In Salman v. Stickland, a celebration of diversity in Euless is tested

 

Good Monday Austin:

On Saturday, one week to the day after he was narrowly elected to the City Council in the little Tarrant County city of Euless – population about 55,000 and half white – Salman Bhojani and his supporters gathered at one of the parks that are the city’s pride to celebrate his victory.

Bhojani spoke and then delivered some of the 140 awards he had prepared for the many folks who, in one way or another,  had helped with his winning campaign.

Here is what Bhojani had to say:

We have made history here in Euless. There has never been a Muslim candidate for City Council. No member of an ethnic minority has ever been elected to office in Euless. And, to the best of my knowledge, no other City Council candidate has had to run not only against their opponent, but also against their own representative in the Texas Legislature.

To prevail against these odds truly is a historic achievement. That’s why stories about our campaign continue to appear daily in local papers, in the statewide press, and now in the national news media.

Folks, this is a big deal, and I’m glad you’re all here to experience this with me and my family.

Friends, when people refer back to this historic race, I hope they will not just focus on the victory itself, but our journey and the values we displayed. The great people of Euless voted for us because they saw something in our campaign. Chances are they were drawn to our values. These values underpin  every piece of communication that came from our campaign, whether it was a Facebook post, a tweet, a  mailer, a press interview or a conversation with a voter, and in my humble opinion, there are three important values that we displayed. 

Number one: Hard work. Boy, have we worked hard on this campaign. We knocked on more than 5,000 doors. Made thousands of phone calls. Sent out at least three mailers. And were out at the polls every day from dawn to dusk.

Second: Resiliency and perseverance. We received a lot of hateful speech and anti-Muslim bigotry. But we persevered through it and always brought back the focus of my love and passion to serve this great city. We did not give up.

Third: Honor and humility. We took the high road. We did not let negativity and hatred drag us down. But instead, we made it help us pull upwards. As Michelle Obama aptly put it, when they go low, you go high.

And these are the values that I have grown up with in my family, in my faith and in my community, and these are the values I will continue to display in the coming months and years as I work to improve our city.

For my Ismaili friends, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the importance of this victory during the year when millions of Ismailis are celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of our beloved leader, his Highness, Prince  Karim Aga Khan, who is the 49th hereditary spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslims. For the past 60 years, the Aga Khan has worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life of people around the world and he is my role model. Hence, this is doubly historic for me and the entire Ismaili community, and I wish everyone Diamond Jubilee Mubarak.

(Note: From the  official website of the Ismaili Muslim community: The Shia Ismaili Muslims are a community of ethnically and culturally diverse peoples living in over 25 countries around the world, united in their allegiance to His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan (known to the Ismailis as Mawlana Hazar Imam) as the 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader), and direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family.)

Friends, I’ve been congratulated many times in the last week – in person, on the phone, in text messages, and on social media. I’ve been especially moved by people who wrote to say that this win restored their hope in America, or in democracy, and in their neighbors. I do think that people have been losing hope. The man who is now president of the United States launched his campaign by declaring, “The American dream is dead.” Well, the American dream is not dead here in Euless. It’s alive and well in this cities and cities like it, here in Texas and all across the nation.

I knew nothing about Euless politics a few days ago. Since then I have learned something about the recent municipal election and I think what happened there provides a useful microcosm of Texas politics, and where it may be headed. At its crux is the state’s changing demography and the political meaning of diversity, which can be the most benign even insipid of terms, or most the most loaded and charged in the  modern American political vocabulary.

Euless is also interesting because Bhojani’s opposite number – his own representative in the Texas Legislature –      is Republican state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, who lives in neighboring Bedford.

Neither Bhojani or Stickland have ever met or talked to one another.

But I’ve spoken to them both at length in the last few days, both to try to figure out what happened in Euless, but also because I felt some obligation as, I would humbly submit, a leading Sticklandologist.

