TexWatch 2014: Forcing the Issues

As was stated in an earlier post, Texas Democrats are facing some rather long odds to win statewide in this election cycle. Most of this has to do with the long shadow cast by 2 decades of losses for the statewide party. To put it simply, Texas Democrats have to start our game way downfield from the GOP. Aside from meticulously gerrymandered Congressional and legislative seats, the Democrats will be out-numbered on the ground and out-spent everywhere else. This is the reality of 2014 politics in Texas. The only way for Democrats to catch up is to formulate a true Texas message, force the issues, go on the offensive, and hit the GOP hard.

Since the Primary election, it appears that this message is starting to be heard by the Davis campaign. After a somewhat rocky start, Wendy Davis’ organization has launched an all-out assault on Abbott’s stance over the issue of equal pay for women and minorities.

At a Monday morning rally before a packed and pumped-up crowd of about 160 at Sholz Garten, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis pressed the issue of equal pay for equal work, challenging Attorney General Greg Abbott to, “stop hiding behind your staff members, stop hiding behind your surrogates.”

“This Texas gal is calling you out,” declared the Fort Worth Democrat to huge applause on an issue that has energized her campaign for the governorship since the March 4 primary.

Davis faulted Abbott for successfully fighting a 2011 pay discrimination case in court — albeit one based on race and nationality and not gender — and presiding over an office which, according to a recent report in the San Antonio Express-News, most female assistant attorneys general make less on average than men do in the same job.

This is a good start for Davis, and will hopefully provide an example for Leticia Van de Putte, Steve Brown and other statewide Democrats to follow. Any successful campaign in the Lone Star state has to be about issues that resonate with people. 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 Texans 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 roads and bridges, access to fair wages and upward economic mobility, health care for their families– the wellspring of commonality is revealed. For Democrats, the key winning strategy simply about pealing back the layers to find the areas where most voters agree. Equal pay has gained some traction, but the bigger issues like Healthcare expansion for the poor (via the ACA’s Medicaid expansion or otherwise) are out there waiting to be brought to the light.

Along with forcing specific issues, it’s also time for Democrats to call for general election debates. In 2010, Rick Perry was able to get reelected without ever facing Democratic challenger Bill White on the debate stage. As a result, many voters (especially those in a last-minute rush to get informed before going to the ballot box) probably didn’t have sufficient information to consider Bill White a credible alternative. Debates are not only important for the moment they happen, but in the world of online search, they can also prove to be a critical resource for low-information voters. We can’t afford for the GOP to go under the radar like they did in 2010. Texans deserve to hear both sides of the political spectrum, and they deserve to have that information in a face-to-face debate. It’s one thing to toggle back and forth with the press, but having candidates on the debate stage can literally make or break a campaign. This must be demanded by Democrats, otherwise it’s not going to happen.

Even in the face of disadvantage, it appears to have been a good month for Wendy Davis. As she and other Texas Democrats move into the next stage, it’s imperative that the keep the momentum going, and continue to pressure their Republican counterparts. Democrats are definitely the underdogs in 2014, but they can win as long as they’ve got plenty to bark about.

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