The past comes back to haunt

Political candidates have to be ready to have their pasts scrutinized, as Casie Pierce has discovered

DAVID WEBB | The Rare Reporter

At just about this point during every election cycle, I start to wonder why anyone would ever even want to run for elected office.

Any candidate announcing a political campaign opens themselves up to the most invasive intrusion possible into their personal and professional lives.

The truth is that practically everyone has something in their lives that they would just as soon not become public knowledge, and that might well happen when you run for office.

No matter how long ago something happened and regardless of whether it went unnoticed at the time, someone will either remember it or discover it when the spotlight focuses on a political candidate. And misdemeanor convictions suddenly become a very big deal.

Lesbian District 7 City Council candidate Casie Pierce recently learned that when she went before The Dallas Morning News editorial board and found herself under fire over her misdemeanor criminal record.

The editorial board had obviously done its homework by researching Pierce’s criminal record. It’s really easy to do because the Dallas County District Clerk’s website offers free public access to all criminal and civil records.

On her own, Pierce said she owned up to pleading guilty in 2007 to misdemeanor theft in connection with her former job as executive director of Vickery Meadow Management Corp. The candidate said an audit of expense reimbursements turned up irregularities. The reimbursements were for cash payments she made for contract labor and supplies for maintenance jobs such as painting and minor repairs in connection with public improvements, she noted.

The audit reportedly revealed an absence of substantiating receipts.

Originally, she wanted to go to trial and fight the charge, said Pierce, who was fired from her job in 2005 over the discrepancy. But after two years she was broke and unable to proceed.

It didn’t seem like such a big deal to plead guilty to misdemeanor theft to end the case, she said. Her penalty was a $1,000 fine and a probated 180-day sentence.

What Pierce apparently didn’t realize was that the editorial board would also uncover a DWI conviction in 1997 for a two-year-old offense and a bad check for $20 she wrote in 2008 at a grocery store.

The candidate said she didn’t mention the DWI because it had occurred so long ago, and she didn’t even think about the bad check that she made good for in 2009 when she learned about it from the District Attorney’s collection division.

The Dallas Morning News editorial board, however, did think it was a big deal, and they declined to endorse Pierce over it, even while noting she seemed capable and had some good ideas.

At the same time, The DMN editorial board also declined to endorse the District 7 incumbent, Carolyn Davis, and a third candidate, Helene McKinney.

Having known Pierce as a strong neighborhood leader for more than a decade, I tend to believe her explanation about the theft charge. As regards the DWI and the bad check charges, they’re as common as fire ants in this part of the country.

Sharon Boyd — who is the publisher of Dallasarena.com and can be one of the harshest critics of political candidates and officeholders in Dallas — tells me that she would trust Pierce with her checkbook any day. Pierce will continue to enjoy her support, Boyd said.

Boyd and I often don’t agree on political matters, but in this case we are on the same page. If I still lived in District 7, I would vote for Pierce. And I’ve asked my former neighbors in Parkdale to vote for her on May 14.

Of course the message here is for anyone considering a run for political office to make sure and check their criminal record before they step into the spotlight. There’s no telling what might be waiting to jump on stage with you.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

—  John Wright