The Father of the Slates
I saw a Facebook post after the November 6th election blaming the slates for the loss. I responded back to the post, “which slates, the ones that defeated every democrat in Harris County, or the new slates that defeated every Republican.” There is a difference between the two sets of slates. More importantly, there is a history.
Many years ago, back in the 80’s, a guy by the name of Sherwin Roden, a former band promoter from Austin, moved to Houston. The Austin music scene was beginning to explode and Sherwin was in a very competitive market. For whatever reason, he chose to move to Houston. Sherwin was friends with Stevie Ray Vaughn and many big names in music including Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. When Waylon died, I don’t think Shewin worked for a whole week following his death. A similar thing happen when Stevie was killed in a helicopter crash.
I had recently moved back to Houston when I first met Sherwin and Carlene. If my memory serves me right, Allen Blakemore had asked me to go over and pick up some mail samples for a Houston city council campaign that needed final approval. Little did I know that Allen probably sent me because he didn’t really want to deal with Sherwin. When I arrived at Sherwin’s home, he came down and introduced himself to me. I had a pleasant enough conversation with Sherwin and his girlfriend, Carlene.
Did I mention that Sherwin was a democrat? Actually, he was more of a classical liberal, a Libertarian in today’s definition. Sherwin told you he was a democrat if you asked, but he never voted so his affiliation would not be of record. He did not want to alienate clients with his political affiliation. And, Sherwin knew what information could be gathered. Remember this was all happening before Facebook, Google, and Steve Jobs even thought about a smart phone.
Sherwin was smart and did not suffer fools well. Sherwin was one of those guys who was lucky enough to find something he was really good at, databases in particular. Sherwin’s line of work had become political mailing lists, and later he owned a political mail house and phone banking operation. A good one. His operation was called WC Management, which stood for Wild Country Management.
So the story goes, Sherwin devised a way to identify people who were moving into Houston and Harris County through party affiliation. He was using the National Change of Address database operated by the USPS. Sherwin approached the Harris County Democratic Party and wanted to sell them on his idea for $10,000. The democrats told him no or didn’t have the money, probably the latter. Sherwin turned to the Republicans with his idea and rest we should say is history. Although Sherwin had democrat clients, I don’t believe he ever worked for the party, not that I saw anyway. I worked with him for about a year and a half.
Sherwin should be called the father of the slates. Let that sink in for a second. For all of the the Phil Owens/Mary Jane Smith “trash the slates” sycophants, the reality is that the slates were started by a democrat. Somehow Sherwin hooked up with Allen Blakemore who was on a quest with Dr. Steve Hotze to remove democrats from office in Harris County. Democrats had controlled the local judiciary since reconstruction and Blakemore bought into Sherwin’s vision and expanded on them as technology progressed. Sherwin’s ability grew, changed, and adapted. He became very good at identifying and targeting voters. Sherwin, Hotze, and Blakemore had started to change Texas history. Certainly in Harris County.
It was once said that if you asked Sherwin for a mailing list of black Republican motorcycle riders in Texas, he could come up with it. Remember, this was all happening in the late 80’s and early 90’s. People were high tech if they had an Apple II computer. Sherwin had already become a master of political database technology and was gathering voting histories in Harris and surrounding counties. All the while, Blakemore and Hotze were using Sherwin’s data to target and identify voters. The better Sherwin’s capabilities became, the more successful the Blakemore-Hotze machine became in winning primary elections. Pretty quickly, every democrat in Harris County was gone.
Sherwin, in a quest to generate income and revenue, expanded into bond elections. The contractor business class began to utilize Sherwin’s mailing lists, which could identify potential bond voters. The battle between the Moodys and Tillman Fertitta over the Galveston Convention Center bond fight greatly expanded the idea of targeting voters for this purpose. I will neither confirm nor deny that a million dollar payment occurred during this fight. Sherwin had begun to identify Republican and democratic voters who voted in bond elections. These early voting histories began to build upon the voting database. Very few people knew exactly what Sherwin was doing. Those who understood what he was up to profited greatly.
Hotze and Blakemore began using Sherwin’s database to identify social conservatives. Hotze was pro-life and anti-gay. I can’t remember the latter being a relevant criteria during this time, nor would Sherwin ever allow it. However, the wheels had been set in motion to form a social conservative database. Pro-life candidates began to win elections and participate in runoff elections. Over time, these voting histories accumulated and strengthened the database.
Social issues that came up from time to time also grew the information for the database. The same sex benefit elections and the HERO ordinance are a few examples that allowed the gathering of social conservative information. These ballot issues, combined with candidate campaigns based on these issues, validated and improved the database. Again, very few people knew or even understood the technology, let alone how it applied to voters. As, I think back there has to be some Democrat somewhere reading this thinking, “Damn, I wish I had paid attention to the short, mean guy with curly hair.” Yes, Sherwin could be rude and had a notorious temper.
