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On Tom Schieffer and the Rise of Texas Democrats

by: Glenn Smith

Mon Mar 02, 2009 at 11:59 AM CST

Fort Worth businessman and former ambassador Tom Schieffer is considering a run for Texas governor -- as a Democrat. This is extraordinary news, good for Texas, good for Democrats. Here's why.

First, a word about Tom. I met him back in 1988 while working in the Sen. Lloyd Bentsen campaign. I didn't know him well, but I remember him as intelligent, serious, and professional. Those are three qualities we need in the governor's mansion.

Some progressives may be tempted to ask why they should embrace a former business partner of George W. Bush, a man who was named by Bush as ambassador to Japan and Australia. Truth is, I haven't heard too much of this from members of an increasingly mature and pragmatic movement. But those who are tempted should consider the following.

If Texas Democrats are to complete their remarkable comeback, we're gonna have to welcome home a large number of Bush voters and backers. That's just reality.

I still feel some bitterness about former colleagues of mine who abandoned their core values to back Bush. That's not so much about Bush as it is disappointment that money and power meant so much more to them than their values or mine.

I am not a lifelong Democrat out of abstract party loyalty, though I do think loyalty is important. I am a Democrat because most Democrats share my Jeffersonian beliefs in pluralism, diversity, and an empowered citizenry. I simply don't believe mainstream Republicans truly believe in democracy any more. They believe in elite control and an obedient citizenry. That's why they can push restrictive voter requirements. It doesn't matter to them whether the citizens of a democracy have the power. They really do believe they were born to be in charge. Like kings and queens.

Despite some policy differences with me, moderate Democrats like Lloyd Bentsen and my real Texas political hero, Bill Hobby, shared these beliefs of mine. Right now, I choose to believe that Schieffer does too. He voted absentee in Democratic primaries while off in Japan and Australia. He is a moderate, of course, and I'm sure I'll have my disagreements. But I helped elect Ann Richards, and I had plenty of disagreements with her.

Consider what Schieffer's possible candidacy says about all of our efforts to rebuild the Democratic party. We have spent seven years rebuilding the party infrastructure and reviving the grass roots. Our leaders in the Texas House and Senate have fought the good fight under the most difficult circumstances. We have built a train Schieffer wants to jump on, even lead. Congratulations are due to everyone.

I'm amused by the cynics and manipulators who wonder where the Democratic bench is and why we haven't yet decided who is running for what statewide office in 2010. Neither have the Republicans. This is a phony argument advanced by people support of the Republican party.

The Republicans are stuck with officeholders and candidates who have helped ruin the economy, put college education out of the reach of the middle class, denied health care to millions, let the insurance industry steal us blind and condemn us to lives of poor health and devastated property losses, let our roads deteriorate while building failing toll roads to nowhere, and created a poisonous environment. The so-called Republican bench is full of dead-enders.

I don't know who might challenge Schieffer in the primary. We have so many talented young officeholders. It may well be I wind up supporting one of them against Schieffer. Probably not, but maybe.

But that won't stop me from welcoming Schieffer's candidacy. His candidacy is a sign of the party's strong heart and muscle.

Finally, on matters of policy, I don't think there's much that divides liberals and moderates among Democrats. Republicans have so trashed Texas that there's little disagreement about what needs to be done. We will still argue and elbow one another. But that will be more about who gets what jobs etc. than it will be about policy.

I have not spoken with Schieffer, and I was not asked by anyone to share my thoughts. I just thought I'd get in front of the all the gossip that's sure to fire up in coming days and weeks.  

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Harnessing Progressive Energy (0.00 / 0)
I agree with all your points, Glenn. And Schieffer may surprise me -- like I said in my post the other day, I really don't know much about him. I'm looking forward to watching the video Matt had from the press conference later this afternoon.

He -- or any statewide candidate -- needs to develop a plan to harness the progressive energy. I don't think you necessarily have to "run left" to do that (though it certainly helps). I'm not sure what the strategy is to make that happen, though I have some ideas. But something needs to be done to light that same fire that brought 1 million people to caucus and stay around for hours last March.

I think Schieffer has done a good job establishing himself with today's announcement. That's an important first step that should not be overlooked or under-appreciated. How his first step is viewed, we'll have to see, but I think your points are all an important part of the conversation.

