For my family the big election last year wasn’t the presidential one. Okay, there were similarities: Like the Bushes, we cheered a family member—one who, like George W., has strong Midland ties and ultimately prevailed (although with a lot more dispatch). The candidate in question was my brother, William F. Dingus, who won his bid for the Midland City Council last spring. I’m prejudiced, of course, but I think Bill’s tale is worth a recount. I mean, it’s worth recounting.
My little brother is now 41, but ever since Bill was a kid growing up in Pampa, my parents knew he was bound for glory, or at least for moderate renown. For one thing, as the youngest of four children and the only boy, he had a built-in audience of doters, and he quickly grew comfortable in the limelight. In elementary school he was already displaying an interesting bent of mind: He invented a bed-making machine of clamps and cranks, for example, and formed a detective agency with his best friend (they successfully located one ring and a few dogs, although Bill now says, “I’m not sure those dogs were ever really lost”). By age fourteen he was performing cute-kid roles in musicals at Pampa High School, where he later became the senior class president. Bill always let me know that I was his favorite sister, which naturally made me all the more inclined to shower him with time and trinkets. It took a decade before I discovered, by comparing notes with my sisters at last, that he had been telling Jane and Nancy the exact same thing all along. What surer sign, I ask you, could there be of a future politician?
He decided to run for a simple reason. “I wanted to be in a better position to get things done,” he says. “I found myself thinking, ‘Somebody’s got to be a good politician. And if someone like me isn’t going to give it a try—someone with the time and the education and the financial freedom—who is?’” He launched himself into the fray—hammering signs into yards, setting up a Web site, glad-handing to a fare-thee-well. Others were less optimistic: “He was running against one incumbent and five other candidates,” says oilman Bill Rutter III, “and frankly, I didn’t give him a ten percent chance of winning. The fact that he won is mind-boggling.” What’s also surprising, at least in pro-Bush Midland, is that Bill is not a Republican. He’s not a Democrat either. “It’s a lot easier to represent everybody,” he asserts, “if you don’t antagonize half of them by putting on a label.” Says a longtime friend, Andrew Swartz: “Midland is such a homogenized town—one industry, one mind-set. But Bill breaks the mold. For a guy like him to gain entrance to the traditional bastion of the city council just tickles me to death.”
Bill’s particular goals for the city are beautification and economic diversification. He is collaborating with the Arts Assembly of Midland to create Art on the Range, a group of mega-sculptures to enliven the city’s public driving range. “If I were an artist,” Bill says, “I’d be intrigued by the idea of creating something designed to be seen from two hundred yards away and hit by golf balls.” He also wants to subsidize the spaying and neutering of pets. “I’d like to see us reduce the number of unwanted animals without resorting to killing them,” he says. To enlighten himself about the topic, he drove around one day with an animal control officer. “We scraped up a thirty-eight-forty-five off the pavement—that means a wild animal, in this case a mockingbird. We looked for eighteens—those are dogs running loose. Then we get a report of a forty-five-F—that means a dead cat—and it was only a block from my house! Well, it wasn’t my cat—but it was a friend’s cat, so we had to go over there and tell her Harrison was dead. It was quite a day.” For Bill, such adventures are the perks of his $300-per-year job. (He can’t wait to tag along with city officials for the annual water tower inspection.)
Not every outing, however, is a fun one. Last fall the council approved a raise for the police force, which angered firefighters, whose salaries remained unchanged. Bill scheduled a visit to the fire department to “let them have at me,” as he put it. “We had a nice lunch, and everyone was being very polite, and just as I was fixing to bring up the subject of the raise, alarms went off all over the place and everybody left. And the joke going around the next day was, ‘Who’d Bill get to start that fire?’”
Another dilemma Midland may soon face again, Bill says, is whether to adopt an economic-development tax and use the proceeds to woo new businesses and hang on to existing ones. “I wish Texas had never legalized that tax; it just takes money from taxpayers and puts it in the coffers of the ABC Widget Company or whatever,” he says. “Midland has voted it down twice. But if you’re the only city that doesn’t have it, you could be in a heap of trouble. Odessa has one, and when we get jealous of the success Odessa is having, we’ll be voting on that tax again.”
Even when he’s talking about Serious Issues, though, Bill is irrepressible. I edited his campaign literature, which he wrote himself, and one print ad, titled “Eleven Reasons I Am Going to Vote for Myself,” began, “I can’t be corrupted, although I am looking forward to having someone try.” In fact, he sent back the parking sticker the airport gave him to use while attending official functions there, with a note saying, “Thanks very much, but if I kept this I know I’d be tempted to use it when I leave on vacation.”
No wonder he has attracted supporters like former Texas senator Lloyd Bentsen and Alan Simpson, the stalwart Wyoming Republican. Bill knows Alan and Ann Simpson because their