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September 21, 2003

Blogburst: What Texas Democrats Should Do Next?

By Byron LaMasters

This is a blogburst that a lot of the Texas Democratic bloggers are doing today. Credit is due to Charles Kuffner for the idea. He has a list of all of the bloggers involved, here.

What should Texas Democrats do next? Well, that's not an easy question. Texas Democrats have zero statewide offices, we're a minority in the state house and the state senate, and our congressional majority will likely be lost shortly. Where do we go?

The Redistricting Fight: It would be nice to be able to win it all back in the next couple of years, but it's a longer process than that. Regarding redistricting, Democrats should fight it tooth and nail. A map will pass the legislature and be signed into law, and we'll fight it in the courts. There's not too much that we can do about it. I do think, however that even if the GOP gets the map that they want, there will be a small backlash and a few of the targeted incumbent Democrats will manage to hang on. The losing Democrats of course can make good statewide candidates in the 2006 election. I've said before that Chet Edwards would be a great candidate for U.S. Senate (a pro-military, moderate Democrat from Waco), and so would several of the other Democrats targeted in redistricting. Redistricting of course also gives us a great chance to make inroads with rural voters. Rural Texans have gradually shifted away from the Democratic Party over the past couple of years, but redistricting gives us a new issue. Most rural Texans are conservative, yet are independent and will split their tickets. Most of them care more about whether their congressman will fight for their water rights and timber and economic interestes than whether their congressman is a Democrat or a Republican. By redistricting, and throwing rural communities into suburban districts, Republicans show their vast lack of respect for rural Texans. We can capitalize on that.

Party Chair: With the resignation of Molly Beth Malcolm, now is the time for a new group of leaders to step up within the party. Jim Mattox would probably be a decent chair, but he's not the future of the party. The future of our party are people like Garnet Coleman, Pete Gallego, Richard Raymond, Sherry Boyles, Ed Garza, Kirk Watson, Ron Kirk, Leticia Van de Putte, etc. I'd love to see the new party chair be among that group of people (or other people in the same category as them). There are several things that I would like to see from the state party leadership once we get a chair in place. One, its critical that the party have a more effective message online. The current webpage isn't awful, but it could certainly use some help. The Texas Democratic Party should follow the DNC in getting a blog. Put me on the record as offering to help with the project. Next Democrats need to show the people of Texas exactly how they are effected by the GOP budget cuts. We got beat last November. And Republicans rewarded their friends, and hurt average Texans. They said that they didn't raise taxes, yet their actions amount to a tax on students, low-income families and local governments. The Texas Democratic Party ought to issue press releases every time someone suffers because of the GOP budget cuts. It's critical that we remind voters on a weekly basis the costs of the Republican budget cuts. It's something that the state party should do. It's something that local parties should do. But they're not. People aren't happy, but we're letting the Republicans slide on this. The whole redistricting saga doesn't give us an excuse to let the Republicans slide on the mess they created last spring. We should be issuing press releases like this, this, this, this and this. And that's just on UT / higher education issues. We need to hammer the Republicans on every budget cut that they made.

Taking back the Legislature and the State: This is a long term project. It won't happen overnight. It won't happen next year or in 2006. I honestly don't expect us to even win a single statewide race in 2006 at this point (unless we're able to get some of the congressmen to run statewide). We have a weak bench. Our strongest candidates (Ron Kirk, Kirk Watson, John Sharp, etc.) lost last year on the "Dream Team" ticket. We need more than a dream. We need a plan - a long term plan. We're not going to take the state back with a dream team. If we don't have a plan, we'll get into a mindset of permanent minority status. If that attitude sets in, then more and more Democrats will see more value in pandering to Tom Craddick and the GOP leadership in order to get a committee chair than in voting like a good Democrat. That's why I'm pissed off with people like Sylvester Turner and Helen Giddings (even though I'm not going to urge their defeat, unlike some others... read on). On one hand, I'm upset with Giddings and Turner (and other Democratic committee chairs), but on the other hand, I can see why they took the offer. They're in a position to help their districts, and Democrats haven't offered them anything better. Thats why we need a long term plan. Democrats ought to focus on a 10 year plan to take back the legislature. Republicans have an 88-62 majority in the state house. That's a 26 seat margin. We need to take 14 seats back from the GOP. Will it happen in one election? Hell no. But look at the 10 year plan. In 5 elections, that means that we need to pick up an average of 3 state house seats a year. The plan should be to protect our vulnerable incumbents like Patrick Rose and John Mabry, and pick about 10-12 Republicans to target each cycle. We shouldn't run as pro-Bush or as Republican lite, but we should attack the GOP leadership that is anti-student, anti-working family, anti-rural and for the big special interests. We need to articulate a Democratic plan that can appeal to both moderates and liberals. We have a great party platform. Democrats have ideas that are good for Texas. Let's run on them. We also need to get rid of Vilma Luna and Ron Wilson. They voted to replace 6 Democratic incumbent congressmen with 6 Republican congressman. I'm very tolerant of conservatives in the Democratic Party. Heck, I'd even vote for Ralph Hall if I lived in the 4th district. He's better than a Republican, not much, but he's better. However, I have absolutely no respect for a Democrat that represents a Democratic district that votes to toss out Democratic congressman. I can understand why someone like Ken Armbrister hasn't been part of the redistricting fight. He represents a Republican district. I have a problem with John Whitmire, because he represents a Democratic district. Understand my logic?

