Category Archives: Texas Politics

Texas Lege DECIMATING Women’s Health Services

Republicans have learned quickly in Texas just how “Special” a Special Session can be.

Late last night in the Senate, the GOP took advantage of unique rules in the Special Session, and were able to pass SB5 against Democratic objections. Senate Bill 5 is textbook amongst TRAP laws, or Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers. Like the ones already passed in other states, it would place unnecessary restrictions on abortion providers, such as each doctor on staff having admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles of their practice, or the need to upgrade their facilities to match that of an Emergency Room. Given that Texas is a VERY sparse state in rural areas, and what few hospitals there are have religious objections to abortion, this is basically an eviction notice for women’s health services. These restrictions will effectively end abortion services for Texas women in all but a few select urban areas. Only 5 clinics in the whole state at present meet the rigorous qualifications set forth in SB5, which would cause the shut-down of 42 clinics.

During the Senate hearings, Republicans said that they were passing the legislation out of “concern for women’s health care”, but that reasoning was a total lie, as revealed by Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst. After the Senators spent hours trying to say otherwise, he proudly boasted such news on Twitter by tweeting out the map showing how many clinics would be forced to shut down…

Given that the Texas House is dominated by Republicans, the measure will likely become law tonight. At the same time, Texas women from across the state are headed to Austin for rally in protest.

This is truly a new low for the Texas Congressional GOP.

—-UPDATE—-

9:10am June 21st— Though the Senate has done it’s dirty work by passing SB 5, House Bill 60 (HB 60) is still in committee. And thanks to the bravery and true dedication of 700 Texans last night and into this morning, HB 60 did NOT get a vote. They descended upon Austin and staged an astonishing Citizen’s Filibuster as everyone present signed up to speak about the bill. It was a total takeover of what the GOP House members expected to a “rubber stamp” hearing.

Here’s part of the first-hand account from Andrea Grimes at rhrealitycheck.org

We’re here as part of a citizens’ filibuster against a bill added to the Texas house’s special session calendar at the last minute by Republican Gov. Rick Perry. They spent the day anxiously waiting for their names to be called by House State Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana). They’ve been poring over testimony, timing themselves on smartphones, practicing their statements in the hallway with quavering voices.

Seven hundred people registered to testify today. Tonight. Into the wee hours. They were prepared to wait as long as it took.

At midnight, Rep. Cook told us that, after nearly seven hours of testimony against HB 60, our words were getting to be “repetitive,” and he would allow just one more hour of testimony.

That’s when the yelling started.

“Let her speak!” chanted women and men who gathered in the room as one woman was escorted away from the podium by a Texas State Trooper.

Shortly thereafter, citizens took over the hearing room and decided to testify with or without the committee members present.

That’s when #HB60 began trending worldwide on Twitter. That’s when people stopped tweeting about getting coffee delivered to the James H. Reagan building here in downtown Austin, and started tweeting about bail money.

Eventually, Rep. Cook and his colleagues called the hearing back to order and gave the gathered citizens another half-hour to speak against HB 60.

“Our words are not repetitive,” testified Lesli Simms, a first-generation American. “Our government’s attacks on our choice, on our bodies, is repetitive.”

There are hundreds of people still waiting to have their voices heard. But it may be their silence, engineered and ensured by Rep. Cook and right-wing lawmakers, that will speak loudest of all.

These courageous Texans fought for all of us last night. And for that, I thank them.

Why We Celebrate Juneteenth

As people living in the age of instant information, it’s sometimes difficult to imagine the significance of Juneteenth today. Any news out of Washington DC is known across the country instantaneously. But for Americans in the 19th Century, news only traveled as fast as human hands could carry it, especially to areas of the country that were far removed from the East Coast. The Emancipation Proclamation went into effect at the height of the Civil War… January 1st, 1863. But that news took some two and a half years to reach the entire country.  From the Texas State Historical Association, here’s a brief history of Juneteenth

