<\body> Stories in America: Highland Park Shoppers...In Name Only

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Highland Park Shoppers...In Name Only

Yesterday I spent a few more hot hours in the parking lot of Whole Foods and Highland Park Village in Dallas, an upscale shopping center with stores including Chanel, Jimmy Choo, Hermes, Calvin Klein and Escada. I ran into this 30-something gay man who offered the following description of Highland Park Village:

The area is one of the most upscale, influential neighborhoods in Dallas. I'd say it's 95 percent Republican. The old Texas families are Democrats, but the ones who've moved in from the North brought the Republican party into the state. Texas had a huge boom in the 80s and that's when everything changed. This is the only area within the city limits of Dallas where the kids go to public schools. The schools are privately funded and are very good. People within this income bracket who live outside of this area send their kids to private schools. The houses are at least $1 million between here and the North Texas highway.

What issues come up most in this area?

They don't care about the so-called social issues. All they care about is their money. They want tax breaks.
They buy clothes that are outrageously priced. I'm not in that high bracket, but I know people who are and they really benefitted from Bush's tax breaks. My godson's mother voted for Bush so she could get a tax break. I said, don't you understand what that vote means to people like me? What about the environment? That affects your children. She said, that doesn't affect me. I want the tax break. They call this the bubble because, other than going away to summer homes, no one leaves this area. They have no idea what the rest of the world looks like. I even bring up the Christian right with some friends, but again, they don't think it affects them, so they don't see a problem.

Today's Dallas Morning News has an article about education in Texas and what's in store for some 40,000 fifth-graders who haven't passed the math and reading sections of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test. The testing requirements are part of the Student Success Initiative, which was one of the centerpieces of then Governor Bush's legislative agenda in 1999, according to the Dallas Morning News. The students have one more chance to pass the test later this month. Those who fail will repeat the fifth grade. Kids attending school in the Highland Park district got the best scores in the state.

Below you'll find interviews with people from Highland Park. Most of the interviews are short because it's incredibly hot here in Dallas and most people go from their air conditioned homes to their air conditioned cars to air conditioned stores. Some people said, "I'd love to talk to you, but it's too hot out here." All but one of the interviewees are women as there were very few men in the parking lot during the day; the men I did approach declined to be interviewed. About 90 percent of the people I approached said they hadn't heard of Governor Perry's event on Sunday because they've been away escaping the heat.

The Highland Park Village parking lot was full of W stickers, but I found several Democrats and Independents who voted for Kerry. Interestingly, they all said, "I'm one of the only Kerry supporters in this area."

Lynn Murtha, 43, homemaker
Republican, Voted for Bush

How did you feel about Governor Perry's decision to sign legislation in a church? Do you see the lines blurring between separation of church and state?

No. I do support separation of church and state, but being a Christian, it doesn't bother me.

Are you Republican?


Did you vote for Bush?

Yes I did.

How do you feel about his second term so far?

I don't think he's doing so great.

What do you disagree with?

I think he's mishandled the war. It's time for those guys to come home. I think everybody's getting a little tired of it. I do have an appreciation for the magnitude of the issue and I'm certainly not knowledgeable on all aspects of it.

Do you think he's doing a good job on issues like healthcare, education and the economy?

I don't think he's done much at all.

Why'd you vote for him?

I didn't like the alternative.

What didn't you like about Kerry?

He's very much a liberal. There were some social and moral positions that he took that I didn't agree with. I guess that won out in the voting booth.

Like what?

Gay marriage and abortion.

Kerry wasn't in favor of gay marriage.

Yes, that's true. There was a lot I liked about Kerry, but in the end, I voted for Bush.

I'm hearing that from a lot of people. How much influence did the media have on your decision?

A lot, even though I know they put a spin on everything. It's hard to know what to believe.

Where do you get most of your news?

I listen to Christian radio. That has its own slant for sure.

As a Christian, how did you feel when members of the Catholic church said, if you vote for Kerry, you're not a Catholic?

I disagree with that.

As a Republican, do you feel like the religious right is taking over the party?

I think the media has misused that term. I think there are a lot of moderate Christians. I believe in Christ, but I'm liberal on a lot of social issues. I think we need to take better care of people.

Going back to abortion, Bush is in favor of abstinence only programs and many religious conservatives I've met are in favor of banning birth control altogether. How do you feel about that?

That's not realistic. Abstinence is the best and that's what I teach my children. Hopefully they'll follow that, but it's not the reality in today's world.

Why is it when Republicans talk about abortion, they rarely talk about prevention? Harry Reid, a Democrat, has introduced a bill that will focus on prevention.

I haven't heard about that, but it sounds great.

Are you open to voting for Democrats in the future?

Definitely. It depends on who's running.

Anonymous, 65, Photojournalist
Independent, Voted for Kerry

In your opinion, how are things going overall?

From my standpoint economically, they're going well. I think the war is terrible.

Did you vote for Bush?

I voted for him the first time around because I was appalled by Clinton's behavior in the White House. But this time, I voted for Kerry because I was appalled by Bush being so inarticulate and the way he's handled the war. I was against the war. How could you be a thoughtful person and vote for Bush?

