Newly elected state representative accused of racially charged remarks

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Michelle Beckley, Democratic candidate for Texas House district 65. (Photo by Celeste Gracia)

By CELESTE GRACIA and LEOPOLD KNOPP

In the aftermath of her election to the Texas House of Representatives, numerous allegations of racially charged comments have come up against District 65’s Michelle Beckley (D- Carrollton).

The Lewisville Texan Journal has independently corroborated several troubling, racially charged remarks attributed to Beckley, including two independent and apparently distinct reports of her saying that the practice of lynching should make a comeback*.

Angie Cadena, the newly elected chair of the Denton County Democratic Party (DCDP), said she did not know how to hold Beckley accountable, though she did say that volunteers who did not want to work with Beckley were no longer required to do so after allegations of racism became explicit.

The allegations against Beckley, which she has denied, first came out last Friday, when the Young Democrats of Denton County (YDDC) posted an official statement on their Facebook denouncing “the horrendous statements and actions” of Beckley. The Young Republican and Libertarian organizations soon followed suit.

During the 2018 midterms at the Carrollton Public Library at Hebron and Josey, a polling station, County Commissioner Precinct 2 candidate Brandy Jones, who is black, said she heard Beckley make a comment to the effect of “they need to bring lynching back.” Note: Beckley specifically denied this after our story was initially published.  See the note at bottom.

Jones said Beckley was having an argument with another person of color at the polling station. While Jones didn’t hear what the argument was about, she walked up to the situation near the end of the argument, when Beckley was already heated, and heard her say to herself that lynching should comeback. Beckley only then realized Jones was within earshot.

“When she said it, she caught herself like, ‘oh my gosh she heard me,’” Jones said. “She tried to offer me some Oreos.”

Another source, who requested to remain anonymous due to threats against them, said Beckley said something similar to her during the 2017 mayoral election.

Jones also said during primary election season, Democratic candidates and volunteers went block-walking together to pass out candidate pamphlets, but noticed Beckley did not pass out Jones’ literature.

“She would want me to pass out her literature, but she wouldn’t want to pass out mine,” Jones said.

Jones and other sources stated Beckley also did not pass out literature for certain other Democratic candidates, specifically Chris Lopez, a Hispanic man who was recently elected as Denton County’s Precinct 6 Justice of the Peace, and Diana Leggett, a white woman who was running for County Judge. Jones heard Beckley make a comment under her breath as to why she wouldn’t pass them out.

“One of the comments she would make was something to the effect of ‘I have to tolerate black women,’” Jones said.

Cadena said she heard an allegation that Beckley was trying to remove Lopez’s access to the Voter Action Network, the DCDP’s database on registered voters in the county. Cadena said she acted to make sure it didn’t happen.

Some of Beckley’s other statements also raised questions.

At a YDDC general assembly in June, Beckley said to the audience the only Spanish she knew was “tacos and burritos.” There is video of this meeting, but it begins recording after this remark was made. However, several YDDC and DCDP members who attended the event confirmed this comment.

At a candidate forum in February earlier this year at Horizon Unitarian Universalist Church in Carrollton, Beckley used the term “sexual preference” more than once, leading some in the audience to speculate that she believes being gay is a choice. The sentiment was repeated by several sources. Beckley was asked for clarification in the middle of the forum, as seen in a video of the event.

“Language of sexual preference seems to indicate that one might think that sexuality is a choice,” the moderator said. “Where do you stand on that?”

“I don’t think it’s a choice. That was probably a misstatement I made,” Beckley said at the forum. “The manager of my store has been there for 25 years is – he’s gay and I’ve had lots of conversations with him because as a heterosexual maybe I don’t understand. I think that talking to people is how you learn about them and their preferences and just how they are. Everybody brings something different to the table and I think that’s what we need. Sometimes I think we get tied up on the definitions of things and just accept people for who they are.”

Beckley issued a blanket denial in a prepared statement released by her spokesperson Jana Sanchez.

“These allegations are completely without merit and launched by people who openly supported my Republican opponent,” Beckley’s statement reads. “I will remain focused on the things that are of the greatest importance to the people of District 65: healthcare and education.”*

While details are still emerging, it is clear that reports of poor behavior on Beckley’s part date back to her 2017 Carrollton mayoral campaign and the beginning of her involvement with the Denton County Democratic Party (DCDP). As to the question of why nothing was done, several sources echoed the same sentiment — they were discouraged from speaking up because doing so might hurt the campaigns of other Denton County Democrats.

When asked how Beckley would be held accountable, Cadena’s response was, “how?”