 On June 19 (“Juneteenth”), 1865, Union general Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston and issued General Order Number 3, which read in part, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.” The tidings of freedom reached the approximately 250,000 slaves in Texas gradually as individual plantation owners informed their bondsmen over the months following the end of the war. The news elicited an array of personal celebrations, some of which have been described in The Slave Narratives of Texas (1974). The first broader celebrations of Juneteenth were used as political rallies and to teach freed African American about their voting rights. Within a short time, however, Juneteenth was marked by festivities throughout the state, some of which were organized by official Juneteenth committees.
Today, Juneteenth is much more than political rallies. Communities across the country commemorate the day through concerts, parades, readings of the Emancipation Proclamation and lectures. And in Galveston, Juneteenth has grown into a week-long festival, with events at the original site of Ashton Villa. This year marks the 148th anniversary of the event.
As Americans in the 21st century continue struggle to find their way towards greater equality and freedom, the event of Juneteenth serves as a shining beacon from our nation’s past.  In a world of great suffering and sacrifice, the Emancipation Proclamation was a huge advance in progress.  And indeed, it was a reason to celebrate that which all Americans hold most dear today… Freedom.
Happy Juneteenth to all.

Paving the Road to Blue Texas: HCDP’s Lane Lewis

I had the opportunity to sit down with Lane Lewis, chair of the Harris County Democratic Party. We discussed some of the activities of the county party, his thoughts about the renewed interest in Texas Democrats, and the possibilities of Texas Turning Blue. And as he said, talking about turning Texas blue is great, but it won’t get accomplished without decisive, coordinated action. There has to come a point where rhetoric meets the road.

Texas Leftist: Thank you very much for your time today, and I want to say Congratulations on the success of the 2012 elections, and a very exciting start to 2013. Now that we’ve had a bit of time to sleep and reflect, how do you think 2012 went from your perspective?

Lane Lewis: I thought they went very well, and we did what we needed to do. We are in the process of changing the culture of the party. We are creating a culture of organizing for 365 days per year. That’s what our Engage 365 initiative is about. We’re not staffing down after the 2012 elections… we’re staffing up.

TL: The notion of a year-round organization goes right into my second question. Do you think Engage 365 is going well, and will you be close to achieving that goal?

LL: It’s been going very well. We’ve had 3 events so far this year… a food drive, a blood bank, and a community garden project. All three have met or exceeded our expectations.

And let me talk about why these events are important. Some would say “you planted a garden… that’s cute.” But the big picture is to draw a series of bright contrasts between us and the other side. We partnered with a local, small health clinic, selected a plot of land on their property, and created a public space that benefits the life and health of the community. Right behind this future community garden is Booker T. Washington High School. Let’s work with the school to create a gardening club, and get the students involved in community service, as well as an educational opportunity. Republicans want to take away your health care, Democrats want to help you access it. Republicans want to do away with public and recreational spaces, Democrats help to create those public spaces. Republicans want to gut funding for education, Democrats want to build bridges and expand educational opportunities. We’re addressing healthcare, elevating community awareness, and building bridges with educators and community leaders.

You may ask, how do we get people to this event? Simple… we make phone calls, and invite them to the event. “There’s no election going on right now, but we’re creating a community garden in your neighborhood. Would you like to be involved?” and they say “Sure!”. At the same time, we’re cleaning up our voter list. We go to area elected officials to sponsor the event. That way, we’re elevating their profile in an off year, and it’s easier to get them reelected next time.

At the base of the project, we’re leaving a cornerstone that says:

“Engage 365- Community Garden Project for the Indepence Heights Health Care Clinic. Sponsored by the Harris County Democratic Party, and elected officials.”

We leave it there as a permanent reminder for visitors to the clinic. These people [the Democrats] believe so much in your need for these services, that we’ll put our money and our name on it. It’s not just a “cute idea”.

The garden received press coverage from both Univision Channel 45 and the Memorial Examiner, which you can read more by following the links.

TL: Sounds like an investment all the way around, and again a great segway into the next question. Do you feel that Democrats in our county are doing a better job at being on offense? Are we better able to set the political agenda instead of always having to respond to the agenda of the GOP?

LL: Yes, most definitely. We are taking action, and not reaction. Reactions over the long term typically arise out of a lack of leadership and direction. If we don’t know where we are going, then we’re forced to simply react to wherever we are. A great example of action is the new Harris County Democratic Party website. It’s integrated socially with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other sites. I challenge you to find another county party website in the entire country that is as sophisticated as ours. That, ladies and gentlemen is ACTION… where the rhetoric meets the road.