As for the state senate and congress, taking in back (holding control) is difficult. The current state senate lines make winning back a majority a tough job. I wouldn't mind seeing a primary challenge to John Whitmire, but I agree with Charles... if we do it, we better do it right and win. As for the other seats, district 2 (David Cain's old seat) is winnable by a strong Democrat in a good Democratic year. So is Bill Ratliff's seat if he retires. It'll be a few cycles before any other seats really come in play, though. As for statewide offices. Take a look at my earlier list of potential candidates for party chair. Congressmen like Jim Turner, Nick Lampson, Max Sandlin and Chet Edwards are all great potential statewide candidates. So is San Antonio mayor Ed Garza. Kirk Watson and Ron Kirk will be good candidates again some day as well. Garnet Coleman, Pete Gallego, Richard Raymond and Jim Dunnam are our stars in the House. All would be good candidates for Congress or Statewide someday. That's all I can think of for now. I may add more later. Jim and Andrew - I'd encourage both of you to answer the question yourselves if you have a chance.

Posted by Byron LaMasters at September 21, 2003 01:32 PM | TrackBack


How Democrats Can Become the Majority Party
James Caldwell PowerDemocracy.org

The Democratic Party will become a minority party permanently if it fails to correctly diagnose the reasons for its decline in power. It must then take effective remedial action. The reason the Democratic Party has lost power is that it has failed to appreciate the significance of changes in the political landscape that have occurred since the end of the Great Society. Specifically, the ever-growing influence of mass media have turned elections into competing marketing campaigns to sell a product to the mass market consisting of the voting public. This is not democracy. Democracy is rule of the government by the demos, the common people. The demos know that they do not have the power to launch political initiatives that express what they really want. This power could be referred to as “collective executive authority.” Instead they are reduced to the status of being “the consenting governed.” There is a vast difference in “governing” and “being governed.” When people perceive that they are “governing” they have a lively interest in politics, because politics directly governs many important aspects of life, including many that are overlooked when people think of the term “politics.” In America, the demos do not determine government policy to any great extent. Those decisions are made by the big contributors who provide access to mass media, and the interests of big contributors are diametrically opposed to those of the demos on many crucial issues. The result is voter apathy.
Now, if the Democratic Party wants to become the majority party, it can do so quite easily by overcoming voter apathy. If it were able to get the votes of only half of the non-voting citizenry, it would completely bury the Republicans at the polls. How would this be possible?
Here is where the correct diagnosis is essential. Democrats can never hope to match Republican fund raising, and will continue to lose power for as long as they continue to compete on a political playing field where the Democrats have a permanent disadvantage. The more Democrats try to appeal to big contributors, the more they alienate themselves from the demos. It is pointless to scold the demos for lack of civic-mindedness and lecture them about the importance of every single vote. Democrats may rouse the demos to support them temporarily in the case of particularly egregious abuses of power by the Republicans; but they will never obtain a loyal following that will vote them into power and keep them there until they prove to the demos that they represent their interests.
This line of argument is well known to anyone who has thought beyond the most superficial level of analysis and entered into discussions with thoughtful and knowledgeable advocates of true democracy. What is usually lacking in such discussions is a practical strategic plan for how to empower the demos. From the foregoing analysis, we must conclude that such a plan must begin by recognizing the necessity of changing the election system to one that is less plutocratic and more democratic.
Virtually the entire advanced industrialized world utilizes some form of proportional representation (PR) instead of the winner-take-all elections that typify the American political system. In the vast majority of PR elections, voter turnout is in the 85%+ range. Women and minorities tend to be better represented as well. Grassroots political power is more effective in proportional representation systems, and gerrymandering is more difficult. All of this is good for Democrats and bad for Republicans. Rather than the party-list forms of PR, I personally favor a form of proportional representation that would reduce the power of party organizations to enforce party discipline. This system allows people to rank order their preferences and cast a single transferable vote, similar to some IRV systems. The winning candidates receive the political voting power in office equal to the number of votes they receive. In this “Power Of Voice” PR system, every vote really does count. Here are the essential characteristics of a winning strategy for Democrats:
· The place for the Democratic Party to begin the political reform movement to PR is at the local government level.
· By launching pro-democracy ballot initiatives to revise city charters and institute PR elections, Democrats will gain support from across the political spectrum from all citizens who are frustrated with government by auction.
· Democrats would be able to seize control of the terms of the political debate by defining themselves as the champions of democracy and the opposition as the opponents of democracy – better than the conservative-liberal dichotomy that causes artificial divisions in the demos.
If the Democrats prove to the demos that they are the champions of real democracy and real governmental reform, they will become the dominant party in American politics. If, on the other hand, the Democratic Party continues to try to beat the Republicans in a contest that clearly favors access to wealth, the Democrats will continue to find themselves stranded on an iceberg heading straight for the tropics.

Posted by: James F. Caldwell at December 14, 2003 10:08 PM
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