Guest Post: Introducing the Texas County Democratic Campaign Committee

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We're excited to announce the launch of the Texas County Democratic Campaign Committee, designed to build infrastructure to elect Democrats in county races and help close the gap for regional and statewide candidates. Today, TCDCC Executive Director Rob Ryland brings us a guest post explaining why these efforts are so important.

Introducing the Texas County Democratic Campaign Committee

by Rob Ryland, Executive Director

Over the last decade in most of rural and suburban Texas, Democratic party infrastructure has atrophied and hundreds of local and county-level elected offices have been handed over to Republicans as older Democratic office-holders have retired, passed away or switched parties and support for even conservative Democrats to replace them has withered away. Republican control has reached all the way down to the bottom of the ballot.

These losses exact a tremendous cost to our bench of capable & experienced candidates, diminish our profile in hundreds of communities and have a discouraging impact on local Democratic activists and organizations, which were already ill-equipped to wage electoral and policy battles in these counties and have now been consigned to seemingly permanent rump status. No organization or party-driven effort has been focused on reversing this trend.

My own experience working with local candidates over the past three election cycles in Bastrop County has made it clear to me that, outside of large urban areas with deep and well-established Democratic organizations, our county-level candidates rarely have the resources and support framework to drive the voter turnout we need to win tough elections. Creating an organization to recruit and support these candidates is imperative if we are to return Texas government to the people and give Texas Democrats a strong and influential voice in public policy.

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The Texas County Democratic Campaign Committee (TCDCC) will fill this void in our infrastructure and work to elect more Democrats to county offices.

Our Goals:

Focusing on smaller, more conservative counties outside of the current urban Democratic strongholds, TCDCC seeks to:

    – Rehabilitate the Democratic brand at a level where candidates can create strong personal connections through one-on-one contact with the voters in their jurisdictions.

    – Rebuild the Democratic bench of candidates for future runs for higher office (State House & Senate, SBOE, Congress, etc.)

    – Support county-level Democratic incumbents in order to retain seats and build on their success

    – Make county and local governments in Texas more responsive, more progressive, and more representative of the people's interests.

To this end, TCDCC will:

    – Identify county races where Democrats can (or should) be competitive, or where Democratic seats are endangered

    – Recruit, train and assist Democratic candidates to run for County offices

    – Support these candidates and incumbents through fundraising, messaging and field direction and other campaign necessities

    – Provide member services to county-level Democratic incumbents as stakeholders in our efforts

Focus Parameters:

    – Rural and Suburban areas, where the Democratic brand is hurting most, and the lack of a strong Democratic message and activity on local issues has left the field open to conservative dominance with little more than a cookie-cutter partisan approach. TCDCC will focus on counties (outside of the current Democratic strongholds of Travis, Harris, Bexar, El Paso, Dallas, etc.), where small investments can go a long way. Also, by targeting seats with smaller electorates, we are helping candidates who can focus on direct voter contact and local, bread-&-butter issues that directly and immediately impact their neighbors. Having an organization to equip these candidates with the tools and resources they need to deliver a strong message and target voters is essential.

    – County-Level Offices – in the 2014 cycle, TCDCC will focus primarily on County Judges & Commissioners. As the lowest level of partisan-elected officials, commissioners and county judges hold budgeting and policy-making authority and deal mostly with issues such as infrastructure, public safety, and the day-to-day operations of other essential public services. This is where voters see the immediate value of their tax dollars, and where the Democratic message of investing in our communities can readily cross partisan lines and build new coalitions. This is also a message that can pivot to how the state's budget-cutting frenzy – driven by Republican ideologues – has placed an enormous burden on county governments while simultaneously limiting their revenue options, and puts them at the mercy of big business when it comes to economic development and long-term planning for growth. Other offices such as County Treasurers, Clerks, Justices of the Peace and Constables will stay on our radar as we identify more opportunities for Democratic gains at the county level.

    – Support services for Democratic incumbents: policy research, data and organizing assistance to help current Democratic office-holders build their support base and make the case for better policy and more responsible budgeting in their respective counties.

Long-term Benefits:

Over the next 6-12 years, as the Texas electorate shifts away from conservative ideology, TCDCC's efforts will help Democrats build greater capacity where it is most needed if we are to take advantage of this shift:

    – Successful TCDCC candidates will be prepared with local governing experience, and will have developed a narrative of service and a constituent base from which to launch potential future runs for higher office, such as the state legislature or state board of education, etc.

    – Democratic incumbents at the county level will be able to draw on our network and services to secure their support base, build coalitions around progressive policy in their communities and help redefine the Democratic brand.

    – Even unsuccessful candidates and their supporters will gain valuable campaign experience, helping to re-establish the Democratic brand in local electoral politics and in the policy arena.

If Democrats hope to retake a majority in the Legislature by 2020, organizing to win county-level races must be integral to that effort.

It's not sexy or glamorous; it doesn't involve magic millionaires or rock-star candidates and, like the work of Battleground Texas, it won't happen overnight. But it does need far more attention and resources than we have been willing to devote to it.

TCDCC has already begun to identify several commissioner and county judge seats across the state as possible Democratic pickups in 2014. The potential playing field is vast, but to ensure success in our first campaign cycle we believe it is important to keep our challenges manageable while being disciplined about raising the funds to run a robust operation.

To support our efforts, please follow us on Facebook and encourage your incumbent Democratic officials to do the same.


About Author

Katherine Haenschen

Katherine Haenschen is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, where she studies political participation on digital media. She previously managed successful candidate, issue, voter registration, and GOTV campaigns in Central Texas. She is also a fan of UCONN women's basketball and breakfast tacos.

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