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, right, talks to a lawmaker in the House Chamber at the Capitol on Wednesday January 11, 2017. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

One of the first stories I wrote after moving to Texas to cover politics for the Statesman was a Jan. 16, 2013 piece about the huge incoming class of newly elected Republican representatives. It began as follows:

State Rep.-elect Jonathan Stickland is 29. He left high school early and got a GED. He had never held or run for office before. His local elected officialdom was virtually unanimous in its preference for his Republican primary opponent. If he has a charisma it’s in his super-ordinariness. And he doesn’t even have the “r” in his last name that everyone assumes is supposed to be there.

And there, in brief, are the keys to Stickland’s stunning success. Every strike against him, he marvels, turned out to be an advantage in what turned out to be a crushing, 20-point primary victory. Each provided a way for people to remember and identify with him. He just had to own it, live it, be it.

Now, Stickland is one of the reasons why the new Texas House, when it convenes Tuesday for its biennial session, will be swollen with freshman – 43 in all. Together with 24 sophomores, the new and the near-new will make up close to half the 150 members of the House.

“It’s an incredible number,” said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.

Much of that has to do with places like Stickland’s home turf – Tarrant County – a tea party stronghold where voters gave one well-tenured Republican after another the boot.

 Said Stickland, “Tarrant County lost a lot of seniority in this wave – Northeast Tarrant Tea Party. They won every single race they endorsed in.”

So, as Stickland proclaimed to huzzahs at a well-attended NE Tarrant Tea Party gathering in December, “Tarrant County just sent the most conservative group down to Austin that this state has ever seen.”

And Stickland said in an interview, “I plan on having the most conservative voting record in the entire House of Representatives.”

CREDIT: Jonathan Tilove, American-Statesman.
Freshman legislator Jonathan Stickland of Tarrant County, December 2012.

Later in the story, I explained that:

Stickland was “discovered” by Julie McCarty, president of the board of the NE Tarrant Tea Party, who was especially impressed with the way he confronted U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Flower Mound, at a town hall meeting after Burgess voted in 2011 to raise the debt limit.

“Jonathan was so well spoken, and it wasn’t just that he had good points to make. They were so well-thought out and easy to understand,” said McCarty. “It was truly the voice of the people.”

“Honestly, I never considered running until I got an email from Julie McCarty at 11:45 at night, sitting in front of my home computer eating a bowl of ice cream,” recalled Stickland. “My wife was leaning over me and started laughing. Then she said, ‘Crap, you might be able to do that.’”

Suffice it to say, Stickland has more than fulfilled the promise that first Julie, and then I, saw in him.

So it was not at all surprising on Thursday, when Stickland came up at Evan Smith’s interview of Austin’s Lawrence Wright, a staff writer for The New Yorker, and the author of, among many books, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, which won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 2007, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, and his newest, God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State.

EVAN SMITH: Which is more in inscrutable, impenetrable institution: Al-Qaeda, Scientology or the Legislature?

LAWRENCE WRIGHT: Well, I spend a lot of time studying cults.

SMITH:  I was asking about the people. Bin Laden, L. Ron Hubbard or Jonathan Stickland? Who’s a better character to write about?

WRIGHT: If they had a swap, you might not notice some of the differences.

Let me put this in a more sober way. These are all people that believe in what they are doing.

These three entities are filled with true believers, and depending on what they believe they can act for good or ill.

We first met Jonathan Stickland on page 233 of God Save Texas.

Which brings us to the recent Euless City Council election in which Hubbard, who died of a stroke in 1986 played no role, and Bin Laden, having been killed by the chancellor of the University of Texas, makes only a cameo, but Stickland is the looming tower.

Bhojani, a Pakistani immigrant, moved to Carrollton 18 years ago. He moved to Bedford in 2007 and in 2010 he bought a home in Euless after reading an article in the Dallas Morning News about how it was the best place to raise a family in North Texas.

An attorney, he has served on the Euless Park & Leisure Services Board for four years.

Last year, he ran for council, challenging Place 2 City Council Member Jeremy Tompkins. He lost.

In March of last year, as he wrote, “For the first time in Euless history, a verse of the holy Quran (and its English translation) was recited to start the City Council meeting. Blessed to be part of this momentous occasion (with Amir Makhani) and hope to bring more diversity in the Euless City Council! #VoteBhojani”

Bhojani, a Boy Scout leader, was invited to the ceremony by the affiliated Cub Scout troop, which had been  the ones invited to recite the pray.