“What do you expect me to do?” Cadena said. “She’s going to be held to the same standard as the rest of the candidates. I can’t de-elect her. I can’t get her off the ballot. Really, truthfully, there is nothing we can do.”

However, after reading the Denton Record Chronicle’s article on the situation, Cadena clarified that the party did pull resources once accusations of racism emerged.

“The perception is that we, Denton County Democratic Party (DCDP), knew about this issue for over a year and still asked our volunteers to help Ms. Beckley with her campaign,” Cadena wrote in an email. “To clarify, we knew that Ms.Beckley had a strong personality and was sometimes difficult to work with or for; we had complaints from many people on that account.  It was not until after the start of early voting that we started to hear the assertions of racism… With that information, I asked staff to stop asking our volunteers that did not want to work with Ms.Beckley, especially those who stepped up with their complaints of racism, to work for her campaign.”

When Cadena was made aware of the accusations, she said she was asked by two campaigns in Denton County to not bring those accusations to light publicly.

“It wasn’t my decision to not make it public. I’m still respecting their requests,” Cadena said.”The people who were complaining — it was going to impact their lives. It impacts the candidates.”

Cadena said she spent a day in Carrollton during early voting to address the situation.

“It’s not that there wasn’t any action, it’s just that I’m not going to post that anywhere,” Cadena said. “I talked to all the parties involved — Beckley and whoever else was out there. I did what I had to do. It was more than mediation because there [were] specific actions that we had to take, and we did.”

Cadena would not specify what actions had been taken.

Jones said she has been witnessing Beckley’s behavior since the primary election season.

“They just have really tried to cover it up like it wasn’t important,” Jones said. “It has not been resolved. That has been the biggest issue.”

Jones said one way the issue could have been fixed months ago is if Beckley had sincerely apologized.

“Even if you don’t like me because of my skin color, you still are supposed to respect people and accept them,” Jones said. “You can’t be a role model or a leader doing things like that to people.”

Former party chair Phyllis Wolper said that Beckley is an aggressive, intimidating person, but that she was “equal-opportunity” with her aggression. Wolper said she received numerous complaints about Beckley’s conduct before Cadena took over as party chair in June, but that the conduct was not racially charged.

“There were absolutely no complaints about Beckley that had any racist overtones spoken of her,” Wolper said. “Beckley has an extremely strong personality, and she tends to exhibit that a lot. She is very tenacious about things, and I can say without a doubt, because she was against me being re-elected, that she is very, let’s say, colorblind, when it comes to her tenacity.”

Wolper said that Beckley zealously supported Cadena, who is a Latina, over her in their race for county chair in March. She said Beckley would show up at meetings that were not in District 65 and interrupt Wolper as she spoke.

Wolper said she never heard anything regarding a comment about lynching. She said she would have done something if she had heard any suggestion of racism on Beckley’s part, but never found any indication that Beckley picked on a particular group.

“I can say, in some people’s position, and within certain people of color, I could see how this could easily be interpreted, this behavior, but they’re not the only ones,” Wolper said.

Cadena said a focus of hers has always been purposeful inclusion, or to diversify the leadership of DCDP. She said purposeful inclusion helped this situation come to light.

“Purposeful inclusion was made to get around these kinds of issues,” Cadena said. “I think it came up because people feel free to say something… because they know we’re going to listen.”

Cadena also said there will be more intense efforts for ally training that candidates will be strongly encouraged to attend.

“I think everybody involved needs to have some kind of ally training on all the different, marginalized groups,” Cadena said. “I want to make sure our candidates know what we expect from them and set that bar. It was always in the works but I think we’re going to have to speed it up and make sure that it is our priority.”

Beckley will take office when the 86th Texas Legislature begins on Jan. 8, 2019.  She narrowly defeated incumbent Republican Ron Simmons with 51.16 percent of the vote. District 65 represents Eastern Lewisville, Castle Hills and North Carrollton.

*Update 12:21 p.m.:  Beckley’s spokesperson, Jana Sanchez said they had been unaware that the allegations included the statements about lynching.  She provided this statement from Michelle Beckley:

“This is an absolute lie. I have never uttered those words in any circumstance. Ever. We have been harassed for two years by this group and if they had ever presented this claim, we would have refuted it aggressively, including through legal channels. It is outrageous that she is able to attack my character only because I am an elected official. My team and I have been asking for any evidence that I had ever said anything racist or discriminatory and were never once given any concrete example. I categorically deny I ever said such a thing. The only racially insensitive thing I have ever been heard saying was a self-deprecating comment about my Spanish language ability,” — Representative Elect Michelle Beckley.

 

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