Turn Texas Blue: It Starts With A Conversation

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Now that Wendy Davis has made her Gubernatorial bid official, Texas Democrats turn their focus back to a goal that has eluded the party since the state's last female Governor — turning Texas blue.  

The Texas Tribune's Evan Smith sat down with state Senator Leticia Van de Putte, former Democratic candidate for Governor Bill White and Battleground Texas founder Jeremy Bird for a discussion on the topic.

The raw numbers seem nearly insurmountable in a single election cycle, but all panelists agreed that changing the state's political landscape wasn't just a long term goal but a safe one to bet your money on. How soon and successful a return on that investment might be will depend on the quality of candidates who fill the ballot and the amount of financial support they can garner, the strength of the state and local parties, and how many new voters they can get to the polls.

Republicans are taking notice and though some like Governor Rick Perry, who are on their way out, dismiss the newfound efforts from the left, his party's candidates are taking it very seriously.  

Click below the jump to find out what these top Democrats think it will take…When he describes the impetus behind Battleground Texas Jeremy Bird says, “The goal is to make Texas a battleground state, in order to do that we have to treat it like a battleground state.” He said that the organization under executive director Jenn Brown was working to hire the staff and build the infrastructure and donor base necessary to make the state competitive.

Senator Van de Putte expressed confidence that Texas Democrats were on a new and promising trajectory that could break the Republican's monopoly of statewide offices.

“There is a tremendous combination and set of circumstances that puts us on a much stronger foothold to win some this cycle and more each cycle,” she said. “I think many people think it's the demographics, it's the growing Latino and minority population, certainly that will help, but that's not all. Democrats have not had the resources to get out that message, to do the sort of things that Jeremy has been doing with battleground Texas. We are a donor state, we have been an ATM.

I don't believe for a word that if we sit back and wait for the demographics to come that we will be successful. Democrats are going to have to work hard for it. I think there is an exciting continuum of the work that's going to be done.”

The Senator also described how she felt Republicans were helping speed up the change by focusing on divisive rhetoric instead of sound public policy.

“They have not had a competitive general election. Their action has been in that primary and it is who can go the furthest to the right, and we're going to see that in several of our races. So when they disrespect and disenfranchise women because of the equal pay [bill]or because of healthcare, when they callously make very insensitive and toxic remarks about Latinos and immigration, when they alienate our gay and lesbian community let me tell you voters take note of that. We're making inroads with suburban women, we're making inroads with small business folks.”

The Democratic party is banking on demographic changes playing a big picture role, but for 2014 they will also spend a lot of time trying to motivate the 1.2 million women who voted in 2008 and 2012 but did not show up in 2010 when Bill White lost by 631,000 votes. That year Texas also ranked dead last in voter turnout. Bird pointed to efforts in Colorado and Florida to illustrate his belief that reaching out to the large pool of unregistered voters will also cut into that spread.

Evan Smith asked Bill White what he learned as the party's nominee for Governor in 2010, noting that he had many of the prerequisites needed to win: money, name ID, and business acumen.

White said Perry had successfully managed to make it a national campaign and there was a backlash against the Obama Administration with independents. He says now he believes voters are now ready to send Republicans a message. To applause he said,

“our candidates for state office should remind voters what state government does, and what they should expect from state government.”

“We've dropped vocational degrees, textbooks at junior colleges cost $300 a book, that's not right that's not Texas and people are stuck in traffic all over the state because the state has not invested in the infrastructure, that's not a Republican issue, Democratic issue, Independent issue, that's a Texas issue.”

White believes Republicans will try again to make this Governor's race a national election and that might not be the worst thing for Democrats. In the 2010 watershed election for the Tea Party, Republicans led the generic congressional ballot by 9.4pts. compared to Democrats current lead of 4pts.

Texas Republicans feeling the heat are pulling out all the stops from the pre-Civil War slogan “Come and Take it,” to Greg Abbott's promise to “Keep Texas Red.” Republicans have managed to keep access to the polls low and distrust of the government high but with new tools like social media and emerging issues in places like in South Texas where paved roads are being turned to gravel, the combination could prove disastrous for the party in charge.

“Elections are decided by who turns out and increasingly we are seeing fewer and fewer people turnout for our elections,” said Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. “So if Democrats get all of their base turned out and our base is complacent we could have a problem.”

There is a lack of conversation being had by state leaders in Texas concerning the many problems of the state. Most have simply campaigned against the federal government and the President. It goes very much back to White's statement about discussing the role of government with voters. Rick Perry and Greg Abbott like to talk about Texas business, because business is good, but what about the people? Texas ranks near or at the bottom in clean air, education spending, access to health insurance, and now some communities are facing water shortages. We saw the results when Perry was actually forced to debate his record, and now Republican officials down the ballot will be held accountable if Democrats can raise their volume and make the state competitive.

We can all agree there is a problem, but only time will tell if Democrats are the solution.


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. Follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.

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