“I got a lot of heat for it,” Bhojani said.

But, he said, the concerns were unfounded.

“For decades, or for a century, for more than a century, we’ve read a Christian invocation before City Council and I have not taken offense at that. Every single Park Board meeting I have attended starts out with a Christian invocation, and I have not taken any offense at that,” Bhojani said.

That, one time in a century, the Quran was recited, should not have been cause for alarm.

“What’s wrong with it?” Bhojanni said. “Even the words that were recited were about unity among faiths.It was a proud moment for all the City Council members. Everybody that was there commented on it.”

But the Cub Scout invocation had roiled the waters, Stickland said, not so much the event itself but, he said,  Bhojani’s touting of it in his campaign.

STICKLAND:

There’s foreign media doing this big international story – `It’s great we’re reading from the Quran for the first time in the city of Euless.”

It totally freaks out the establishment, energizes my people. This guy’s got an agenda here way bigger than I wanna fix the roads or help out the police officers, just the way that he did it.

It was that that was the centerpiece of his campaign. Nobody campaigns on, “Oh we need t to change the prayers at City Council.”

It’s, “we’ve got roads to fix.”

That’s the normal stuff. This guy’s running a hard-core crazy campaign, this is what he is about, this is what he wants, to turn the city of Euless into a news story,

This is a little small bedroom community, this is suburbia, people move out of Dallas to get away from this sensationalized stuff.

And then there is cricket.

STICKLAND:

Theres a major park here in Euless and he started campaigning on changing the park and turning it into a cricket field and people are saying, “No one plays cricket except a small, small portion of people and then we are going to get all these cricket players coming into Euless taking up our park.”

Bhojani didn’t win in 2017, but he ran a strong second.

Stickland said, it was a rare local election in his district since he’s been elected, that he didn’t get in the middle of – with, he acknowledeged, uniformly disastrous results.

STICKLAND: 

I literally, especially when I was first elected, came in with  guns ablazing. I had candidates, a conservative, tea party candidates, running in every (city council and school board) spot in the district and I got crushed. I have never, ever backed a candidate who won any local election.

Why? Stickland said he has clout in partisan election, but not the ultra low-turnout non-partisan elections.

Of Bhojani’s 2017 campaign, Stickland said:

It was under the radar, it wasn’t on anyone’s radar, this guy comes out of nowhere, spends a bunch of money and nearly takes out the establishment which, frankly, we had been trying to do for years, unsuccessfully. Anyhow, I had a lot of people who support me voting for him just because they’re so used to voting for whoever is running against the establishment. It’s usually a conservative, but we didn’t run anyone.

So he nearly wins, the Euless Council folks frankly freak out a little bit, come to me behind the scenes and say, “Hey we almost lost and we’re a little bit worried about this guy,” and I’m, “Ah, whatever, I’m not going to help you guys, you guys don’t like me, whatever.”

Fast forward, and about six months later, he is, “I’m going to run again,” and he totally does a 180 on who he is and what he’s doing, and he starts exposing himself as a hard-core progressive liberal hanging out with some of the known Democratic leaders in the area, and starts getting active on Facebook and it’s all centered around this one theme that we didn’t hear in the first race, Oh, we need diversity. We’ve got enough white Christian types, Euless is diverse, which it is, and he makes it all about this racial diversity and religious diversity that we need.

They don’t have a candidate, usually the establishment has their little hierarchy, they’re like, “Hey, do you have anybody who could run?” And I’m going through my Rolodex and there’s this sweet little old lady, Molly Maddox, retired teacher who’s kind of political, lived in Euless for like 42 years, lot of people know her, she still substitutes up at Trinity High School up to this day, regularly, so we convince her to run and I promise to help fund the race.

And frankly, when they didn’t have a candidate and were wiling to take mine, I was like, maybe I can sneak a conservative on there. Win-win.

(I was in contact with the mayor and three members of the Euless council who dispute Stickland’s version of events. More on that later.)

