Skip to comments.Ron Wilson: a man of contradictions, controversy
Posted on 01/11/2004 6:17:40 AM PST by American72
State Rep. Ron Wilson's 27-year political career is notable for his willingness to take controversial stands.
· 1988: He excluded white reporters from two meetings he conducted on a $2.6 billion street improvement and monorail development proposal for Houston.
· 1990: Accused River Oaks Elementary School officials of racism and requested a series of racial statistics after his then-8-year-old son Erik was transferred to a new class and did not perform as well. A superintendent quickly ordered the boy returned to his original class, sparking concerns over political favoritism.
· 1991: Introduced a bill to weaken obscenity punishments, saying that the law was unfairly targeting vendors of black rap artists such as 2 Live Crew, who at the time released the album As Nasty As They Want To Be.
· 1992: Warned that the University of Texas might suffer financially if it did not force students to take classes in multiculturalism.
· 1992: Blocked Houston's attempt to get a $500 million bond program legalized, saying he wanted to force the city to give 60 percent of contracts to minorities. He compromised on a much smaller goal several months later.
· 1993: Proposed a bill to wrest control of the Alamo from Daughters of the Republic of Texas. He claimed the organization had glamorized the 1836 battle, belittled the contributions of Hispanics and failed to point out that Texas favored slavery at the time while Mexicans opposed it. The bill failed.
· 1997: Proposed a bill to fund ebonics language arts programs for black schoolchildren. The same year, he was voted by Texas Monthly as one of the state's top 10 legislators for proposing a bill that would have required athletes to have at least average academic credentials before they could accept athletic scholarships.
· 1998: Publicly debated former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke in San Marcos. Like a granite outcrop, Ron Wilson's angular, two-story contemporary home juts out over the flat landscape of modest ranch dwellings in the predominantly black and poor Sunnyside neighborhood where he grew up.
The unusual architectural statement is an apt metaphor for the controversial and bombastic state representative who seems to welcome contradictions.
A Democrat who created the Texas Human Rights Commission and successfully led the fight to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a state holiday, Wilson now stands accused of selling out his minority constituents as Texas' only black legislator to support a Republican redistricting plan.
A man who prides himself on his intellect and ability to work with others, Wilson recently testified in court that he has "the things big enough" to buck his fellow Democrats and then offered to "show them" to a lawyer. He accused state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, of being a "whiny little 3-year-old girl" before mocking Coleman's bipolar disorder.
A talented musician who toured with blues legend Lightnin' Hopkins, Wilson has parlayed his passion into a lucrative law practice representing bad-boy rappers and other musicians. Despite the temptations of the fast life, Wilson says he has always eschewed drugs and alcohol, and he clearly cherishes his life of quiet domestic bliss with his wife of 22 years and their two sons.
To Wilson, the 3,000-square-foot home he built in 1986 symbolizes his life. Just blocks from where he grew up, it reflects his desire to remain close to his roots, as well as to the people he has represented for 27 years in the overwhelmingly black and Hispanic 131st District in southwest Houston.
But it is also a sign of his unabashed pride in achieving the kind of material success his parents never could have imagined growing up in the segregated South. The orange Lamborghini and black Mercedes convertible parked in his driveway serve as testaments to that.
"In my community, if you have a very expensive car, it's usually because you're an athlete or a dope dealer," Wilson said in a recent interview. "It offers an alternative for them to be able to see me, because I ain't no athlete or no drug dealer."
Wilson credits his parents' quiet, determined leadership for instilling him with the drive to fight for minority rights. His father, Henry, was the first black salesman at Foley's department stores and often regaled the family with stories of racism that he endured from customers and supervisors. His mother, Carrie, was one of the first black teachers to teach in an integrated school in the Houston Independent School District.
Wilson said that while attending that school, Hartman Junior High School, he learned to hate white people.
"I was on the basketball team, and when word got out that Martin Luther King was assassinated, the kids on the team cheered," Wilson recalled. "I sat in an empty chair against a wall, and everyone moved to the other side of the room."
Wilson's parents joined him during an interview at the Family Cafe, a popular soul food restaurant in the Third Ward. In contrast to their sometimes blustery son, they are gentle and doting, often finishing each other's sentences.