In my opinion, the off years are when it’s important to begin merging the ideas of community organizing with political organizing. That’s when people can say “it’s not just about getting me to vote. It’s about people participating in my neighborhood.” At HCDP we are marrying community organizing– finding solutions to people’s real life problems, with political organizing– getting people to vote, and better understand the importance of doing so.

TL: A very “small d democratic” solution. And that brings up an important point. With all of the crazy debates in our legislature right now… fighting tooth-and-nail to expand Medicaid and meet the growing needs of Texas schoolchildren… is there anything “off” about 2013 for Texans? Do you feel that the groundwork being laid with HCDP can be translated back into political action for 2014?

LL: Well, here’s an example… in 2010, I was the Senate District chair for SD15, and at that time I designed a program called 24/15. I wanted a test some theories regarding Social Pressure voting. So I took my list, and hired a group of CWA workers, and gave them each a co-hort of people on the list. They called the voters every week to give them information about the voting leading up to election day. We informed them about early voting, then found early vote locations that were convenient to their work and their home. We made notes on every call, and when we called the voter again, based our call on the previous conversation. The final call “you gotta promise me that you’re going to go early vote, ok?” until we get a good response from the list. 2010… Democrats got their butts kicked across the country, but in SD15? 62 percent of that list went out to go EARLY vote.

TL: Very impressive. With all of the buzz surrounding Texas Democrats all of a sudden, and many people giving the state party a second look, Harris County is sure to be a major focus of those efforts. As the largest county in the state, with the most potential to tip the scales in a statewide election, what are your goals for the county in 2014 and 2016.

LL: You’re absolutely right. 1 out of every 4 votes cast in Texas come from Harris county. So yes Harris is a player, it’s got to be a player. When Harris county goes reliably blue, Texas goes blue. The state certainly can’t go blue without us. When that happens and Texas flips, there is not an electoral map you can show me where a Republican candidate can win without Texas. It would be GAME OVER for generations. So what are we going to do to expedite that? We certainly need to focus on creating a larger voter share by identifying new voters and building relationships with them. Some reports I’ve read say there are as many as 600,000 non-registered voters in the county. We focus on them, and get even 80,000 to go vote, it’s game over here as well.

TL: Of course besides 2014, we have several local races in 2013, but many of these races are non-partisan. Given that fact, does HCDP play any particular function in these local races?

LL: Yes and no. I have absolutely no intention of placing the party in a position to endorse any municipal candidate… particularly if there is more than one Democrat in the race. However, I do think there is something to be said for providing voters two things. The first is a voter guide to inform voters of which candidates typically vote in the Democratic primary, whether or not they are a sustaining member with the Democratic Party, and to share candidate views regarding important Progressive issues. I think we have a responsibility to provide those things to the voters. I also think that HCDP has a responsibility to assist in the turnout of vote. We can still inform voters of Democratic issues, and use this as an opportunity to update our list with accurate voter information. We can also assist with information about the elections, such as where and when to early vote.

TL: Good to hear that HCDP definitely has an important role even in non-partisan election years. And that brings us to my last question. Maybe it’s too early to talk about 2014, but do you see any major races shaping up?

LL: Nope not yet. No one that is going to step forward that I know of. And sure there are always rumblings, but I don’t report on rumblings. The message here is this… 2013 is an extension of 2014. We cannot sit back and idle by waiting for 2014 to come. So the actions that we take now to increase our voter share are imperative. This is where the rhetoric meets the road. As fun and engaging as it is to sit around and strategize, there are very few political strategists in the world. And we don’t need more political strategists… we need more political WORKERS. Texas is going to turn blue, but it is not going to be an event. It’s going to be a process. And that process requires hard work. If Texans participate in that process, then the event will happen sooner rather than later.

TL: And what about statewide candidates?

