Yesterday, local Austin political consultant (and formerly the manager of Chris Bell's campaign) Jason Stanford published an op-ed in the Austin-American Statesman that attacks a problem of Texas Democrats' purity tests on their candidates. He sums his piece up with this conclusion:
You can't fix all the problems of Texas Democrats in one column, but a good place to start would for Team Blue – and this includes me – to be as accepting of ideological diversity as we are of racial diversity.
The story begins with a conversation Jason had after running Chris Bell's campaign, when his conversation partner suggested that Chris Bell's problem in 2006 was that he was not liberal enough. And that idea is just as ridiculous as Jason implied. Chris Bell wasn't too conservative; he was just liberal enough.
Lest we forget, Chris Bell finished within 10 percentage points of Rick Perry's total, the best top-ticket Democratic performance of the decade.
Chris Bell's problem was largely the presence of two strong independent candidates: Carol Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman. Anyone who remembers 2006 already knows this. Carole Strayhorn could fundraise where Chris Bell could not. Kinky was charismatic where Chris was not. If Jason should have done anything differently, it should maybe have been imprisoning Chris Bell with some media trainers for a month and strapping him into a call-chair with donor sheets for many more.
I've heard many cries for liberalism since Bill White's failed 2010 candidacy. I even heard them before that campaign was over, and I eventually joined in on those calls. Bill White was our first statewide candidate since Tony Sanchez to be so well funded, and he acted Republican-lite during the general election. His message wasn't one of a Democrat at all. We fought on because we hoped it would win an election for us, but we were easily wrong and misguided.
I was most hopeful for victory in 2010 after Rasmussen's April poll that showed Bill White 4 points behind. The race was trending closer, it seemed. But then, three polls later, it looked like an 8+ point race again. True, there were polls with spreads closer than 4 points, but they just looked like outliers at that point. The 4 points, after a handful of 6 point polls before the primary, looked part of a trend. The apparent positive trend materialized from a strong message that Bill White had going into the general election: Rick Perry is not good for public education, and I will be.
Then I stopped hearing that message.
With Chris Bell's campaign, however, that was almost all I heard. And in a one-on-one race, it could have worked (maybe). And even with a 4-way race, it got us closer to the finish line than anything else in my memory.
“Democratic primaries in Austin can be as humorless and judgmental as telling a bride that she doesn't deserve to wear white,” wrote Jason, and that's fine. We're liberal here, so we deserve our liberal elected officials. I understand, too, that it would have been a tactical error for Chris Bell be an LGBT crusader, and that not all in this party are pro-choice. I wish we all would be, but that's a conversation for Democratic primaries in Democratic districts and for legislative lobbying – not for elections in a district or state that is more red than blue. Maybe one day, we can talk about a fiery-progressive Texas, but today's not that day.
We still need our candidates to be liberal, though. Chris Bell came closer than anyone else because he offered a liberal solution that appealed to Texans. He offered the Democratic way as an alternative to the Republican way. All of our candidates should do that. Even if it's not a winning strategy (and I think it is), we would be lost if we just succumbed to the views of our Republican counterparts.
To me, and to a lot of liberal activists in this “Austin Bubble,” it's regretfully acceptable for our statewide candidate to have blemishes in their progressive values. But our candidate still needs to show the voters why they should vote for him or her, the Democratic nominee. And that requires a strong strain of liberalism by itself.
For 2012, that's why we've shouted the names of Wendy Davis and Tommy Lee Jones, because what we see doesn't cut it. It's not that Ric Sanchez isn't liberal here or there – he's not liberal at all, even with public education!
Yes, Team Blue must accept our own ideological diversity. But Team Blue must accept and embrace who we are at our ideological core, as well. (And I'm not the only one who thinks that this conclusion should be more obvious.)