involved in a standoff with the Williamson County Commissioner's Court after the company refused to compromise on its policy of providing health-care benefits to unmarried domestic partners, including gay and lesbian couples. Buoyed by a recent Gallup poll showing public opinion running more than four to one in opposition to discrimination against gays and lesbians in the workplace, Apple stood firm. This set the stage for some pretty tough choices for the County Commissioner's Court, a group of men who plainly were used to getting their way. As County Commissioner David Hays remarked to the New York Times: "I never had to choose between economic development and traditional family values." Hays, lobbied heavily by Christian right groups (Time magazine reported that Hays received more than 100 phone calls from "Christians from all over the country"), opted for "family values"--at the cost of 750 new high-tech jobs, a $300 million cash infusion into the local economy, and $2.5 million in annual school and property taxes for the county.

Various interests immediately began to align themselves on either side of the ensuing debate. While Governor Ann Richards urged Apple Computer to consider another site in Texas, proposals for tax

breaks and cheap real estate poured in from all over the state, including one parcel of land in Dallas offered up by the Baptist Foundation of Texas. Cathy Bonner, executive director of the Texas Department of Commerce, told the San Antonio Express News: "Williamson County's rejection of Apple, based on its private corporate policy, is an isolated case and does not reflect the way the majority of communities and the state of Texas itself approaches site selection decisions."

The Austin American Statesman and Williamson County Sun were inundated with pro-gay commentaries and letters to the editor, including one by a Williamson County Baptist preacher headed "Anti-gay reading of Bible is flawed. …