Are you a Democrat?

No, I'm an independent.

Do you live around here?


I'm told this area is predominantly Republican. Is that true?

Yes, there's a lot of old Texas money here. You're right in the heart of Texas money.

Do you talk politics with friends?

Yes. A lot of people, especially those who disagree with Bush, are afraid to speak out. But I think it's un-American to keep quiet.

What message would you send to Democrats?

They better get their act together. I think Kerry defeated himself because he wasn't a good candidate. Bush was very vulnerable and could have been beaten if we had a better candidate.

Where do you get most of your news?

I read the New York Times.

Leslie Merritt, 45, stay at home mom
Republican, Voted for Bush

Overall, what is your opinion of the state of the nation?

I think things are going well. President Bush is a strong leader. I have a lot of confidence in him and he has promoted a lot of confidence in the country because he is confident. I'm obviously a Republican.

How do you feel about the war?

I wish we'd get out of Iraq and that's probably against Bush, but I'm ready for that.

What about the economy?

I think the economy is great. Obviously, here in Dallas it's doing great because of oil, but it seems like joblessness is going down across the country.

Do you always vote Republican?

Yes, always.

Why? What does being Republican mean to you?

I'm a conservative and I believe in conservative values. I used to be a Democrat when I was young, but I changed.

Why did you change?

I just grew up and got wiser in my old age. I have to run. It's so hot out here.

Anonymous, 30, attorney
Independent, Voted for Kerry

What did you think of Governor Perry's event on Sunday?

It really pissed me off. I thought it was extremely unprofessional of him. I think it was a slap in the face to a lot of voters and people who believe there is a separation between church and state. I think he showed blatant disregard for that especially considering the bills he signed.

What do think of those bills?

I was very disappointed.

Do you identify with a party?

I don't think I fit in with either. Overall, I'm a lot more liberal than conservative. I'm only conservative on crime, but as far as social issues, I'm very liberal.

Did you vote for Kerry?


What's it like for you living in a predominantly Republican area?

It gets pretty nasty around election time. I'm one of the few Democrats at my law firm and I keep anti-Bush signs on the door. Everyone laughs about it, but around election time, especially when judges are up for reelection, I'll get a bunch of propaganda in the mail from fellow attorneys about Republican judges, but none about Democratic judges. They'll also bring judges by your office to shake hands with you and campaign for your votes, but they're all Republicans. They don't bother to bring in the Democratic judges. A lot of Republicans tend to be sympathetic to the gay struggle, but when it comes down to it, it's something they don't really like to talk about.

I'm also finding that a lot of Republicans who are critical of Bush hesitate to speak out.

Well, if you're Texan, you've got to support Bush. The irony is I don't really consider Bush a real Texan. In this climate, it's almost blasphemous to say anything negative about Bush because he's the guy from Texas. He's one of us. I don't identify with that at all. I think most people are quick to defend him whether they like him or not.

Do you think Texas could turn Democratic again?

I wish, but I don't see it happening. I think Texas is too conservative and too religious. Austin is the most liberal city in Texas. You get patches of liberal thinking in Dallas and Houston, but West Texas is very conservative. There are a lot of dry counties there.

What message would you send to the Democratic party?

They need to get their act together. If they really want the support of Democrats and some Republicans in Texas, we really need to get behind a strong Latino candidate. The Latino community is very strong and intelligent. They're very tight knit and focused on community goals. Backing a smart, ambitious Latino candidate would be a great move for the Democratic party. We've got a lot of great Latino politicians at the state level.

Where do you get most of your news?

CNN, New York Times and the Internet.

Vicki Coleman, 48, homemaker
Republican, Voted for Bush

What did you think about Governor Perry's event?

I didn't agree with the policies that he signed. I'm usually a Republican and a supporter of Governor Perry, but in that case, I didn't agree.

Do you disagree with the legislation specifically or his decision to sign it on the grounds of a church?


Would you say you're a moderate Republican?

Yes, but I don't agree with all of their platform issues.

What makes you a Republican?

I generally like small government. I think people should be able to control their own money and not have interference with the government.

Do you think Bush is running a small government?

Well, smaller than most Democrats, but maybe not as small as I'd like to see it.

How do you feel about the deficit?

It's huge and it's a real concern.

Do you always vote Republican or are you open to voting for a Democrat?

I vote Democrat if I agree with the person and their policies, but I haven't had that opportunity in recent years. I have frozen food in my car. I have to run.

Harold Hand, 44, owner of Holiday Ideas, a gift shop in Dallas
Republican, Voted for Kerry

Why is it so difficult to find Republicans who are comfortable speaking out?

Because you go with the next door neighbor. The Republicans are so strong and vocal here. When someone steps outside of that circle, you're looked down upon. Bush is crazy. Come on, look around. It doesn't take a science professor to figure it out.

How did you feel about Governor Perry's event?

What's he's doing is asinine. I grew up as a Southern Baptist and this is so ridiculous to me. It's amazing.