Meanwhile, the Texas Democratic Party endorses Bhojani, even though the election is non-partisan.

From a March 12 release:

Texas Democrats Endorse Local Candidates

Austin, TX– Today, the Texas Democratic Party endorsed progressive candidates enrolled in our Project LIFT (Local Investment in the Future of Texas) program for the May 5th elections.

Project LIFT works with local party leaders and progressive partners to recruit, train, and support candidates – with a special focus on winning local, non-partisan races.

Meet the Texas Democratic Party’s Project LIFT endorsed candidates:

  • Salman Bhojani, Euless City Council Place 6

    Salman is a young, but experienced, progressive leader with a passion for connecting citizens with their local government. In addition to being a lawyer and having worked at one of the nation’s top law firms, he is a successful business owner. Salman has taken a leadership role in various community-focused organizations and currently serves on the Euless Parks and Leisure Services Board. Salman has lived on three different continents, he calls Euless his home, where he lives with his wife Nima, two children, and his parents.

STICKLAND:

It got to the point where we felt like, hey, we need to put out the alarm and we put up that first Facebook post.

STICKLAND:

If you go back and you look at it, it’s all about, this guy’s a Democrat, he only votes in Democrat primaries, he’s only donated to these Democrats, these are the issues he is campaigning on, and up at the very top of the stupid thing I  described him as a “Muslim, lawyer, liberal Democrat,” because that’s the way he’s described himself all over this deal, and on it I put a link to a video on his campaign Facebook page to this news article about how great it was that for the first time we were reading from the Quran and I just regurgitated it back out to the public

And then, oh man, the gates of Hell open up and it’s like, `Oh, he’s anti-Muslim, he’s an Islamophobe, he’s a racist bigot”, all that stuff starts, and it blows up, and it kind of shocks you to be honest with you, because in my own head, I’m he least Islamophobic guy in the Legislature being a Ron Paul Republican. I’m the only guys who has spoken out publicly against the wars in the Middle East. I’m the only guy who endorsed Shahid Shafi for Southlake City Council.

Stickland said he’s been a big backer of the very diverse Harmony Public Charter School in Euless.

I have been a hardcore advocate for these people in the community and taken a ton of heat for it. I spoke at their graduation ceremony. I teach there like three times a year. It’s very diverse,  got a lot of Muslims there.

As a libertarian-leaning Republican, I’m not anti-Muslim at all. In fact, that’s the main platform of me being a libertarian is I hate all that crap.

I could care less about how he prays to or any of that kind of stuff. My problem is I don’t want to turn the city of Euless into a circus, trying to bring in media and everything else. And I don’t like his politics.

I agree we have great diversity in our district. I spent thousands of dollars last session to sponsor and charter a bus – we’ve got a large Tongan community in Euless – and we had our first Tongan Day at the Capitol, and I chartered a bus and we had a Tongan celebration at the Capitol and recognized them, I paid for every cent of it because I think that’s great. But when you stand up and say, vote for me because of my skin color, that’s a problem. He literally made campaign videos about this issue.

There’s a difference between, “Vote for me because I’m diverse,” and celebrating diversity.

The second you say this matters, you are at the same time casting out the white folks.

I think it became a problem when he said it was a reason to vote for him. “Vote for me because I am this.” If I stood up in a crowd and said, “Vote for me because I’m a white Christian,” I think that’s a problem.”

If I sand up and say I’m Christian conservative and use that in my speech and talk about my values, that’s completely fine. If I stood up say, “Vote for me because I’m the only Christian,” or, “That person’s not a Christian, that’s when it becomes a problem.”

I don’t care, like Joe Straus for instance, if people are like, “I don’t like him because he’s a Jew,” that’s ridiculous, I never cared about that all, because you know what, I cared about his positions on the issues. I would vote for Craig Goldman for speaker tomorrow if I had the chance to and he’s a Jew. It’s completely irrelevant.

I think it’s fair to talk about who you are as a person, because I really do think your faith determines values in a lot of instances, but his faith is not what I had a problem with. What I had a problem with, what I thought was offensive, was that he was using this as a way to create a schism in the community.

