Understanding Texas Democrats

Texas is of course a big state, which is why the political inner-workings of it can be quite confusing. People look at Texas and see large cities, and a huge minority population, but are confused as to why Democrats haven’t been more successful here. They try to compare us to states like Virginia, which is now firmly in the swing state column, but the calculation is always thrown off. But unlike years past, it’s good to at least see them trying. For example, this piece from Al-Jazeera America which takes an in-depth look at Democratic hopes for the state.

Celia Israel, a candidate for a state House seat in a special election this fall, said there are minority, low-income and rural Texas voters who have yet to be touched by the political process at all. Turning them out to the polls is about doing the hard work of “tilling the soil” — having conversations on doorsteps, getting them registered and talking to them about the stakes in local elections.

“This is not a red state. This is a state that doesn’t vote very well,” Israel said. “There’s a lot of new people that need to be touched, and they are touched by these down-ballot races, by real candidates saying, ‘This is who I am, and I’d like to ask for your vote.’”

A very astute observation, and something that I agree with. It’s not that there are not Democrats in Texas, or even Democrat-leaning voters. There are plenty of both here. But the reason that Texas is a majority red-state is due to two main things… the Texas majority doesn’t vote, and the Democratic party doesn’t know how to relate to Texans. Like most areas of the South, the Democratic party basically retreated the moment Bill Clinton left office, and in the 13 years that followed that exit, Democrats became a very Northern and Coastal institution. The grand irony here is that this same “grand retreat” is what the Left has accused the GOP of doing by clinging to the South and Religious Right. But they only had that territory to claim because Democrats vacated it.

There was no greater political authority on Texas Democrats than late Governor Ann Richards. She won election in the Lone Star State because she understood the balance of how Leftist ideas can apply to a state that views themselves through a Rightward lens. Here’s a 2003 interview done by the Texas Politics Project where she discusses this.

…you have to understand that Texas has always been a very ‘Conservative’ voting state. We had a ‘single-party’ system. The Republicans were in the Democratic party, because there was only one party. Some of the Liberal Democrats, of which I was one, did everything in the world that we could to help the Republican Party grow in Texas. Because we thought there should be a two-party system, and that there should be the conflict between the two to enunciate the issues. […]

Can the Democrats win again in Texas? Absolutely. What is it going to take for them to win? It’s going to take a serious vision, and it’s going to take serious money to be able to do it. And it’s going to have to produce candidates in which the public has a solid dedication and belief.

Now why did I win? Everyone says I was an anomaly. No one expected me to win. […] It was uphill. But I was running against a guy who had a loose lip, who said things he never should have said, who thought he was too cute by a long shot, and did things to defeat himself. As a consequence, I was able to beat him.

Put simply, Texas is not New York or Los Angeles. We’re not the same type of stereotypical “Liberals” that you find on the East or West Coast. Nor are we the other major part of the Democratic Party… Union-workers like you’d find in Ohio or Michigan. There’s not a large “Democratic Party” identity here. If anything, most voters would tell you that they are Conservative just because that is what they know and understand. But if you dig a little deeper, and connect with issues they care about– safe schools, fixing Texas roads and bridges, health care for their families– the wellspring of common sense is revealed. For Texas Democrats, it’s simply about pealing back the layers to find the areas where most voters agree.

I like Celia Israel’s comment… the key to winning Texas is long-term investment and hard work. Battleground Texas has got the formula just right. They are working hard to register voters, and have established a solid presence in every corner of the state. They know that this mission stretches beyond the 2014 elections. But all of this aside, even a “Red State” votes blue sometimes, when they have the right candidates and the right situations. For all of the boasting and assumptions done by the GOP, they know that Wendy Davis has a more than credible chance of taking the Governor’s mansion. It will happen if Texas Democrats take Governor Richards’ advice.

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