They praised their son for being a visionary and for helping the community, pointing out that he holds annual Christmas giveaways for hundreds of underprivileged children.
However, Wilson's mother playfully hinted at her son's less than angelic nature.
"I remember I picked him up from nursery school one day when he was 3 or 4," she said, smiling warmly. "I thought he was quietly asleep on the floor, but the lady told me he was trying to feed the goldfish to the cat."
A scholarship offered through the R.J. Reynolds tobacco company for high-performing Southern black youths allowed Wilson to attend the prestigious St. Stephen's Episcopal High School in Austin. He said that is where he first learned to trust whites, even though he was occasionally taunted because of his race.
"St. Stephen's saved me from being a bigot," he said.
Just as importantly, Wilson said, the school exposed him to some of history's greatest philosophers and writers, establishing the intellectual foundation that would later enable him to challenge the political orthodoxy of both the left and the right. He currently serves on the school's board.
Wilson enrolled at the University of Texas in 1972 with the sole intention of becoming a lawyer. But in 1973, his parents urged him to volunteer for an up-and-coming state legislator named Mickey Leland. It changed his life.
"I would have stepped in front of train for him," Wilson said. "He taught me to be a warrior for my people."
Apparently, Leland also saw something special in his young staffer. In 1976, when Wilson was still an undergraduate, Leland tapped him to run for Houston's open 131st District. He won the election, taking office in 1977 as one of the youngest state representatives in Texas history. He has held on to the seat since then.
He will be opposed in the Democratic primary this spring by Alma Allen, a member of the State Board of Education who has become critical of Wilson recently.
Wilson, a self-taught bassist and guitarist, said Leland introduced him to Lightnin' Hopkins, and he regularly toured with the musician until his death in 1982. Wilson said he also has played with many other prominent musicians, including Muddy Waters, Albert Collins and the Neville Brothers.
Because of his legislative work, it took Wilson 10 years to graduate from UT's law school. In 1980, Wilson met his wife, Treina, who lived in Los Angeles. They first laid eyes on each other during a Muhammad Ali boxing match in Las Vegas, but they were both with other dates.
"We got married after three dates," said Treina Wilson, a former Beverly Hills model.
The first date was in Hawaii. The second was to the Academy Awards. On the third, Wilson brought Treina to Houston. He asked her on bended knee to marry him, and they immediately drove to Oklahoma City, where there was no waiting period.
Wilson seems most at home when he is at home with his family. He dotes on his wife and son, and eagerly shows off his prized seven-string basses and plays CDs which he performed on.
He boasts that his eldest son, Erik, a student at Pepperdine University, speaks fluent Mandarin and is currently on a business internship in Hong Kong. Apparently having inherited his father's love of sports cars, Erik also is a salesman for Lamborghini of Beverly Hills.
His 14-year-old son, Colby, whom Wilson described as a little rapper, clearly adores his father.
Colby said that one song he has recorded, Nothing Personal, is especially important to him because it is about how others are jealous of him and his father for the success they are so proud of.
"It's kinda like about haters," Colby said. "They see what you've got and always feel like you're bragging about it; it's kind of like that when I go to school with these (Rolex) watches."
In 1989, Wilson unsuccessfully tried to run for Leland's open congressional seat after the legendary politician died in a plane crash in Ethiopia. In a stunt that angered fellow Democrats, Wilson took a urine test that pronounced him drug-free, and then publicly demanded that all his competitors do the same.
Wilson's detractors also view his home as a symbol of the man, but in a much different way.
Primarily because his wife was stabbed and almost raped while they lived in Austin, Wilson erected a 6-foot fence around his Houston property. Two Great Danes trained to attack intruders patrol the 21,000-square-foot lot, which has been shot at on at least two occasions. Wilson, who also successfully led the fight to pass a concealed handgun law after his wife was attacked, would say only that he is "more fond of rifles" when asked if he has armed himself.
His critic Coleman sees things differently: "The law says you've got to live in the district that you represent. But if living there means you have to have fences to keep you safe, you're not in tune to your constituents' needs."