Bhojani said that is a complete mischaracterization of his campaign.

BHOJANI:

(Stickland’s Facebook) comments were very hurtful and excited people in a very negative way. Those were Islamophobic comments just deliberately set up to rile up people and rile up support for his investment in Molly Maddox.

A lot of people who had Islamophhobia in their minds, they turned them out, that’s why it was close. We ran a very positive campaign and tried to talk about the city issues.

My kids (9 and 12)  are getting an education of a lifetime because they would not get this education anywhere, in any college, any university or any school, so I was very blessed to run a positive campaign that was away from hatred and negativity.

Bhojani said he and his wife were at the Euless Library every day of early voting from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., talking to voters.

Some people would say, `America is for Americans, you need to go back to Pakistan.’

I would be telling them that, with all due respect, I am an American citizen as well. The United States government has issued a passport to me. I have two kids that were born here. Where else would I go. `No, you’ve got to go home to your country.” But this is my country. “No, you’re not born here.” By your definition, only American Indians would be Americans. “You’re not a true American. I won’t vote for you.”

That’s one rhetoric.

Another rhetoric would be about religion, They would ask, “What religion do you follow?”

First I would answer back and say religion has no place in politics. There is no religious test to run for office . But they wouldn’t want to hear that answer and they’d spit out hatred, “No, you’re a Muslim, we are not going to vote for you.”

For others, I would say I am a Muslim, and they would say, “We don’t vote for terrorists.”

Another man told his wife that if he were elected the crime rate would soar and there would be retaliation against him.

She was really concerned.

They said, “We like Euless he way it is right now. We don’t want any change.”

A couple of people, really educated, talked about friends they had who were Muslim, and at the end asked, “What do you think of Osama Bin Laden?” I said, “What do you mean?”

They wanted to know if I thought the Pakistani government had harbored Bin Laden.
I said that’s a good question, I have no idea, I have no ties to the Pakistani government I left Pakistan when I was ten-years-old. I have no idea.

He said. “You’d be very naive to think I should not hold you accountable for that.”

Hold me accountable for being on the Park Board for four years. Hold me accountable for being a Boy Scout leader.

A Texas A&M professor asked my wife whether I wanted to bring Sharia .aw. She said absolutely not.
I came in and said I vowed to defend the Constitution twice, once when I became a citizen and then when I became  an attorney. The Constitution is the law of the land. Sharia law is not. I don’t practice Sharia law.

There are millions of  moderate Muslims that live their lives and are contributing citizens of the United States They give so much back, more than they take and they have the true American values and ethics.

It was disheartening, but a lot of people  came from Colleyville, McKinney, Plano, Bedford, they couldn’t even vote for us but they’d bring a snack, a sweet, and they brought their kids as well saying, “You’re fighting the good fight. and we want to celebrate and we want to show our kids that when you have adversity, negativity and hatred, this  is how you fight, you keep your chin up and shrug off all the negativity and fight with a smile.”

That’s what we did and it worked out.

During my first campaign, a person asked what kind of pork do you eat? I said I’m not sure I heard you correctly. I didn’t know here were different kinds of pork but I don’t eat pork and I’m not sure how that’s relevant to serving on the City Council. He said, “It’s important for me to know. If you don’t eat pork, you don’t have my vote.”

I don’t go out and tell people that I’m Muslim. There’s no need for telling people that. There’s a lot of Islamophobia that’s out there already.

We all know that Islamophobia is rampant in our country. We know how our president feels about Muslims. it’s just given them a license to speak, however they choose to speak about Muslims.

Why was there a need (for Stickland) to say that and not say, “He’s a father, he’s a son, he’s a Boy Scout leader, he’s an SMU graduate?” There is a reason why, he had basically made a $15,000 investment in my opponent and now he was trying to make his investment pay off, and he’s trying to make other people worried about me, and where does he get this idea of a scary agenda or a dangerous agenda?

How could I have a sneaky agenda? Show me where I”ve gone wrong. There is no basis for that.

On cricket.

