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September 26, 2003

Responding to Comments on my TDP Chair Post

By Andrew Dobbs

The post is here you can read the comments there as well.

First off, I'd like to thank everyone who responded for your comments.

Secondly, I'd like to address some of the concerns that were brought up an answer some of the questions. I do this in an entirely new post rather than in the comments section because it is all the way down the page and people might not be reading it any more, but it deserves some responses from your's truly.

To begin with Charles' question as to my thoughts on Carol Alvarado, I think that she sounds like a great progressive leader in Houston and was chosen as the City Council member of the Year by the Houston Press Readers Poll last year. She has worked for Lee Brown, which gives me pause, but she has been a great community leader and is the kind of leadership we need. She has been an at-large member of the DNC, worked as a liason with the Harris County AFL-CIO, sits on the Planned Parenthood PAC board for Houston and Southeast Texas and has worked to register more Latinos to vote. I was not really familiar with her (I grew up in Dallas and live in Austin now) until this post and she sounds like a pretty good candidate and I'd group her with Coleman, Boyles and Watson. I'd like to see her stay involved in Houston politics, perhaps challenging Ron Wilson for the state House if she is in his district or Whitmire if she is in his for State Senate.

There was a lot of talk about how shameful I am for saying that the GOP is racist, with Karl-T getting my back and Mark Harden attacking me. All I know is that the GOP has opposed Affirmative Action, the only program that has ever been successful in increasing diversity in our higher education system, which essentially means that the GOP opposes helping African Americans and Hispanics because it might hurt white people. I know that they speak with racist code words such as "states' rights" in their platform. I know that they have people like State Rep. Wayne Christian (R-Nacogdoches) who says that the problem with the budget writing process in Texas is that it is "controlled by the Blacks and Hispanics;" and Texas Supreme Court Justice Steven Wayne Smith who said that Hispanics weren't smart enough for Texas colleges. The Texas Democratic Party has a shameful history of racism in its past but we have become the party of opportunity and acceptance for racial and ethnic minorities and the GOP has filled the old role of racist demagoguery quite nicely. But I digress...

There was a post from "jack" who makes the point that we need "institutional knowledge" to help the party move on and should thus choose one of the old-timers for at least the interim chair because

First, we have to understand how this happned. Second, we have to start building a structure to communicate our message in areas we are failing. Third, we map out where we are going.

These are all good points and are very true. But someone who is an entrenched member of the old party structure is indicted by their position in the breakdown of our party, secondly they are responsible at least in part for our communication failures and finally they are stuck in a mindset that has looked only behind us for so long that we are in a quagmire where our party is quite possibly the weakest state Democratic organization in America. Ohio is the only one even close to as bad. We need to clean this organization out from top to bottom and a new leader must be chosen from outside the party structure. Finally, the time when Democrats were getting elected statewide is an incredibly different era- it wasn't long ego but the political structure has been turned upside down by clever Republicans defunding and locking out the Dems. Those who won in the old days don't know what it takes to win now. Watson, Boyles, Coleman or perhaps Alvarado is what it will take.

Finally, Greg Wythe makes the important note that picking only those issues that I mentioned- abortion, feminism, environmentalism, etc.- we would be a minority party forever and I agree. I don't mean someone who only represents those or even someone who puts those number one, but someone who is known for being on the correct side of those issues and not someone who will sell us out there. Someone who sides with polluters or against a woman's right to choose or against labor or against the rights of gays and lesbians has no place at the top of our party. None of the candidates I have mentioned would put these issues as their only concern- Watson has a phenomenal record on economic issues, Boyles is an advocate against violence towards women, Coleman is a leader on health care and Alvarado is an expert in urban development. But in addition every one of them supports the rights of gays, women, minorities, laborers and for protection of the environment. I'm not offended by Zell Miller's name and he makes a very good point- we must not be pegged as a special interest party, but these issues ARE special and must not be misrepresented by our new chair.

I hope that that covers everything and I hope that the discussion continues on this thread.

Posted by Andrew Dobbs at September 26, 2003 03:22 AM | TrackBack


One thing that still obviously bothers me is the "toss the bums out" mentality. Reason being, I've seen it when Bob Slagle was party chair and Dems lost power slowly. I've seen it when Bill White was the party chair and lost power slowly. And now we see it from a variety of angles with Molly Beth leaving. The problem is that each attempt to reinvent the wheel has only seen us slip back a step and it's because too much emphasis is on rewarding the "true believers" with a role that does not demand such litmus tests as you still apply.

