Going to the big show


Jan. 17, 2009 at 11:03 p.m.
Updated Jan. 16, 2009 at 7:17 p.m.

PORT LAVACA - The first time Dean Johnstone went to the Houston Astrodome, it wasn't to see a baseball game.

"It was for a Goldwater rally," the Port Lavaca man recalled.

During the 1964 presidential election, Johnstone's mother, Marg, campaigned for the Republican nominee, Sen. Barry Goldwater. As vice chair of the Harris County Republican Party, she knew many prominent Texas Republicans, including future President George H. Bush and Sen. John Tower.

Forty-four years later, her son backed a different political horse - or donkey, to be exact. During the recent election, he supported the candidacy of Democrat Barack Obama and, on Tuesday, he and his family will be in Washington, D.C. to watch the former senator from Illinois become the 44th president of the United States.

"The parties change a lot over time," Johnstone said, adding. "Even Goldwater, at the end of his career, he bashed the Republican Party pretty hard because he thought they they'd gone too far to the right."

Johnstone became interested in Obama after hearing the Illinois senator's speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention.

"He's a really smart guy and he chooses his words carefully," Johnstone said. "He measures both sides of the argument and comes down to common ground."

When Obama visited Corpus Christi last year, Johnstone went and saw the speech. He was impressed by the composition of the crowd.

"It's all young people," he said. "Young enthusiasm. It's the next generation."

Johnstone compared his enthusiasm for Obama's candidacy to his mother's energetic support of Goldwater in 1964. He said she would understand Obama's appeal.

"I think she would be a supporter," he said. "She was a pragmatist. If something didn't work, she wasn't locked in."

In June, he went as a delegate for Calhoun County to the TDP State Democratic Convention in Austin. There, he supported Obama's nomination.

Five days after Obama's general election victory, Johnstone and his wife, Barbara, decided to attend the inauguration with their 13-year-old daughter, Stephanie. They believe the day will be something the whole family remembers for a long time.

"I just think it's great that we get to be a part of it," Barbara said.

Coming Full Circle

Both sides of Keisha Smith's family are from Chicago. And both sides had good things to say about their state's senator, Barack Obama, before he was elected president.

"They talked about him," the Victoria woman said. "He was young and new, and doing a lot for the city."

The first time Smith heard Obama speak was during the 2004 Democratic Convention. The Illinois senator's message moved her.

"The things he was talking about were things that weren't polarizing," she said. "He was talking about unity and how we all have to work together to achieve the same goals."

During the 2008 election, Smith volunteered for Obama's campaign, making phone calls to distant states like Iowa to drum up support for her candidate.

"I talked to a lot of people that I knew," she said. "Really trying to get a lot of the facts out there because there were a lot of false rumors at the time"

In August, she attended the National Democratic Convention in Denver, Colo. As a delegate, she again supported Obama's nomination.

On Monday, Smith will arrive in Washington, D.C. to see the inauguration the following day. She expects the event will feature a huge audience, really cold temperatures and a lot of excitement.

"It's kind of a full circle thing," she said, adding. "I put in a lot of energy to see him get elected."

History being made

Harold Simmons made arrangements to attend the upcoming presidential inauguration in September and October, at least a month in advance of the general election.

"Historically, it's very important," he said. "It's probably the most important in my lifetime."

He will attend the event with his son, Harold Simmons, Jr. of Houston.

For many years, the 64-year-old African American man from El Campo did not believe the U.S. would elect an African American president during his lifetime.

"It's a good feeling to know that it has happened," he said. "It has probably taken the glass ceiling from above our heads."

As a child, Simmons lived in a community that was racially segregated - separate schools and separate housing, to name a few examples.

"There was a time when if a black was walking on the street and he was approached by a white, he would have to get off to the side," he recalled.

Race relations have improved since then, but they still have a long way to go, Simmons said.

"This is not the do all," he said of Obama's election. "This is just another step in achieving a semblance of equality in America."



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