If you were a candidate and didn’t pay your bill, you were likely to get a special brand of Sherwin wrath. Sherwin had a phone banking operation and more than once he turned it on a candidate client. All of this worked into Hotze and Blakemore’s favor because Sherwin’s temper intimidated and scared clients.
Over the years, Sherwin grew busier and his database operated in Paradox. Paradox was an obscure database system and few knew how to operate it. This was by design. Sherwin’s operation was based in the Heights. He had created a room above the garage that housed his computer operations. No one but Sherwin, Carlene, and a few employees were allowed into the inner sanctum. It was a room with computer screens and no lights. Sherwin would have to open the blinds for a visitor to see around the room without tripping over cables or wiring to reach the only other chair in the room. It was a room built for a computer programmer.
Eventually, the political mail for every Harris County Republican candidate left Sherwin’s mail facility. Some notable democrats were lucky enough to do business with Sherwin. Most of the Republicans were Blakemore clients. HCC Trustee Dave Wilson was a favorite client. Lee Woods was another favorite and would check on things when he was in town.
Shewin Roden passed away in his sleep unexpectedly on May 27, 2007 at his home in the Heights. He was 52, five years younger than I am now. Those that knew the significance of his sudden death moved quickly to secure the database. Carlene had never been part of the computer side of the business. Sherwin had tasked Carlene with operating the mail house and phone banking operations and dealing with clients – rarely fun work. Carlene continued to run the business after Sherwin’s death, but ultimately decided that she did not want to carry on without Sherwin.
Several weeks after Sherwin’s death, Mr. X was permitted to enter the inner sanctum and download the database and its contents. Sherwin and Carlene trusted Mr. X and he knew Paradox. Mr. X quickly established a business to continue the work of Sherwin and maintain the database. Sherwin’s business model was basically kept in tact to carry on the political machines that depended on its success.
The three slates, Conservative Republicans of Harris County, Texas Conservative View, and the Link Letter all depended on this data. Over the years, these slates powered by data brought power to many Republicans. The list is long, but Perry, Abbott, Patrick, Dewhurst, Patterson, Bettencourt, Sanchez, Radack are just a few of the names who benefited from Sherwin’s work.
Consultants knew and understood the power of this particular database. The ability to comb through 25 years of voting histories and produce a list using the information wouldn’t win you an election, but it certainly was going to help. The right messaging has kept Republicans in statewide office in Texas for over 25 years. The three slates became invaluable. And, it all started because the democrats didn’t want to pay one of their own.
In Harris County, Paul Simpson and the consultants he brought in stopped using the Roden database. After Jared Woodfill was defeated, Simpson has not won an election since bringing in another system. I am certain that Simpson and his out-of-town consultants either never knew Sherwin’s story or don’t care.
Simpson’s trash the slates campaign has destroyed the Harris County Republican Party. As of January 1, 2019, all countywide office holders will be Democrats. I know that Simpson, et al. are not using Sherwin’s data because the voter data distributed to precinct chairs in 2018 included democrats. For example, my wife is our precinct chair. After early voting ended for the November 2018 election, she begged the Harris County Republican Party for a list of Republican voters who had not yet voted. She finally received a list from the party that included democrats . . . and lots of them. Yes, Simpson, et al. were was turning out democrats to vote in the November 2018 election.
When my wife could not get a good list from the party, I called Mr. X. Of course, Mr. X quickly generated a list of Republican voters who had not yet voted. The two lists were very different. The party list contained Democrats. I know this because we live in a high-rise and I know my neighbors. This episode confirmed my worst suspicions about Simpson.
During the November 2018 campaign, Simpson failed to unite the party. He never reached out to the three slates and try to repair the damage. And, now we suffer for Simpson’s agenda. We used to be the smartest guys in the room with the best data.
We must get rid of Simpson and his sycophants, like Mary Jane Smith and Kevin Shuvlaov, if we want to win Harris County in 2020. The Simpson experiment has failed and we must get rid of him now! We cannot afford to wait until March 2020 to make this correction. Next time someone suggests that we should trash the slates, send them this story so they can have a modicum of information from which to speak.
Amazing story! I thought I knew some information but, obviously, not the behind the scenes data management. Thanks for sharing.
Mr. X goes by the assumed name Charlie and is hiding out in Sea Isle Galveston where Carlene brings him supplies every now and then. He is a recluse and tells neighbors stories of having cancer and being a home builder. I have caught him a few times drunk out of his mind when he has told me the truth about things. He is currently trying to steal his widower neighbors house out from under her. He acts as though he is some mastermind, but is a washed up old fool.
Mr. X is Ed Johnson and is retired and living on his ranch in Giddings. He wan an employee of Harris County when I wrote the story. He gave me permission to disclose his identity.