Now that delegates have made their way home from Dallas, it's time to reflect on the energizing experience that was the 2014 Texas Democratic Party state convention.
By all accounts it was the best convention that delegates I spoke to had attended, and I share that opinion due to the diversity, openness, and commitment to winning elections that I saw on display.
Add to that the positive, upbeat TDP staffers and our awesome, inspiring candidates and you've got what amounted to a great weekend in Dallas.
Below the jump, find out what the seven most important take-aways were from this year's fabulous Democratic confab.
7. Our candidates are really funny in the “LOL” kind of way not the “OMG are u srs?” kind of way.
Friday night, the tremendously impressive line-up of speakers had quite a few laugh lines, demonstrating that Democratic speechwriters come up with some good zingers, and that our candidates have the charisma to deliver them.
From Annise Parker's opening line “they told me to start with a joke, but you have already seen the Republican ticket” to State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer's line that GOP stands for “gringos y otros pendejos,” our candidates readily brought out the laughs, particularly at Republican expense. Kirk Watson added to the levity throughout the weekend with his two-dimensional doppelganger “Cardboard Kirk”, which demonstrated that even one of our state's most powerful elected officials has a great sense of humor.
Leticia Van de Putte's family video was the comic highlight, while Castro's speech was easily the most entertaining of the convention, from his joke that politics should be more like sports so that we could trade Ted Cruz to Massachusetts for Elizabeth Warren to his commentary on Republicans' misguided suggestion that low business taxes are why people dream of moving to America. “I've met a lot of immigrants and nobody ever told me they came to Texas for its low corporate tax rate,” he said to laughs.
Wendy Davis warned enthused delegates at the beginning, “don't clap too much or Greg Abbott will sue you,” referencing the treatment of visitors to the Capitol last summer. Her daughter Amber also had a great line during her top ten lists of why Wendy should win: “She has great hair, which we all know is very important for a governor of Texas.”
Republican candidates, on the other hand, would only be funny if they were the comic villains in a movie about a political party determined to destroy our state. Instead, they're real, and they're terrifying.
6. Opposition to high-stakes standardized testing and political cronyism must poll really well for Democrats.
There were several themes that repeated throughout the big-name speeches on Friday night. One: Republicans want to cut funding from education (see also: the 2011 session and 2013 session) and give whatever remains to corporations that administer standardized high-stakes testing. Two: Greg Abbott is the insider's insider who has spent his career working for the good old boys and his cronies in Austin rather than the people of Texas.
Fortunately for Democrats, these core messages have the benefit of matching up with the key differences between the candidates on the top of the statewide ballot: Wendy Davis vs. Greg Abbott, and Leticia Van de Putte vs. Dan Patrick.
I'm not really sure what the Republicans' core message is, other than “cut taxes for our donors” and “keep out THOSE people” but all in all I'm pretty glad to be on the side of supporting education, increasing transparency, and promoting inclusion.
5. The Democratic Party is exceedingly diverse and embraces difference in all of its forms.
While the Republican Party seems hell bent and determined to alienate anyone who isn't a 60-year-old white CEO, the Democratic Party has opened its arms widely to diversity in all of its forms, which was in turn celebrated by the candidates, the caucuses, and the attendees.
We don't just welcome everyone in our party: we give them a prominent place for inclusion not only on our ballot but also in our political power structure. Our Stonewall caucus met on the main floor of the convention, while the GOP denied their own Log Cabin Republicans a booth at their event. The TDP even held both a pro-choice and a pro-life caucus, though one room was standing-room only and the other seemed to be 50% comprised of curious pro-choice onlookers.
Unlike Republicans, we're not asking Hispanics to self-deport — instead, we're giving Latino elected officials prime time on the main stage during Friday's speeches and celebrating their participation in Texas civic life. On Saturday, Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins got on the microphone to talk about the work he's doing with the Innocence Project to make our justice system more progressive, particularly for African Americans.
As speaker after speaker after speaker reminded us, Democrats look like the face of Texas.
This convention was also the most inclusive I've attended in terms of age and experience. In 2008, the competitive nature of the delegate selection process made it difficult for many new activists and volunteers to participate fully in the convention process. This year, there was room for everyone to serve as a delegate or alternate. It was great to see so many new faces participating in our party process.
Photo above is the Fort Bend Young Dems, a diverse club in the most diverse county in Texas.