Coleman added, "I believe Ron is very calculating. He's trying to portray himself as a bad boy from the 'hood who is a civil rights activist, when he votes on behalf of businesses all the way to the right for things that hurt his constituents."
Coleman said his criticisms are simply about policy and not personal. Last month, Wilson took a jab at Coleman's bipolar disorder by saying that he represented blacks when Coleman "was in rehab."
Wilson has consistently maintained that he supported the GOP redistricting plan because it was clear to him that the Republican majority would get what it wanted. He said the plan will create something that Houston has sorely needed, a second congressional district that will likely elect a black Democrat. The new 9th District would be created by shifting U.S. Rep. Chris Bell's current district to an area that includes Wilson's state district region.
Wilson has testified that such a district would serve blacks more effectively than the current "step-'n'-fetch-it" districts held by white Democrats in which blacks influence the vote but typically don't determine who wins.
"Every decision I make politically is based on benefiting the people I represent," Wilson said. "I don't let ideology stand in the way of representing my people. I don't see any limitations. I don't see any boundaries."
Wilson's critics say they believe his statements that he has no intention to run for the seat. But they still question his sincerity when he says blacks in Houston are better off under the redistricting plan, even if it costs Democrats seven or eight seats statewide.
"If he's right about that, then he's the only person smart enough to have figured that out, and all the rest of the African-American delegation, from (U.S. Rep.) Sheila Jackson Lee to (state Rep.) Rodney Ellis to Garnet Coleman are dumb," said Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Birnberg. "I don't think he is that far superior. Conversely, I also don't happen to believe that he is so simple that he doesn't understand in his intellect and heart of hearts that this redistricting plan was devastating for minorities. I assume he had other reasons."
Birnberg said he has no idea what could be motivating Wilson.
Coleman wasn't so reluctant to share his thoughts. He said Wilson is part of the team that includes Republican U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land; Gov. Rick Perry; and Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, who named Wilson as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which generates all tax bills.
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Charles Soechting sent a public letter to Wilson on Dec. 23, saying he would support Wilson's primary opponent, Allen. He accused Wilson of "spending too much time in the back corridors with your intolerant Republican pals."
"I'm sure your Lamborghini is equipped with a global positioning system," Soechting said. "Perhaps you can use it to help you find the legislative district you abandoned long ago."
State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, defended Wilson.
"I may have disagreed with him on the redistricting issue, but I do believe he was sincere in saying he did it to help his constituents," he said.
Turner, who is black, added that Wilson's points of view reflect the diversity among black legislators and their black constituents.
"Just because he doesn't vote the way some may want him to vote and act the way some want him to act, doesn't mean he should be attacked," Turner said.
Wilson's style doesn't help his cause among other colleagues.
A youngish-looking 50-year-old, Wilson disdains the typical suited attire of lawyers and legislators in favor of baggy pants, pullover shirts, sunglasses and leather jackets.
Coleman said Wilson often wears the same sort of "hip-hop" clothes to legislative sessions, showing his disrespect for the process.
Ellis, whom Wilson recently accused of having his "head up his ---" for believing he could be elected to the 25th District, declined to comment for this story.
Wilson dismisses his critics as being jealous.
"I don't need to do this. I can quit any time and make three times as much money," Wilson said. "The people who criticize my car are the same ones who secretly want to have one."
He declined to discuss how much money he makes or whom he represents. In the past, he has been known to represent Scarface and Bushwick Bill of the Houston rap group The Geto Boys.
"One reason there's resentment from folks like Coleman and Bell is I'm now the chair of one of the most powerful committees, the Ways and Means Committee, where all tax bills originate in the House," Wilson said. "It affords me an opportunity to exercise some influence over the process, and that is a threat to people who have no influence at all. They don't want to see me succeed, because they've told everyone you can't succeed doing what Ron Wilson is doing."
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Wow, what a concept. You mean people of the same skin color are allowed to have *different* opinions? Radical, man.
How is Wilson inconsistent here? He's not like the limousine liberals who don't want anybody but their bodyguards to own guns -- he supports gun rights. If he wants to put a fence around his home, too, what's the big deal?