There are lot of Nepalese people that play cricket. I have not played cricket for like decades. I don’t even watch cricket. (My wife is from India, so our marriage is already sort of taboo. Luckily we don’t watch cricket so we have a harmonious marriage.)

They had told me there are a lot of baseball fields, soccer fields, why is there not a cricket field? And I mentioned that in my speech to the Nepalese people at their Holy Festival (in March). Remember, these guys don’t come out to vote. They are in their own world. I’m not saying hat in a bad way. That’s a reality.

I’m  trying to talk to them, you guys don’t come out vote and then you complain to me. Oh nobody listens to us, we don’t have a cricket stadium. Well, they’re not going to listen because you don’t go out to vote. If you guys want something to happen, you’ve got to petition your City Council and I want to serve on that City Council.

 

Stickland said that it was Bhojani and his supporters who inflamed matters by focusing on him as a purported  symbol of intolerance, and successfully selling that story to a willing media.

BHOJANI:

What he did was wrong, first of all. And we did not call the media, the media called us and he media saw that he was wrong and the media wanted to call him out on that. I did not call people to say come interview us or come see what Jonathan had to say.

It’s crazy that I have not only my opponent to run against but I have a Jonathan Stickland to run against, my own state representative. OK, that’s a challenge I have to surmount. 

State Representative Jonathan Stickland wrote a Facebook post referencing Bhojani’s religion. In it, he speaks against “progressive liberals” stepping into a non-partisan council race and points out that Salman Bhojani is a Muslim and what he calls a “lifelong Democrat” responsible for having a passage from the Koran read for the first time at a council meeting. The passage referenced having an openness to different religions and was read by a local Boy Scout troop.

“I don’t think that by itself is something that means he’s unfit for office,” said Rep. Stickland. “But what I think is this is just a foreshadowing of some of the massive changes that he would like to see in the city of Euless.”

Representative Stickland points to Bhojani’s own speeches calling for diversity on the council.

“He can’t have it both ways,” Stickland said. “If he wants to use it as a plus, he has to be OK with other people thinking it’s a relevant issue as well.”

“I think that’s totally inaccurate. I have not brought my religion public,” Bhojani countered. “He should have come and asked me about my beliefs because I’m also one of his constituents.”

Bhojani said religion would never influence his council decisions but he does want a fresh perspective. He would be the council’s only minority.

“Any time you have a homogenous group of people who came together and make decisions for people who are not like them I think you can be blindsided by your own tunnel vision,” Bhojani said.

From a Texas Democratic Party April 30 email.

Austin, TX – Last week, Texas Republican Jonathan Stickland found it pertinent to mention that Project LIFT candidate Salman Bhojani is a Muslim and ‘lifelong Democrat’ on Facebook.

Salman Bhojani is a father, successful lawyer and running for  Euless’ City Council Place 5.

Democratic State Representative Rafael Anchia came out in Bhojani’s defense, “Religious tests were something that our founding fathers rejected when we revolted against the crown. The only thing that matters in this election is each candidate’s vision for Euless and North Texas.”

Bhojani had spoken to Anchia of his concerns for the safety of his family amid the rancor after Stickland’s Facebook post and Anchia negotiated a rhetorical cease-fire between Bhojani and Stickland.

But it quickly broke down with each accusing the other of not abiding by it.

Bhojani had gotten to know Anchia when he worked as a summer associate at Hayes and Boone, Anchia’s law firm.

BHOJANI:

He’s a great guy and I really respect him and we had a conversation and he said, “I can help turn the volume down on this thing and if you don’t post anything on him he won’t post anything on you.”

Bhojani said he held to the agreement until he saw Stickland was back at it on his personal Facebook page.

BHOJANI:

I forwarded it to Rafael and said, “I thought we had a cease-fire.”

It’s just not worth it. How can I trust that guy? I said Rafael, let’s forget it, he’s done the damage already. He should pay for not having a filter. So I called Rafael and told him that he could call Stickland and tell him the deal is off.

STICKLAND:

We tried to amp it down and I agreed to do it, but this is what he wanted the whole time.

Hostilities resumed

Bhojani won, but not by much.