4. Our TDP staff is really big. They're also awesome.
After Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa was re-elected by overwhelming margins, he gave credit to the hard work of the staff, including TDP's executive director Will Hailer. Hailer made a brief pitch that included a stunning number: TDP staff has gone from four to seventy seven in less than two years. We have one of the biggest state party staffs in the country, and they do amazing work.
That was on display at the convention: they were upbeat, cheerful, efficient, and clearly working very hard to pull off a wonderful series of events. Kudos to Hinojosa, Hailer, and the entire TDP staff for fostering an atmosphere of inclusion and making the event fun and meaningful, and giving Democrats the boost we need to go home and organize for victory. Also, Will Hailer dwarfs just about everyone in height as well as in heart. We're lucky to have him working hard for Texas Democrats.
3. Supporting marriage equality among Democrats is approaching banality, and that's a great thing.
Just about every candidate voiced support for two individuals being able to marry the person of their choosing, from Annise Parker — who married her longtime partner in California this year — to the unanimous voice vote of delegates approving a resolution supporting marriage equality. That's right: this is so uncontroversial in our party that it passed by a unanimous voice vote on the floor of the convention.
After all, it's a mainstream position in Texas now: as Equality Texas polling shows, Texas voters support the freedom to marry. And once again, Democrats are the party that reflect this mainstream view.
Meanwhile Republican Governor Rick Perry thinks gay people need reparative therapy, Greg Abbott pals around with that controversial program's funders, and the Republican legislature still won't repeal the anti-sodomy statute, something even those backwater hicks in Okla-fricking-homa have done.
As TDP staffer Glen Maxey told Dallas radio Sunday morning, a few decades ago candidates didn't want to be seen in the LGBT caucus. Now, we have two openly LGBT Latinas representing Texas in the Legislature. It's great to be in the party in which our LGBT elected officials can be out and proud of their identity, just as we are proud of them and their work.
2. Women play a leading role in the Democratic Party. Republicans want to take away women's basic rights while paying us less for the same day's work.
From our two powerhouse female candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor to our all-star line-up of speakers on Friday and Saturday, it's clear that women are equals in the Democratic Party. It's impossible to say the same for the Republicans — just look at their platform and their legislative record.
Friday's speeches included State Representative Donna Howard, legislative champion for women, teachers, students, nurses and basically all humans; and Annise Parker, mayor of our state's largest city. Saturday's line up featured statewide labor leaders Becky Moeller of the Texas AFL-CIO and Linda Bridges of Texas AFT, who are working hard to protect the rights of all Texas workers.
The biggest caucus meeting over the weekend was the women's caucus, held on the floor of the convention. The room was packed, and there was an all-woman slate of speakers that — for the first time in Texas history, let's not forget — included our female candidates for governor and lieutenant governor. State Rep. Senfronia Thompson spoke at the meeting and brought out the coat hanger that she hung on the microphone during last summer's special session. Mrs. T, who has long advocated for the Texas equal pay law and publicly rebukes sexism in the Legislature, is not backing down from this fight, and neither are the other women in the room.
The Ladies Room sponsored by Texas Democratic Women featured additional programming on women's issues and notably featured many female speakers under age 40. There is a tremendous amount of talent among the young women of our party, and it was great to see a space for this energy and excitement.
Overall, the convention made very clear that women are valued equals within the Democratic Party and on the podium at our convention. To be honest, it wasn't always the case that women's issues and voices were promoted as vigorously as they are now, but women are seizing agency in the Democratic Party and forcing this to change.
Who's seizing agency in the Republican caucus? The Tea Party.
1. Democratic values are Texas values, and Texas values are Democratic values.
We're for funding education so every Texas child has a fair shot. We're for funding infrastructure so that businesses can thrive — a point eloquently made in a wonderful speech on Saturday by four-term former Land Commissioner Garry Mauro. We're for equality and privacy, for access to quality affordable healthcare, and for government transparency. We put the people of Texas first.
Overall, Democrats emphasized their commitment to the promise of Texas — a promise Republicans have spent two decades dismantling.
The differences between the two parties and their priorities for Texas are clear, and if voters can learn about these stark contrasts, the choice should be easy this November. That is, of course, where we all come in — we need to redouble our efforts to knock on doors, talk with neighbors, donate to candidates, and do the work we know will make a difference this November.
After this last weekend, it's clear that Democrats are ready to do exactly that.