Political candidate questionable choice for speaker

By Racey Burden | Published Saturday, September 9, 2017

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United Way held its annual fundraising kickoff luncheon this week, and, as per usual, a few people got up to speak about the benefits of the organization. This year there was also a special speaker – Texas State Rep. Pat Fallon.

Racey Burden

Fallon spoke about competing in the World Marathon Challenge. Back in early 2016, he ran seven marathons in seven days on seven continents, an incredibly impressive feat. He ran in memory of Jonny Wade, a little boy who died of cancer, and helped raise money for pediatric cancer research, which is a worthy cause. And Fallon is a great storyteller – he had the whole room laughing.

But I still don’t think he should have been the featured speaker.

Fallon officially announced his candidacy for state senator this week. He’ll be running against Craig Estes for the Senate District 30 spot in the March primary. He’s been campaigning in Wise County for a couple of weeks now, meeting with local leaders to talk about why he wants the Senate seat and knocking on neighborhood doors, which is all well and good – he wants the spot and he’s working for it. That’s part of his job. But someone in the middle of a political campaign shouldn’t be the special speaker at a charity event.

I’ve been told Fallon was under strict instructions from the United Way board not to mention the race or politics at all during his speech, and to his credit he did not. But the timing isn’t great, regardless. He may have attended the luncheon purely to share an encouraging story, but that doesn’t change the fact he needs the votes in that room. And there were a great many popular and influential Wise County citizens in attendance that day.

Everything turned out all right for United Way because Fallon stuck to his story, but if he had chosen to dive into political drama, it would have reflected poorly on an organization that does a lot of good.

So should allowing politicians to speak at these type of events be seen as an endorsement? I don’t think that’s what United Way wanted, but that is what it might look like to some. And what do we do when Craig Estes wants his turn at the next big charity event? Or Phil King? Or Mac Thornberry? Or Kay Granger? Or what about their Democratic opponents? Does everyone in the middle of a campaign have a right to our attention at an event where we’re being asked to give money? Fallon may have refrained from campaigning for an hour, but not every politician would make good on that type of promise.

While I admired Fallon’s story and appreciated that he did keep his politics to himself, I think in the future it would be wise for organizations like United Way to refrain from getting into the middle of a political campaign, inadvertently or not.

All that being said, I want to make it clear that I still support United Way. They provide funds to several excellent organizations, and they will need help raising the $450,000 needed for those organizations to stay in operation this year. Go to unitedwaywisecounty.org to find out how to donate.

Racey Burden is a Messenger reporter.

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