By Mallory Schlabach, Editor in Chief
The phone rings and interrupts a conversation the group of women is having about which list of supporters to call next.
Robyn Wertheim answers because she’s closest. “Hello, Susan King’s headquarters.”
A minute later another phone rings. Wertheim apologizes and puts the first caller on hold as she reaches across the desk to grab the second phone.
Wertheim, King’s coordinator for signage and events, smiles before grabbing the phone and asks if she can call back.
On the other side of town, volunteers for her opponent, Dr. Mel Hailey, step up the competition a notch as students arrive to call supporters.
Dr. David Dillman, associate professor of political science and Hailey’s campaign manager, searches the piles on papers on his desk for the updated list. Students pop in and out of his office, some wanting to talk about a paper due, some wanting to sign up to help in the final days of the campaign.
The flow through his office slows enough that he can shut the door as he explains the most important thing he contributes is keeping Hailey and the campaign team focused.
“We can’t get distracted in this race, so I keep him focused and he keeps me focused,” he says with a smile.
Five days remain in the campaign to send a representative to Austin and the pressure is building as support pours in for both King, the Republican candidate and her main opponent, Dr. Mel Hailey, chair of the Political Science Department and Democrat candidate.
Although the nature of campaigns is unusual in itself, this race is unique in that several main staff members on each King and Hailey’s campaigns have strong ties to ACU, not including Hailey.
“Campaigns are unusual,” Wertheim, class of ’89, says with a smile. After 10 months of campaigning in three different Abilene campaigns, King’s volunteers have a system down and know what to do to be effective.
“When you work a campaign, everyone stuffs letters, staples signs and answers the phone. We all also answer policy questions, meet with dignitaries and talk to the media. It’s really a broad range job,” she said.
Wertheim is no stranger to campaign tactics. She first began working on campaigns in junior high, she said, when she was sorting mail for Reagan’s campaign. Through high school she worked in campaign offices in town for extra credit for classes, and since has volunteered in local races in North Carolina, California and Texas as campaign manager and consultant.
She first met King six years ago when she was on the school board. Wertheim was speaking at a public forum about closing schools, limiting libraries and removing RNs from school campuses.
“I was impressed with her activism, and we developed a friendship,” she said. “As I continued to learn about her, I thought she would be an wexcellent candidate and an advocate for my children.”
Dr. Jon Ashby, professor of communication sciences and disorders and King’s campaign treasurer, said he joined the King campaign because he cares about her a lot.
Ashby, class of ’64, has worked with her husband, Dr. Austin King, at the Voice Institute of West Texas for more than 20 years, and since has become friends with Susan King.
“She’s just had a tremendous career in health care services, the Abilene Independent School Board; that has brought her to this place,” he said. “She’s mature, seasoned and capable; she’s not going to be able to be overlooked in Austin.”
Although Ashby said he’s worked on other campaigns in the past, King’s is the first he’s worked on so extensively, he said.
“My job is to assure that all the funds are properly accounted for and documented,” he said. “I document where it went and who donated; we don’t hold anything back here.”
Wertheim and Ashby said King’s honesty is a value West Texans support.
“To win and represent Abilene, a candidate has to listen to its constituents, be a true conservative, be budget conscious and understand the unique landscape of West Texas,” Wertheim said. “It’s been an honor to watch a woman so beautifully balance her family’s needs while serving her community and working to ensure continued quality of the public school system.”
The other side of the coin
When Hailey decided to join the race December 2005, his campaign team knew they were entering a unique race with a daunting task: promoting a conservative Democrat in a race that historically the majority votes Republican.
But after 22 years of friendship, Dillman, who has taught in the Political Science Department since 1984, said he is confident in who Hailey is and believes in his ability to run an effective, morally decent campaign.
“Mel is a good fit with the district,” Dillman said. “He brings traditional conservative values, if you will, to the table such as family, pro-life, and at the same time is compassionate for the low-income residents, those who have become marginal in society, and he’s sensitive to children.”
Dillman, who oversees the fundraising, media, scheduling and advising on political matters, said the hardest part of the campaign has been letting people know that Mel is first a person, then a Democrat.
“Given the history of this district, our obstacle has been to say that Mel is a Democrat because of the historic roots of the party; that government can be a force for good,” he said. “In fact, it’s the party that brought electricity to West Texas and the party that helped use government resources for good to help West Texans out of the depression.
“Mel is labeled as a Democrat with the national party’s values. Those aren’t his values; he holds values of West Texans.”
Spending hours after duties at ACU are complete, Hailey, Dillman, and Dr. Neal Coates, associate professor of political science and Hailey’s campaign treasurer, work hard to let people know who Hailey is.
“I’m an accountant-type person first, but because of my proximity to Mel, I consult on his campaign strategies too,” Coates, class of ‘?? said.
Coates said he first became acquainted with Hailey when he was a junior political science major and Hailey was his professor. Dillman was his professor as well, he said.
“Late last year, when he was contemplating entering the race, several people told him they would help in whatever way he needed if he joined,” he said. “I was one of those people. He is qualified for this position because he teaches about his subject and goes out in the community; he knows what makes the legislature tick. It was easy to jump on his bandwagon.”
When both sides think about what values best represent Abilene, they both agree.
“A candidate supporting Abilene needs to be conservative, pro-life, pro-education, keep the budget balanced and ensure that free enterprise works well,” Coates said.
The public decides which candidate best represents the area. Until Tuesday, the campaigns continue, the phones ring and neither side will rest until one individual is chosen to represent District 71 in the Texas House of Representatives.