Friday, July 14, 2017

Texas Getting Ready To Reclaim Its Role As A Power Player In Democratic Party Politics?


Texas hasn't been a big part of progressive plans for winning back Congress in recent years-- nor even Democratic Party plans. Most of the few Democrats the DCCC has backed there have been dreadfully corrupt conservatives like Pete Gallego, Vicente Gonzalez, Henry Cuellar and Filemon Vela. They were certainly openly hostile to Beto O'Rourke when he first ran for Congress in El Paso against another of their corrupt conservatives, Sylvester Reyes. And when progressive candidates like Tom Wakely have run the DCCC only had two buttons to push, one labeled "ignore" and one labeled "sabotage."

But Texas, with 36 congressional districts, is way too important to allow the DCCC to continue the lunkheaded backward policies put in place by 3 contemptible and grotesquely ignorant creatures of the Beltway, Rahm Emanuel, Steve Israel and Kelli Ward, all of whom are now out of the building physically but... well, the stench and terrible, losing strategies and tactics linger. This is how not seriously the DCCC is taking Texas this cycle. The DCCC Regional Vice chair for the area including the whole state of Texas, Jared Polis, is busy running the New Dems and busy running for governor of Colorado... and not putting any-- like in none, zero-- energy into winning the 7 flippable Texas House seats, let alone devising a two-cycle strategy to make sure what the Democrtats don't pick up in 2018, they win in 2020. Jared's a nice guy but... he's otherwise engaged and the DCCC has no interest in putting someone in place who can do the job. If Pelosi cared, she'd fire the dullard she has running the DCCC, Ben Ray Lujan, today and appoint someone with the capacity to get the job done.

That said, as Texas Republicans plot how to further gerrymander the state to save endangered incumbents like Pete Sessions, John Culberson, Will Hurd, Lamar Smith, Kenny Marchant and Pete Olson, judges are getting ready to rule on the racist implications of Texas' systematic disenfranchisement of minority groups. If Polis wasn't so consumed with running for governor of Colorado, he'd be all over this. But he's not, even though Texas is now a minority majority state-- mostly represented by right-wing bigoted old white men overtly hostile to minorities.
In a trial that could have major implications for other cases across the country-- as well as for millions of Texans of color-- three judges in San Antonio are spending this week listening to arguments alleging that Texas Republicans redrew the state’s district map in order to put minorities at a disadvantage. With elections in 2018 looming large, Texas progressives are especially keen to counter what they say is a clear effort to hinder minority voters at the polls.

“I am still flummoxed as to how we do not have a Latino congressman from North Texas,” State Representative Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) testified on Tuesday.

Johnson’s point-- that numerous parts of Texas are represented by white politicians, as opposed to the minorities they represent—is one many Texans echoed this week. Cody Ray Wheeler, who represents a majority-white city council district in majority-Latinx Pasadena, told the Texas Tribune he likely won his seat because of his last name, which fails to mark him as Hispanic.

“A Hispanic wasn’t supposed to win that seat,” Wheeler said. “I could not run as a Hispanic candidate. I would’ve lost.”

When he won, Wheeler became only the second Latinx member of the city council-- the first time in history more than two had served at the same time.

Pasadena’s case is nothing new in Texas. Redistricting, or gerrymandering, has a long history in the state, and across the country. It’s also not an issue specific to a single party--  Republicans and Democrats alike have redrawn maps to suit their political goals. But in Texas, the issue has been particularly contentious.

White Texans make up less than 43 percent of the state’s population, a number that is dwindling. By contrast, between 2000 and 2010, Texas’ Latinx population swelled from 6.7 million to 9.5 million.

“If proportionality is the key, then Texas should overwhelmingly have Latinos further along than we have,” said attorney Luis Vera, who represents the League of Latin American Citizens, on Monday.

Texas is also home to Houston, the most racially and ethnically diverse city in the nation. In 2010, new census data showed explosive growth in Texas, which gained four new seats in Congress as a result. It also showed the populations largely responsible for that growth were the state’s Latinx and African American communities, indicating likely political gain for Democrats. Seemingly in response, Texas’ Republican-controlled legislature swiftly redrew the map in 2011, sparking outrage from minority groups, who alleged black and brown voters were being targeted. In advance of elections in 2012, a court redrew temporary maps, which lawmakers adopted in 2013 and have used ever since.

But the issue resurfaced this spring, when judges ruled that three of the state’s congressional districts (Texas has 36 in total) were drawn illegally--  violating the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting. A month later, they went a step further, ruling that the state’s political boundaries were purposefully drawn in an effort to discriminate against minorities.