BHOJANI:

When we received the early voting results at 7:00, 7:15, we we were only 74 votes  behind so that assured us that we would win. because we felt we had 75 to 80 percent of the votes that were counted on Election Day..

Surprisingly, we were only 112 votes ahead (in votes cast on Election Day), which is really, really surprising. I’m not sure how that even happened. I said, “It’s a win, we won fair and square. We don’t want to ask a lot of questions about what happened inside.”

People truly told us as they were going in, we’re here to vote for you, we’ve read what happened in the newspapers, we’ve read about all that negativity that was thrown at you by Stickland. A lot of people came in and said, “We hate Stickland. We don’t like him. Why is he messing with a City Council election? We don’t like that. We’re here to vote for you.” So that’s what made us feel like we had a huge lead, at least 200 or 300 votes for sure. So i was very surprised by the election results. It came out much closer than we had thought.

I went out door-knocking every night after early voting, because that’s the way to get votes. To tell our story. Because once they heard our story it was the American dream, it was very consistent with American values and ethics and so they really resonated with people regardless of their skin color or faith.

I will be he first minority elected in the history of Euless to the City Council. That is a very powerful end in itself.  You see a lot of people of color, but the City Council is not reflective of that diversity.

Also I will be the only City Council member with young children. All the others, their children are grown.

About a thousand people usually come out to vote. in local elections.. Last year there were 3,084, so I brought out at least a thousand first-time voters that never voted in their lives before. And then this year we surpassed that with about 4,201.

Historically, usually minorities don’t come out to vote as much in local elections especially. They don’t know about it. Some people come from countries where politics is a corrupt profession.

A lot of people come from Tonga. I think Euless is home to the second largest Tongan population outside of Tonga. It has a lot of people from Nepal, Indian, Pakistan, Sri Lanka. I think 24 percent of Euless is Hispanic, there’s a big African-American population as well, that may or may not be immigrant.  There’s a Nigerian and Sudanese group as well.

The Texas Democratic party crowed about Bhojani’s victory

It was the perfect twofer for them, electing an up-and-coming minority candidate and casting Stickland as the diabolical heavy.

Project LIFT Candidate Salman Bhojani Wins in Euless Defying the Hate Campaign Led by Rep. Stickland

After an attack on his faith and integrity, led by Texas Republican Jonathan Stickland, Salman Bhojani, a Project LIFT Candidate, was elected to city council in Euless by a margin of 37 votes. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, May 5, 2018]

Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa issued the following statement:

“Salman Bhojani faced down hate and brought his community together to march forward and fight for progressive solutions for the city of Euless.

“Never let anyone tell you your vote doesn’t count. By a margin of a few dozen votes, the people of Euless elected a candidate that is qualified, hard-working, and a family-man deeply rooted in his community. Americans across the country are rejecting Trump style hate and fear-based politics. Congratulations on a well-deserved win, Salman!”

The whole point of Project LIFT is to groom candidates to take out folks like Stickland.

STICKLAND:

Look, I’m going to win my race, it’s a Republican district, but they are definitely making a concerted effort in my House district fort the long-term. This is the first legitimate candidate they have put-up. He’s raising money, he’s block-walking, he’s a smart guy.

The Democratic candidate Stickland is referring to is Steve Riddell, who, with his wife, were among those Bhojani gave an award to for their help at Saturday’s victory celebration.

STICKLAND:

They’re building the infrastructure for a serious run.

I think it’s trouble when you let your enemy get their foot in the door, but I don’t think they’re going to go through it.

BHOJANI:

If you look at any of my posts I have never, ever stated any party affiliation or said I’m leaning this way or the other because that’s not needed in city politics. I may favor one side or the other, because that’s my right, but when I’m looking at the city I’m independent. And the issues that the parties are (focusing) on, don’t matter in city government. It’s bascially you have your police, fire, water, streets, park and library.

People ask me about abortion or gun rights, all stuff that doesn’t come into play in city elections. I’m not a lifelong Democrat. It’s weird for anybody to be a lifelong anything.

“He’ll be a good fit on the council,” Mayor Linda Martin told me. “We will work very well together.”