Are you surprised that more people aren't speaking out about this?

People here like to brush things under the carpet and let somebody else deal with it. It's coming to the point where people are going to start taking a stand.

What makes you a Republican?

I don't know. It's the way I grew up, but I'm not afraid to say that I didn't vote for Bush. I don't care what others think and I'm learning -- now that I'm 44 years old -- to go in my own direction.

Did you vote for Kerry?

Yeah, I did.

But you still call yourself a Republican?

Yeah, isn't it weird? But I see more and more what the Republican party is doing and too many things aren't working anymore. It trickles all the way down to the economy. I own a store over on Lover's Lane and the economy that the Republican party is creating is trickling down so fast to the store owners. It's hard to make a dollar. It was much easier before the Republicans took over.

Do your friends have similar opinions?

It's pretty mixed. I was driving with a friend the other day and I was shocked to learn about his conservative views. I'm thinking, I shouldn't have brought this up. That's another reason why people stay quiet.

Holly McGowan, 24, just got her master's in liberal arts
Republican, Voted for Bush

What did you think about the event?

I don't think he should be signing legislation in a church with priests on stage.

Do you, as a Republican, feel the religious arm of your party is taking over?

Yes. I don't like it.

Why are you Republican?

Tradition. Democrat to me is a little too socialist and I'm not, but I'm not conservative either, so I guess I'm in a gap.

Do you usually vote Republican?

I usually don't vote in local and state elections, but I did vote for Bush the first time. I wouldn't have voted for Bush a second time, but didn't like Kerry, so I didn't vote. My big disagreement with the Republicans is on abortion. Women deserve the right to choose.

Can you be more specific about your socialist comment? So many people are without healthcare. So many people are getting a mediocre education. Poverty is increasing.

I make $16,000 a year, so I'm saying I don't want to give anyone my money because I have no money, but I still don't agree with it. I guess I've been made cynical by the fact that I have no money and I worked my butt off so I could go to school. Why can't you do the same? I don't want to continue working my butt off so I can pay for you when no one paid for me. I gotta run.


At 6/10/2005 3:07 PM, Anonymous Jason T said...

Hi, Rose.

I just happened to stumble across this, and I thought I would add my two cents on all of this. First of all, I think you should have interviewed me – I was born and raised in the suburbs of Houston, Texas, I lived in Austin for 6 years, and now I live in San Francisco. I also consider myself to be extremely liberal… I’m gay, pro-choice, for gay marriage (of course), and for just about every liberal idea there is. You wouldn’t ever catch me marking the dot next to a Republican’s name. I feel at home in San Francisco, to say the least.

Let me say first of all that I appreciate and respect what you are doing. I think this is very important, because I still scratch my head at the fact that Bush was reelected. To people like me, it just seems so obvious that he’s a crazy loon, but apparently everyone else doesn’t see it that way.

However, I really feel like your approach in this quest isn’t entirely constructive. As it is, there is an enormous “us vs. them” divide between liberals and conservatives. The stereotype goes that liberals are the nuts on the coasts (California), and conservatives just love Jesus all day long in the middle. These stereotypes exist because to a certain extent, they are true. However, I would hardly say that it is so black and white.

In my experience growing up and living in Texas, I felt that we had many liberals, mainly concentrated in the big cities, and we had many conservatives, usually in the suburbs and more rural areas. In fact, every major city in Texas was very evenly split in their 2004 vote – El Paso, Houston, Dallas, and Austin all had votes that were split almost half-and-half or somewhere around there.

I think sometimes as liberals we like to get on a pedestal about how must “better” we are than conservatives, because obviously they are just undereducated or ignorant… or so we like to think. However, even liberal San Francisco has the qualities that you described in Austin. Yes, SF is a very liberal town. But you’d have to be kidding yourself if you didn’t see that this town is also full of big, conservative money. Additionally, all you have to do is cross either bridge, and you’ll find the blue begins to fade. Even in the “liberal” state of California, Bush had 45% of the vote. That doesn’t sound so liberal to me.

Additionally, you seem to focus on the massive number of Wal Marts and chain stores in Texas. You can find the exact assortment of chain stores right across the Bay, and really California is just as guilty as the rest of the red US as catering to corporate interests and greed.

Don’t get me wrong. I love San Francisco, and I am very proud and grateful for the liberal leanings of the laws of the state of California. However, California is just as divided as the rest of the US, and this “us vs. them” take on this only contributes to the divide. It’s not an issue of red states versus blue states. It’s an issue of red versus blue voters, educating the other side, and trying to find a middle ground.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

At 6/10/2005 9:59 PM, Blogger storiesinamerica said...

Thanks for the comments. I'm interviewing people of all political stripes on this trip. I'm dispelling, rather than perpetuating the ugly stereotypes you reference. The majority of the Republicans I've interviewed aren't party-line Republicans and say they're open to voting Democrat in the future.

A lot of liberals live in bubbles and make assumptions about Bush voters. It's a lot more complicated than the media would have you believe.

I'm planning to interview people in SF and the more conservative areas of California when I return.


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