Regardless of the plethora of opinions on any given prior chair, Bob Slagle in particular was a great chairman. In a diverse state where the Democratic Party constituted people from Mickey Leland/Jim Hightower on one side to Marvin Leath/John Sharp on the other, Slagle held the factions together and played a part in the coordinated campaigns of 1982 and 1988 with the admitted aid of Lloyd Bentsen's magic touch.

That highlights that this role is not and should not be one that demands a high profile. It is a mechanic's position. The job is to recruit candidates, form a party platform that encompasses this unique state, and try to make the moderate/conservative side work alongside the leftwing side. Personally, I'd rather see a "mechanic" in the role of party chair and a select group serving as a defacto Speakers Bureau hitting the hustings to demonstrate the diversity of thought this party CAN handle. That means getting a John Sharp-type to keep our good name out in front of moderates and ballot-hopping Republicans; get a Ron Kirk to show the party is not the party of big government liberal minorities and that candidates that might frighten some give no cause for concern; heck, bring Mike Andrews (or get Paul Hobby out there) out of retirement to speak to business leaders about why our party is not against business owners.

There needs to be outreach, but the party chair is not the one to do it. That's never been the role of that job and there's enough to keep a chair busy as it is. I've tended to be supportive of Garnet Coleman, who may yet fit both bills. He's a great mechanic in that he knows how to work with many different types of candidates (his day job is being a political consultant) and he also knows how to promote himself a fair amount. Still, its worth noting that even Coleman doesn't want the job fulltime.

Lastly, I'll disagree with this comment specifically:

"Someone who sides with polluters or against a woman's right to choose or against labor or against the rights of gays and lesbians has no place at the top of our party."

Last I checked, we nominated for the office of Governor, a candidate who supported Bush because Ann Richards wanted to clamp down on environmental protection such that it would have interfered with a project he wanted to see happen. Last I checked, not one statewide candidate went so far as to support issues such as gay marriage or civil unions (although they might not have been front burners in 2002, they very well could be in 2006). And personally, I'd disagree with the issue of abortion as being a litmus test. There's been a great number of very impressive minds in our party who, for whatever reason, view abortion differently (as I do as well). When labor unions in Houston hire NON-UNION contractors to build a union hall because the Union contractors were too expensive, this sends a powerful message that many of the movements you mention are not substitutes for our party. When we suggest that there is a litmus test for anything such as party chair or a nominee for an office where the issue might be affected, it's sending a message that in fact, we ARE a special interest party. Disclaimers to the contrary mean nothing when you admit there is a "right side" to what many people view as ancillary issues. Get the big things right first ... that's more critical than any debate on whether a party chair is pro-life or not (something I feel compelled to point out that I don't give a rat's behind about in that role).

Case in point ... In 1990, Nikki Van Hightower had a great record on feminist issues including an aggressive pro-choice record. Unfortunately her position as an elected official was that of Harris County Treasurer. Why does abortion mean squat in that office? Why did Nikki make it an issue in her race for State Treasurer against Kay Bailey Hutchison? Worth noting she lost that race. The lesson should be apparent. Stick to the issues people care most about first and get on the right side of THOSE issues.

At this point, it's a fair question to ask whether or not a pro-life Democratic governor would be worse than a pro-life Republican governor. Are we not a party big enough for ideological diversity? I don't particularly care to see us get lapped up by the GOP on that front. We used to be a party with the big tent and I don't particularly want to see it minimized to a pup tent.

Being the out party has its strains ... the various factions all look at one another with blame foremost on their minds. Moderates accuse the liberals of going too far; liberals blame the moderates for agreeing with anything a Republican says too often. At the point the Texas Democratic Party is at right now, I don't know how ANY faction of the party cannot look at another without realizing it takes all of us to put together 50%+1. On the activist side, I know we tend to be a little more forgiving and realize the truth in that. But the average voter needs to see it that way too and they don't follow inside baseball. If all they see is that we've nominated someone because they're on the right side of every left wing cause known to mankind, that sends a very powerful signal: Vote Repbublican. I don't think either of us wants to have our own party send that message.

Posted by: Greg Wythe at September 26, 2003 11:32 AM

From Michelle Goldberg's recent piece in Slate entitled The Texas Stalemate: It's All About Race:

... If the Texas redistricting plan is adopted, Norquist was quoted saying, "it is exactly the Stenholms of the world who will disappear, the moderate Democrats. They will go so that no Texan need grow up thinking that being a Democrat is acceptable behavior."