Martin said that Stickland ran a candidate against her in the past and the idea that she would have asked him to find a candidate to run against Bhojani is “patently false,” and she can’t imagine any of the members of the council approaching Stickland either.

“We do just fine on our own,” said Martin, who said that Stickland always says he’s going to stop messing around in local non-partisan politics, and never does.

She said Stickland’s contribution to the campaign was unfortunate, “because we celebrate out diversity.”

She said her grandson is in the first grade at a school where 42 different languages and dialects are spoken.

“He has friends of every different race. They just love each other. They are crazy about each other.”

I talked with Place 1 City Council member Tim Stinneford:

STINNEFORD:

When Perry Bynum announced that he wasn’t running for re-election, I was home with the flu and strep throat and I guess Salman had already filed and Jonathan called me and said, “Do you have anybody to run against him?” and I said, “I’m home sick right now and I don’t know of anybody running against him but the guy’s a pretty nice guy, I don’t really see an issue.”

And he said, “Well, I’m going to find somebody.” And I said, “Fine, OK.”

And it’s kind of funny that he would say anyone would have called him because two re-elections ago, the first time I had ever spoken with Mr. Stickland, was when he came out on an election Saturday campaigning  for my opponent, and he walked up to me and said, “Hello,”and I said, “Rep. Stickland, it’s nice that after all these years being a  representative the first time you speak to me is to try to get somebody else elected in my place.”

We’ve gotten along fine since them. When he said he was going to find somebody, “Fine.” I of course didn’t realize he was going to contribute that much money. There was more money spent in this election than I spent in four elections combined. It’s crazy.

I can’t speak of the other council members, but I can’t imagine anybody called him

As I told Molly, the candidate that he was supporting –  I’ve known Molly for years, I volunteer with Molly on a lot of things – and I told her, “Molly if I were an undecided voter, and I read what Stickland put out there, I would have immediately voted for Salman, no matter what because that was such vitriol, hatred, anger, I just don’t know how to describe how awful that was.”

We are non-partisan, that’s the only reason I run. I am a Republican but in every election I’ve run the Mid-City Democrats have supported me. I’ve gone to their meetings and gone to their dinners that they have once a month and I’m introduced as a Republican. On our council, we’re not Republicans or Democrats, we’re Euless citizens, and our only agenda is what’s best for the city of Euless, and that’s why I have no interest to go beyond this because then it becomes all about party and not about what’s right.

Tompkins, the council member who defeated Bhojani last year, emailed me, “I had several inquiries from Euless Citizens for the open seat of Place 6, and sat down and talked with 3 persons. Molly Maddux was one of the persons. There was not a call out for recruitment from me.”

Place 4 Council member Linda Eilenfeldt, who I believe is the only Democrat already serving on the council, was among those receiving recognition for her support at Bhojani’s victory party Saturday. She told me that she can’t imagine any of her colleagues seeking Stickland’s help to field a candidate against him.

Bynu, the retiring Place 6 incumbent, backed Maddox.

STICKLAND:

The establishment folks begged me to find and fund a candidate for them to get behind and then as soon as race got interjected into it, none of them followed through with their public endorsement. I’m never helping the with anything again.

BHOJANI:

My effort going forward is how to unite the city behind the outcome and make sure that I can lead and represent those who voted for me and those who didn’t vote for me and those that gave me hatred because it’s not personal, they don’t even know me and once hey see my actions they will really respect me for who I am.

I really hope for a tolerant Euless where people can respect each other’s faith, their ethnicity, their national origin and say we can all work together behind a united goal and make Euless a better place.

I  think (Stickland) hurt the city of Euless because it is divided by him injecting politics in this race. He made people see black and white instead of shades of gray and we need to focus on shades of gray and not say, this is white, this is black in all kinds of different ways.

It never helps to bring negativity.

I last spoke to Bhojani just after his victory celebration Saturday.

BHOJANI:

One of my supporters, a Republican, said today, “Let’s go buy a cake and let’s go to Stickland’s office, Let’s go and let’s thank him and say, `We couldn’t have done it without you.'”  He was serious.  And I was like, I haven’t met him and I don’t feel the need to meet him.