Now that he's announced, it'll be very interesting to see what his next steps will be.

Now, a very great man once said that some people rob you with a fountain pen.

How do you mean "welcome back"? (0.00 / 0)
We built a whole ticket around Bush supporters in 2002. Heck, Cornyn and Ron Kirk actually seemed to be debating who could be of more assistance to the President, and Kirk really gave him a run for his money as I recall.

This is not about bitterness, this is about viability. I'm sure Tom Schieffer is a good man and a fine public servant.

But a huge part of what has caused us to lose EVERY statewide race for an incredible 14 years is our failure to differentiate our message and provide a viable and relevant alternative, our failure to coordinate a full ticket of solid candidates and actually give them financial and logistical support, and our failure to create a business coalition that goes beyond the interests of the TLA (who is fine, but by themselves not enough). I see how Schieffer helps with the second problem, but not really the first or second. I hope I'm wrong.

This is not about "progressive" vs. "moderate". This is about a lack of brand equity and organization.  

Re: 2002 (0.00 / 0)
I suppose I'm simply suggesting a short term "benefit of the doubt." Actually, I'm only asking that progressive Texans be as thoughtful as you are here in addressing such issues. It's knee-jerk labeling and backward-looking blame I'm opposed to.

To amplify a bit on your other well-taken observations, the branding failures of Democrats go way back to the late 70s, when alarm at rising GOP strength and the difficulty of Southern Democrats in adjusting to a post-Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act world pushed Dems way off of their game.


[ Parent ]
I agree Rahm (2.00 / 1)
We do not need Tony Sanchez 2.0. Schieffer seems like he could be in that direction, except he is not Hispanic and will not spend his own money. I am keeping an open mind (really, I am) but I have to believe we can do better than this.

[ Parent ]
nice post/sentiment (0.00 / 0)
Very nice, Glenn.

The bush stuff is startling, but a lot of good people were snowed over by his BS.

I think it is a great signal that some folks are starting to believe in our party and the party's future again.
Clearly Shieffer could run as a repub for another position (including McCaul's seat) and probably win.  It speaks volume about our progress and our promise.

During the most recent primary in Travis County, there were a couple of notable former repubs that were running as a Democrat.  Some folks were critical, but I thought it was a good development.

Regardless of what campaign we end up splitting off to later, I hope we welcome Schieffer and all other comers with open arms.

Being on the ticket as a Democrat coming back into fashion?? I love it.

Please refer to KT's signature.

Snowed over? (0.00 / 0)
Scheifer has issued statements claiming no regrets, right? If he was just snowed over, wouldn't he say something other than "I'd do it again the same way"?

[ Parent ]
nice point (0.00 / 0)
hadn't seen the "no regrets" stuff before posting.

that changes things dramatically. hell, i think bush even regrets running for president.

certainly all are welcome to join our party, but not sure how much success one might have with this lingering loyalty.

Please refer to KT's signature.

[ Parent ]
"I don't think there's much that divides liberals and moderates among Democrats." (3.50 / 2)
Tell that to Ralph Yarborough.

"There's nothing new except for the history that you don't know."

Justice Addict

Great point Colin (0.00 / 0)
If we end up having a Gubernatorial primary, it could get very very interesting.

[ Parent ]
Ralph was 40 years ago (0.00 / 0)
Probably too late for you to see the reply, but a Senate race conducted in the aftermath of the Civil Rights Act in the South, and the middle of the Vietnam War, is quite a different animal than we face today.

It is precisely my point that I can't see any benefit to half-a-century old battle lines, except to argue about who gets the spoils.

All sides agree the Texas economy is trashed, the environment is trashed, the schools are crumbling, health care is unaffordable, college is unaffordable, central texas toll roads are failing.

[ Parent ]
I agree (5.00 / 1)
that there is no point in "half-a-century old battle lines" but what about the battle lines from 1994, 1998, 2000 and 2004?

Those are the years Mr. Schieffer decided to go against "his party" and support George W. Bush.

Of course I will support Mr. Schieffer if he is our nominee, but I would like to hear what he thinks George W. Bush did wrong as Governor and President and why he said he does not regret supporting him.

[ Parent ]
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