Turning Texas Blue: A Process Not An Event

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Last Tuesday's results show that Republicans have a lot of soul-searching to do about the future viability of their party, but the same could be said about Texas Democrats. After conceding there was much work left to be done, Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said by 2018 Texas would become battleground state, “by itself.” I strongly disagree, I expect national pundits and observers to casually assume demographics alone will make our state competitive but our past says something much different. Almost 50 years ago Lyndon Johnson said he signed away the South (to the Republicans) for a generation with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and still more than a generation later identity politics dominate the conversation. As the Party colors change from Red and Blue to White and Brown the demographic scapegoating of Hispanics could also potentially alienate middle-class white voters. The subtle nods to white voters that the Democratic Party was some how hostile towards them started immediately after President Obama's election was announced. Pat Buchannan wrote on his blog, “We face demographic disaster, they are wailing…These are people who depend upon government. Why would they vote for a party that is going to cut taxes they do not pay, but take away government benefits they do receive?.”  Bill O'Reilly said on Fox News, It's not a traditional America anymore, and there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff…The white establishment is now the minority.” I have a feeling these type of messages aren't falling on deaf ears in the reddest parts of the state, and Democrats have to make a compelling economic case or risk losing further ground. Over 60,000 online signatures have been collected to grant Texas secession, to which Gov. Perry, a prospective 2016 Presidential candidate, refused to lend support too.   Texas is very much still a red state, Romney beat Obama by 1.2 million votes in Texas, while Obama won nationally by less than 3 million.

There are few other hitches to the changing demographic scenario. Besides the lack of party structure to get eligible voters out, Hispanics voters face deliberate barriers to their growing electoral impact like restrictive Voter ID and redistricting.  Another is that the rate Hispanics turnout is lower in Texas than other states where they are a decisive voting bloc like Colorado and Nevada. Republicans know they have issues with demographics and despite an inner struggle they won't just sit around and watch Texas become a blue state. Texas' first Hispanic Senator-elect Ted Cruz acknowledged his party needed to do better in their appeal and recognized the stakes when he said, “If that happens, no Republican will ever again win the White House,...If Texas turns bright blue, the Electoral College math is simple…The Republican Party would cease to exist. We would become like the Whig Party.” For his part Cruz garnered 35% of the Hispanic vote compared to Romney's 29%. There are also future Latino candidates like George P. Bush, the son of Jeb Bush who has been instrumental in the Hispanic Republicans of Texas. Democrats must make their move while Republicans, in identity crisis, are forced to reconcile voter suppression and harsh immigration policies with reaching out to Hispanics.

Every Democrat in Texas fondly remembers Ann Richards for her tenacity and wit but also as our last Democratic Governor. But let's not forget, she lost her reelection bid and she wasn't “supposed” to win in the first place. Similar to the unlikely Senate pickups in Missouri and Indiana, Richards was helped by an outrageous rape comment by her opponent. In March of 1990 Republican Gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams compared inclimate weather to rape saying, “'If it's inevitable, just relax and enjoy it.'' The Same man also said Hispanics should vote for him because he met his wife in a Mexican restaurant. So yes, maybe Texas Democrats can actually win on issues, even the same issues Republican's struggle with nationally, but turning Texas blue will be a process not an event.

Having an attractive candidate or two at the top of the ticket won't be enough to make up the infrastructure gap. Though his name is regularly thrown out there as a possible statewide candidate for 2014, Mayor Julian Castro said himself he didn't believe Texas would be competitive before 2016. We must focus, as Republican's did decades ago, on winning local races and redefining the party. Support Castro now as Mayor, the same for up and coming legislators, council members and County Commissioners around the state, raise their profile and then we will have started the process. Our Democratic state legislators, who are the greatest intermediary between the state and local party, gained 7 seats in House and broke the Republicans 2/3s margin and thats a good start. Even though we barely represent ? of state we have members present in 5 of it's 6 largest media markets. Democrats must use their time in Austin wisely to make the case that state leaders have failed and that there is an actual alternative. Texas may be filled with progressives, minorities and those whose economic interest align with Democrats but thats not enough to get them to the polls for us. We must look at Texas the way we look at our nation, the same message or candidate will not work everywhere. Its time we ask every community this simple question, “Does the Texas budget reflect Texas values.” Now, can we propose one that does?

About Author

Joe Deshotel

Joe was born and raised in Beaumont, Tx, but live music and politics brought him to Austin. He has worked in and around government and elections for over a decade including for a member of US Congress, the Texas Legislature, the Mayor of Austin. He currently serves as Communications Director for the Travis County Democratic Party. He is most interested in transportation, energy and technology issues. He also likes Texas Hold'em and commuting on his electric skateboard.

1 Comment

  1. Excellent Post
    As an example of what you are saying, Nueces County went from blue to red in 2010. Republicans for county office were getting 60% of the vote in a county that used to be a Democratic stronghold. Local Dems worked their asses off in 2010, but had little to no support from TDP. In 2012, Abel Herrero did manage to beat Connie Scott, but that was mostly thanks to redistricting and Herrero's high profile and good reputation as a candidate. Todd Hunter did not even have a challenger!!!

    With no chance of winning any statewide office in 2012, TDP should have focused on a half dozen counties that they could win back and/or help build and strengthen the local parties. I am out of politics now, but what was the TDP strategy in 2012. Was there one? Was it executed? Who knows.

    I voted for a lot of Greens and Libertarians on the 2012 ballot.

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