News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Have you heard the one about the Texas political candidate with the same name as a celebrity?

rick_perry_2014_kut.jpg
Mengwen Cao
/
KUT News
Rick Perry is running for governor. It's just not this Rick Perry.

You may have heard Rick Perry is running for Texas Governor. But it’s not that Rick Perry. You know, the one who used to be governor.

His name’s actually Ricky Lynn Perry, but he wants his name listed as “Rick Perry” on the ballot. It’s not the first time someone who shares a famous or familiar name runs for office.

Last year, two candidates named Jerry Garcia faced off in the Democratic primary for Harris County Precinct 2 Constable. That’s the same name as the late guitarist and songwriter of the Grateful Dead.

When something like that happens, it raises questions about the intention of the person who’s running for office.

"Name confusion can be pernicious if it's done with the purpose of attempting to draw support away from another candidate,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, political science professor at the University of Houston. “It's a perfect way to make trouble for a popular incumbent by splitting the vote for another candidate."

Rottinghaus said the ballot length, the order of names on a ballot and the proximity of a candidate’s name to an incumbent are all factors that could affect how someone votes.

As for how a candidate with a familiar name like Rick Perry would do in an election depends on the voter.

“Mostly name confusion affects voters who are less attentive to politics, voters with less education and infrequent voters,” Rottinghaus said. “Most voters can suss out differences between candidates, but sometimes it’s a challenge for highly informed and very attentive voters.”

He said states handle these issues differently. Some require that a candidate include a middle initial or nickname to distinguish the person from someone else with the same name.

A Texas Supreme Court justice who was elected in the 1970s arguably got the most mileage out of name recognition that had little or nothing to do with him.

According to a Tarlton Law Library online bio, Donald B. Yarbrough was "a little known, thirty-five year old Houston lawyer who shared a similar last name with longtime U.S. Senator Ralph Yarborough, and with Donald H. Yarborough, who had run twice for the Texas governorship." The former staff lawyer for Campus Crusade for Christ claimed that God wanted him to run.

"He reportedly spent $350 on his campaign and made one speech" during the Democratic primary, according to the online bio, but defeated a highly respected opponent. No Republican ran for the office so he got the job.

He later was indicted on charges of forgery and perjury and resigned. Yarbrough fled with his family to Grenada where he enrolled in a local medical school. Eventually he was arrested and served time in prison.

Others who shared a name with a famous celebrity or politician also have run for office in Texas, with varying degrees of success. Among them were:

Ron Chapman

The longtime district judge, among the last Democratic judges to stay on the bench in Dallas County as Republicans swept into judicial offices in the 1980s, had the same name as one of the most popular radio DJ's in the area.

In 1989, D Magazine's "Best and Worst" feature included an entry for the "longest-running" case of mistaken identity.

"For years, voters and listeners have confused State District Judge Ron Chapman with KVIL deejay Ron Chapman-a mistake that probably adds a few votes to the judge’s victory margins," the article stated. "According to a tongue-in-cheek program note for a recent SMU Law School benefit, Judge Chapman’s most interesting case this year “involves tracking down over $200,000 in campaign contributions which were mistakenly delivered to radio station KVIL.”

Bart Simpson

In 1990, a 24-year-old businessman shared the name of the fictional character in the popular cartoon series The Simpsons. Bart ran and lost his bid for the Texas House District 115 seat.

Gene Kelly

Gene Kelly, a retired Air Force officer and lawyer, was a perennial political candidate for statewide office. Sharing a name with the famous actor and dancer didn't give him much of a lift.

Warren G. Harding

Warren G. Harding, the president, isn't exactly remembered as one of the best. Warren G. Harding, the Texas politician, at least had that in common. The Texas Harding served as Dallas County Treasurer for many years. He ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer, many years later was appointed to that office when the incumbent died and then was elected. In the early 1980s, he was indicted on felony charges, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and withdrew from a reelection bid.

Got a tip? Email Stella M. Chávez at schavez@kera.org. You can follow Stella on Twitter @stellamchavez.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.