15 Progressive Victories For Texas In 2015

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It can be hard to motivate your players and fans when you are in the midst of a decades-long losing streak, but what if you redefine the game and what it means to win?

It has been a long time since Texas Democrats have claimed a statewide electoral victory, but they should take pride and credit for the many significant strides made on progressive issues in 2015. The state has become the frontline of many cultural battlefields, and though many victories have come thanks to the courts, the work of grassroots progressives has kept Texas the subject of national headlines.

What follows are 15 noteworthy highlights:

1. Private Businesses Join Progressives in Taking Stand for Sensible Gun Regulation

The Texas legislature, quite literally at gunpoint, cow-towed to gun extremists who believed there should be more guns in more places, facts be damned.

“The totality of the evidence based on educated judgments about the best statistical models suggests that right-to-carry laws are associated with substantially higher rates” of aggravated assault, robbery, rape and murder, Donohue said in an interview with the Stanford Report.“

Statistics show the more guns that are around the more likely people are to get hurt and that seems to have lead to many high profile Texas brands to say no to open carry and campus carry.

Leading the way is the H-E-B grocery chain, followed by Whataburger. Whataburger has long been a Texas favorite and was just voted America’s favorite burger. Other major brands with large footprints in Texas have also joined the gun sense cause including: Jack-in-the-box, Sonic, Target, Chili’s, Starbucks, and Chipotle.

Many of Texas’ most prestigious private universities with wealthy donors and alumni have opted out of campus carry including Rice, SMU and TCU, and there is “little doubt” that Baylor will follow their lead. Public Universities like the University of Texas have sought to greatly limit the disruption caused by the new policy.

 

  1. Accountability for Corrupt politicians

No one is above the law, but when all your friends are in charge, it can apparently seems that way sometimes. Texans started the year with its Governor, Rick Perry, under felony indictment and by the summer would have to add that distinction to its Attorney General, Ken Paxton. Both men have tried and failed to have their charges dismissed, and both have tried to blame politics for their indictment even as the state enters its second decade of one-party rule.

A breaking story currently making the rounds shows that state officials including Gov. Perry doled out $50,000,000 in bonuses to parting staffers. From the Houston Chronicle:


“Perry’s last-minute bonuses stood out relative to his past. In his first 12 years as governor, he gave just one bonus of more than $3,000. He gave 16 in December 2014, his last month in office, including $12,700 for his budget director…

The federal government also just froze funds for a contract to fix Texas’ broken child support system negotiated under Greg Abbott that is over $100,000,000 over budget.

 

  1. Rick Perry’s 2nd presidential bid failed to gain traction

To many progressives in Texas Gov. Perry has always had a teflon-like quality. No matter how they pointed out his blatant cronyism, nothing would stick. But his lack of competition at the polls left his campaign skills atrophied and he melted under the national spotlight. And, his old tried and true tactic of doubling down was a losing bet against a billionaire who owned his own casinos.

The nation determined his Texas miracle, upon closer inspection, was a mirage of structural budget deficits propped up by boundless natural resources not shared by other states.

 

  1. Republicans lost the war on the Freedom to Marry, and the Battle of the “Bathroom Bills”

The GOP spooked voters into believing there was a Boogieman in the bathroom to defeat the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), but they weren’t successful in doing so in Dallas, or statewide with a host of bills targeting transgender people who may have the unconscionable human urge to use the restroom in public. Nor were Republicans able to void the same gender marriage in Travis County, or win their “states’ rights” case at the Supreme Court. They did however cost the taxpayers plenty of money along the way.

  1. Houston’s Mayor’s Race

Houston is the nation’s 4th largest city and it’s metro area includes more people than half of the state’s in the union, so when the race for mayor became a partisan proxy war, Democrats were able to add a big check in the win column. This was a much needed shot in the arm after Democrats lost what was, albeit to a lesser extent, seen as a D vs R race in San Antonio earlier this year.

Sylvester Turner, a long time Democrat State Representative, received the endorsement of the DNC and President Obama before claiming a razor-thin margin of victory. It is important to note that Democrat Chris Brown won the city’s Controller race, which has largely been used as a stepping stone to the mayor’s office, most recently by outgoing mayor Annise Parker.

 

  1. Local Officials and Nonprofits Refused to Cave to Legal Threats from the Governor and Chose to Accept Syrian Refugees

You might have thought it strange to see self-proclaimed Catholic Governor Greg Abbott threaten to sue Catholic charities for wanting to help those escaping terrorism in the Holy Land, but you’d be wrong. Fear, not religious conviction, has become the real motivator behind modern conservative politics.  

Texas’ big city mayors put our nation’s values first and chose to work with the federal government and charities experienced in settling refugees who have completed the rigorous screening process. Mayors Annise Parker (Houston), Mike Rawlings (Dallas), Ivy Taylor (San Antonio) and Steve Adler (Austin) all made public statements in support of Syrian refugees.

 

  1. Everyday Texans stood up to Islamophobia across the state

The number of incidents of violence and threats towards our Muslim community continues to rise, but so has the instances of good will from those who choose not to live in fear of their neighbors and had the courage to denounce dangerous displays of ignorance.

A rally of support in Pflugerville after a mosque was vandalized, the boy who donated his piggy bank, another rally at the Governor’s mansion on behalf of Syrian refugees, and another in Irving after armed gun extremists protested at an Islamic Center, all exemplify Texans proactively fighting the spread of ignorance in their communities.