“The impact of the plan was certainly to reduce minority voting opportunity statewide, resulting in even less proportional representation for minority voters,” U.S. District Judges Orlando Garcia and Xavier Rodriguez wrote, adding, that “[i]nstead of using race to provide equal electoral opportunity, they intentionally used it to undermine Latino voting opportunity.”

The decision was a victory for minority groups, who argue the current maps were always meant to be temporary, and should be redrawn before elections are held in 2018. But the state of Texas has asked judges to dump the legal challenge, arguing lawmakers never targeted voters racially (though the state does admit to partisan influence over the maps.)

Texas’ case is reflective of a larger issue playing out in states across the country. In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which required nine states--  Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia--  along with many counties and municipalities to seek approval before making changes to voting procedure. The decision was heavily panned by voting rights activists at the time, who argued it would be used to undercut the electoral power of people of color.

Those fears seem to have played out--  resulting in at least one harsh rebuke. In June, the Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling that North Carolina had engaged in illegal racial gerrymandering when redrawing its district maps. The ruling was a rebuke to other Southern states--  including Texas--  and an indicator that they face an uphill battle when it comes to redistricting.

The ruling was also a reminder that Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act, which allows for states to come under federal supervision again if they are found to have discriminated intentionally against minorities, still exists. Some analysts have argued that Texas lawmakers have overplayed their hand, and, depending on the outcome of this week’s trial, the state could find itself back under federal control.

This approach is one voting rights activists are hinging their hopes on in Texas. But the state’s case is unlikely to be the last redistricting dispute in the news, if the Supreme Court is any indicator. In June, the judicial branch announced it would take up a case from Wisconsin on redistricting --  a sign that the issue is likely to remain a point of contention across the country.
So, with all that in the background, there's been an explosion of pent-up interest among Texas Democrats to run for office. I haven't seen this much interest in congressional races in over a decade. And, as Laura Skelding reported Thursday morning for the Texas Tribune, at least seven candidates have come through the doors of the Harris County Democratic Party headquarters to introduce themselves to Lillie Schechter, the new party chair.
The bonanza is unfolding not just in districts like the 7th-- one of three in Texas that national Democrats are targeting-- but also in even redder districts, delighting a state party that is not used to so much so interest so early.

"When we have competitive primaries, we get to engage with more Democrats," Schechter said. "I do not see that as a negative thing."

Yet it's just one part of the picture for Democrats at the outset of the 2018 election cycle. While the congressional races are overflowing with candidates, the party remains without a number of statewide contenders-- a reality that is coming into focus ahead of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's anticipated announcement Friday that he's running for re-election. Barring any last-minute surprises, Abbott will make his second-term bid official without the presence of a serious Democratic rival.

The state's Democrats are urging patience, saying they are in talks with potential Abbott challengers and other possible statewide candidates.

"I think if you look in past years, traditionally candidates will start filing in the fall, and by the end of the filing deadline, I think we'll have a full slate of strong candidates to run statewide," said U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, who himself took a pass on statewide race earlier this year, declining to challenge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. "I know there's been a lot of energy across the country and in Texas on the Democratic side, and so many people want to get a move on already, but by the end of year, I'll think you'll see a full slate of strong Democratic candidates."

So far, Democrats have three statewide candidates they see as serious: U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke of El Paso for U.S. Senate, Houston-area accountant Mike Collier for lieutenant governor and Kim Olson, a retired Air Force colonel, for agriculture commissioner. They are without similarly credible contenders for governor, comptroller, land commissioner, railroad commissioner and attorney general-- a seat considered particularly worth targeting because the GOP incumbent, Ken Paxton, is under indictment.

By far the biggest profile belongs to O'Rourke, who announced his challenge to Cruz in March. As the top of the ticket-- assuming he wins his party's primary next year-- he stands a chance of being Texas Democrats' standard-bearer in 2018, regardless of whom they ultimately put up for the other statewide jobs.

In an interview Monday, O'Rourke said he was not worried about the lack of company so far on his party's statewide ticket.

"I can't worry about what I can't control, and so we're just going to focus on our campaign," he said.

But he also expressed optimism for the party's prospects up and down the ballot in 2018 "as more people become aware of how significantly the dynamics have changed in Texas."