For those attuned to the signals, Norquist's message was clear — redistricting would drive Southern whites out of the Democratic Party. In July, he went further, telling the New York Times that Sheila Jackson-Lee, a African-American congresswoman from Texas, "will be the spokesman for the Democratic Party."

"Basically you'll be labeled a nigger-lover if you're a Democrat," [Garnet] Coleman [a Democratic state representative from Houston] says of the Republican plan. "We've already been through those times. It's all part of the Southern strategy."

(Subscription req'd, or day-pass for watching commercial, or I have extensive quotes in a fisking of this article on my own blog at http://www.beldar.org/beldarblog/2003/09/its_all_about_m.html.)

No one sees any problems with this? You're perfectly comfortable supporting for party leadership someone who sees all politics exclusively through a prism of race and who without the slightest bit of actual evidence is perfectly delighted to use the most racist language himself to fan the flames?

Posted by: Beldar at September 26, 2003 04:24 PM

Byron, I hope I didn't sound like I was ganging up on you and I certainly didn't mean to come off as abrasive in my commments if I did so.

Sorry I missed talking to you the other day but the man in the car with the wheelchair outside my dorm surprised me.

Posted by: Karl-T. at September 26, 2003 04:47 PM


You've obviously got no clue about who or what Garnet Coleman is except perhaps through an even more limited prism in which you label people racists. That you find great harm in Coleman's statements yet none in Norquist's says enough. The GOP can have you and I thank you for making your viewpoints public so that no right-thinking Texan might grow up with the impression that being Republican is acceptable behavior.

Posted by: Greg Wythe at September 26, 2003 11:13 PM

Greg, I didn't pass judgment one way or another on Norquist's quote. But let's look at it.

My first reaction to the name "Shelia Jackson-Lee" is "ultra-liberal Congresswoman," so my first reaction to Norquist's quote is that he was using her place on the political spectrum to make an example -- not her color. As I've blogged on my own website, if one's goal in redistricting is to effect a shift toward more Republican Congressmen from Texas, then using race as a proxy for voters' actual politics would be stupid and inefficient (when you can instead use actual voting patterns that don't require use of any proxy). I, for one, am capable of hearing Sheila Jackson-Lee's name spoken without thinking "black." Michelle Goldberg, who ADDS a racial designation to what Norquist actually said so as to give the impression that Norquist was referring to race instead of politics, doesn't seem to be. Are you?

I label people as racists when they make judgments of other people based on race. I especially tend to believe they're making judgments of other people based on race when they use the most inflammatory racial epithets. I don't excuse someone for using them by virtue of their own skin color. Do you?

I'd very much like to see folks grow up thinking that race-baiting is unacceptable behavior, whether its done by conservative racists or liberal racists. Would you?

So I restate my original question: Are those who support Coleman for a prominent position in the state Democratic party troubled by his use of that racial epithet? Or is it okay to use that language -- as long as you're using it to accuse Republicans of racism?

I'm asking a serious question about an extremely serious matter, and trying to do so in a civil way. Your response will be more credible if you can avoid ad hominem attacks in making it.

Posted by: Beldar at September 26, 2003 11:51 PM

If the Grover Norquists of the world were intent on just singling out ultra liberal Dems as the face of the party, then why is Travis County seeing maps that slice out Lloyd Doggett? Is it also a coincidence that they carve out more of the swing districts of Chris Bell's 25th to make it more amenable to become a minority district? Do you see where your logic is falling apart here?

Sorry, I'm just not buying this "We're singling out the liberals" commentary. The goal is to further polarize American politics and if you don't think race is one part of it, then you're being naive. The goal is to marginalize the Democratic party. I make no excuses for combating that, arguing against it, etc ....

When you try to marginalize a party by drawing up maps that essentially say: Repupblican = White; Democrat = Brown/Black - you should not be surprised to see reactions such as Colemans. Like it or not, its accurate (and yes, there are exceptions as both parties attempt to draw a face of diversity that exceeds reality sometimes). If you don't like how that shoe fits, then drop redistricting as a pet issue and try to knock off Edwards, Stenholm, Turner, Sandlin, Hall in districts that will give Bush 65-70% of the vote in 2004 - districts that are more GOP-friendly than Tom DeLay's. It shouldn't be too difficult with more and more voters voting straight ticket.

Posted by: Greg Wythe at September 27, 2003 06:47 PM
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