 

  1. Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ Statue was Removed from University of Texas Mall

The effort had been decades long, but after UTSG President and Vice President ran and won on a platform of this single issue, the tipping point had been reached. A lot of hay has been made in 2015 about the growing calls to eliminate offensive materials from college campuses, but as UT Vice President for Diversity and Community Gregory Vincent said, “Putting [the statue]in the Briscoe Center, far from whitewashing or erasing history, puts it in the proper historical context.”

On a side note, Texas also won a case at the Supreme Court that upheld its right to deny novelty license plates from donning the Confederate Flag.

 

  1. Planned Parenthood Won Temporary Victory at the Supreme Court

It’s hard to find good news regarding reproductive health issues in Texas, so any measure that slows the GOP’s intent to deny access to services must count. That’s why it was such a big deal that SCOTUS blocked a 5th Court of Appeals decision that would have seen the closure of all but 9 abortion clinics in the state. The final decision on the constitutionality of HB 2 will be decided by the Supreme Court in 2016.

 

  1. Criminal Justice Reforms and Fewer Executions

Texas has always been a tough on crime state, but mounting evidence shows that that title comes with hefty price tag and puts us at odds with our “conservative” reputation. This has lead to a bipartisan consensus for criminal justice reform.

Texas has seen its fair share of heart-wrenching stories like Sandra Bland, and research shows disproportionate incarceration of minorities. “Generally, Whites and African Americans have been shown to use illicit drugs at similar rates—and where there is some disparity in drug use, it comes nowhere close to the scale of overrepresentation in arrests and imprisonment.”

These headlines and the reaction by organizers and legislators have lead to the creation of incentives to complete treatment, protections for landlords who lease to individuals with criminal records, and better preparation for reintegration to reduce recidivism.

On wrongful convictions and executions, “since 1973, 156 individuals – including 13 people in Texas – have been released from death rows nationwide due to evidence of their wrongful conviction.” Unfortunately, “there also is significant evidence that the State of Texas has executed innocent people, including Carlos DeLuna, Ruben Cantu, and Cameron Todd Willingham.”

Although death penalty sentences have dropped by 80% since 1999, 60% of all new sentences are levied against African-Americans.

Again, it’s costs, not moral outrage that has made this a bipartisan issue, ”In Texas, the cost of an average death penalty case is nearly three times higher than imprisoning someone in maximum security for life, according to a study by the Dallas Morning News.”

 

  1. Growing Support For Marijuana Reform

The only bill filed to legalize all forms of marijuana was offered by a conservative Christian Republican, but a Texas Lyceum poll showed that it’s Democrats who are most likely to support legalization. The issue of decriminalization is a bipartisan winner with about 60% support across party lines.

The legislature did pass a mild version of a “compassionate use” bill that would allow epilepsy patients to legal acquire CBD-oils. Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) filed a decriminalization bill that made it pretty far along in the process and he intends to continue making it a priority. The early indications from tax revenue vs incarceration spending in state’s that have already legalized cannabis so far point to this issue being a big winner for progressives.

 

  1. Local Officials Make Huge Strides On Clean Energy and Climate Change

A San Antonio-based company announced plans this year to build the state’s largest solar farm on behalf of the city-owned utility CPS Energy, and the project is expected to create 800 permanent jobs in the San Antonio area.

The City of Austin inked its own plan to boost solar power on behalf of its municipally-owned utility. The deal would see Austin get about 13% of its energy from solar as early as 2017.

Although some local leaders from Austin made their way to Paris for the international talks on Climate Change, it is neighboring Georgetown that boasts the most ambitious plan of all — to switch to 100% alternative energy. “City officials touted a number of benefits of scrapping fossil fuels, including protecting air quality and curbing water use. But ultimately, the deal made financial sense.”

 

  1. Rest breaks for construction workers in Dallas

The oft-progressive Dallas city council blinked when deciding whether to mandate 10-minute water breaks every 4 hours for construction workers. Dallas is largely pro-development, but the Workers Defense Project was able to sway council to a 10-5 vote in favor of the breaks. Austin is the only other city that has such a requirement, although Texas has the highest number of workplace fatalities in the nation.

 

  1. Ending Veterans Homelessness

First Lady Michelle Obama issued a challenge to mayors across the country to help end veteran homelessness, and Texas mayors have stood up. By June, Houston Mayor Annise Parker announced that Houston had reached “functional zero” through its outreach efforts and coordination with local and federal agencies. Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Senator Kirk Watson (a former Austin mayor) announced that they are making major progress and plan to meet their goal of housing the over 200 previously homeless vets in the city by next year.

 

   15.  Obamacare is Working In Texas Despite Every Effort by State to Make It Fail

Texas still ranks as the highest uninsured state, and with California’s numbers dropping, Texas now has the highest number of uninsured individuals at more than 5 million. Despite lawsuits and endless campaigning to derail the program, Obamacare has helped lower Texas rate of uninsured by over 700,000, from 22% to 19%. Business leaders and medical professionals continue to push to expand Medicaid but the GOP has drawn a line in the sand and refuses to consider taking the billions in federal dollars even as local entities struggle to pay for rising costs of treating the uninsured.

What’s missing?

This year was quite eventful with many ups and downs. I tried to compile a list that touched on many subjects important to progressives where we saw real change. What do you consider a major victory for Texas Progressives that isn’t on this list? I would love to know. Tweet me at @Joethepleb or @BOR with a link and comment.

We have a lot of work to do to make our state competitive in a presidential election, but every tiny victory brings us closer to the communities whose trust we must build and whose voices must be heard in order to elect statewide leadership to aid our tremendous grassroots efforts.

 

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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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