It may be somewhat early, but the lack of a gubernatorial candidate-- or even a well-known potential contender-- is particularly glaring. Taking out Abbott would likely be an even steeper climb than usual for Texas Democrats seeking statewide office, as the governor has a massive $34.4 million war chest. It's a number expected to grow by the millions when he discloses his latest fundraising numbers next week.
Unfortunately, the first (and usually only) thing the party establishment knows how to do is look for multimillionaires, who often seem to lose. The TX-21 congressional race has been lousy with them and the DCCC pick is a conservative multimillionaire (and, of course, "ex"-Republican... a DCCC trifecta), Joseph Kopser. That's what they want-- no union members or ordinary working Americans but guys like... the DCCC's California lottery winner, Pelosi's official mascot for the 2018 cycle. Derrick Crowe, the Austin-based progressive running for the seat Lamar Smith still holds, told us that "The question for Texas Democrats is, 'Are we going to fight aggressively for the growing populations that define the future of national and state politics-- or are we going to default to the kinds of platforms and candidates that consultants in D.C. think will feel "safe" to voters?' Candidates who the folks D.C. think of as 'safe' are the exact kinds of politicians who caused the political convulsions rocking our country right now. The only people who feel safe with those candidates in office are the people who benefit from the status quo. People don't want packaged, 'safe' candidates. They want ferocious fighters for the working class. If Texas Democrats can lead the way with clear, unapologetic, progressive values, we can become a national powerhouse again."
There are at least half a dozen Democratic candidates in the 21st district, which is currently represented by Lamar Smith, a San Antonio Republican who drew only two challengers in 2016 and won re-election by more than 20 percentage points. In the 31st district, John Carter, a Round Rock Republican, is up to at least four Democratic foes after just one ran in the primary last time.

Candidate after candidate points to a common denominator in their decision to run.

“Knowing what happened on Nov. 8 and knowing that Donald Trump is our president ... it’s just really galvanized a lot of Democratic support all around the state and locally, and people are stepping up," said Ed Meier, a former Hillary Clinton staffer looking to unseat U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas.

Early signs indicate some of the races are also drawing big money. In the 32nd district, Meier's campaign says he raised $345,000 in its first two months, while another Democratic hopeful, Colin Allred, took in more than $200,000 over a similar period, according to his team. In the 7th district, Democratic contender Alex Triantaphyllis says he raised over $450,000 in eight weeks, while primary rival Lizzie Pannill Fletcher has announced a haul of more than $365,000 in seven weeks.

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At 2:38 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Based on a recent "survey" sent to me by the Texas state Democratic Party, I wouldn't hold my breath expecting much from that quarter. The very first question? Did I consider "resisting the Trump Administration" a priority. And a similar question was repeated in the "things I think are important" list at the end. Fortunately, they asked for feedback; I doubt they appreciated mine.

Of course, that didn't stop them from sending me a "renew your membership and send us money" email the following day.

If progressives are going to run in Texas, they'll have to do so with the understanding they will not receive much, if any, help from the party. Fortunately, most of them seem to understand that. Some of them are, in fact, Democratic Socialists in Democrat clothing. Maybe, instead of reviving the dead, Texas will be the birthplace of that working third party so many people say they want.

At 3:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elizabeth Burton

I hope your final comment becomes reality.

At 5:58 PM, Blogger Gadfly said...

As someone who has voted Green downballot where available as well as president, since the start of the century, Elizabeth, and yes, in Tejas, that third party's already available.

At 7:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

TX has been anti-Democrat since LBJ signed the civil rights and voting rights acts.
The southern racist whites were mostly Democrats before that because Lincoln was a Republican.
But passing lege that explicitly helped Blacks was too much for the white racists of the south, TX especially. They flipped to R in '68 and have been there since.

There is no way the current incarnation of the democraps will ever become a power player in TX. They already have a party of/by/for the rich that loves oil and war... and that party hates blacks (, meskins, women, LGBTQs, etc.) openly. The democraps only are indifferent to blacks.

Can TX's majority minority electorate coalesce around a D-Socialist or Green party?

Good question. They must first realize that the democraps are never going to be helpful to their issues. How long will it take them? Well, it's only been 35 years and counting. Give them a little longer. Maybe the TX majority minority aren't that much smarter than the whites. I suppose it's even theoretically possible they are dumber.

At 7:31 AM, Blogger Gadfly said...

Per the last Anonymous, Hispanic turnout in Texas has been pretty bad in prez years and horrible in midterms.

At 8:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, about that Gadfly. TX may be majority minority in population, but what are the numbers for eligible voters? A large number of those minority population are not eligible to vote.

Clearly, if you look at who gets elected, there aren't enough Hispanic and black voters that vote to matter very much. Do a lot of them just not vote (and who would they vote FOR, after all)?? Are they successfully suppressed in their districts with long lines and so on? Do their votes actually get counted?

Does anyone give a shit? Do THEY give a shit?


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