LL: If we expect a Senator, Mayor or State Rep to put their name out to run for state-wide office, the first thing they will look at is their ability to raise money. The second thing they’re going to look at is capacity for voter turnout. Now the problem is this… the only way they can raise money is if the answer to the second question is already there. The big money isn’t going to contribute without knowing voter turnout and engagement (the answer to the FIRST question) is already in place. So when people ask me “who have we got running for Governor?” my question to them is “How many calls have you made today? How many doors have you knocked on today?” Because if the answer to my question is ZERO, then the answer to their question will most certainly be ZERO. The money will come… the candidates will come when we’re doing our job. That job is to raise a dollar, knock a door and make a call.

TL: It sounds like quite the job, but Texans are ready. Thank you very much for your time today.

For a previous interview with Chairman Lane Lewis, check out Charles Kuffner’s Off the Kuff article from last year.

Get Schooled: The Truth on Texas Education Funding

As the Texas legislative session continues to tick away, many people in the state are becoming worried about Texas Schools, which took a $5 Billion dollar funding cut from the 2011 session thanks to the GOP. While some have been pandering to angry voters saying that they would “consider” restoring some of the funds, no significant action has taken place yet… save for a few brave Democrats like State Senator Wendy Davis consistently discussing the issue.

And now, two years later, Texans are bearing the consequences with 10,000 fewer teachers in the classroom, but 64,000 more kids to educate. That results in over-crowded classes and resources that are stretched to the bone for the many districts that were already having to do more with less. Even as Governor Perry boasts about an $11 Billion dollar “surplus”, he hasn’t pledged one penny to restore the cuts he made when the state budeget was at a deficit. Texas families are getting fed up.

Enter the group One Texas PAC… an advocacy group dedicated to electing Latino leaders… with this new video showing the truth at how those 2011 cuts have harmed our state’s children. This is worth watching by everyone just to catch up. You can also sign the petition on change.org.

Blue Texas: What the National Media is STILL missing

Time to Turn Texas Blue?

It appears that my initial criticisms were a bit premature. Today, much of the news media has been dominated by the roll out of Battleground Texas… a grassroots initiative aimed at making Democrats competitive in the state. Founded by former OFA director Jeremy Bird, the new organization has promised to make a long-term commitment to Texas Democratic causes. Needless to say, this is one Texan that is impressed with today’s events.

But what is far from impressive is the continued mythology held by the national media regarding Texas. When I hear commentators on MSNBC talking about the state, it’s clear that they are NOT familiar with Texans or Texas politics in the same intimate way that they know Florida, Virginia or New York. Take the classic map that MSNBC’s Chuck Todd posted this morning on The Daily Rundown…

He correctly points out that since 2004, Dallas County and Harris County (Houston) have flipped from a Republican majority to a Democratic majority. But his map suggests that Travis County (Austin) is somehow a red county? No… actually Travis county has been majority Democratic since the 1990s!! If we’re going to have a discussion about how Democrats can advance in Texas, it’s critical that we start that discussion with an accurate picture of the state. In 2012, 4 of the state’s 5 largest counties voted blue, including Travis. It may seem like a small thing, but on a national show, it’s important to present factual information.

Another issue continues to pervade national media coverage is the sole focus on demographic (racial) shifts. It’s true that the state of Texas is majority-minority, but it’s also true that plenty of Hispanic voters (the ones that show up to vote) are solid Reopublicans. But Texas will not go blue on any single statistic, and there’s one HUGELY important fact that people do not cover enough.

Not only does Texas have a growing Hispanic and Asian population, but it also has a rapidly-growing URBAN population. The long-held stigma of Texas no longer holds true. The majority of Texans now live in the state’s core urban areas… Dallas- Ft. Worth, Houston, Austin, San Antonio and El Paso. As the state continues to condense it’s population, it also takes on more characteristics of other large cities around the country. Millions of Americans have moved from all over the country thanks to continued Texas job growth, and as luck would have it, they are also bringing their political beliefs with them. And they’re mostly moving to the urban areas. Texas will not become blue by the growth of the Hispanic community alone. But if we can turn blue, it will be due to the confluence of rapid domestic migration AND changing racial demographics. These two trends have to move toward Democrats in tandem, along with an overal increase in voter participation. Groups like Battleground Texas and local organizations have to continue to expose the great travesties that Texans have suffered under Republican governance, like draconian cuts to our state’s education funding, and Governor Perry’s refusal to expand Medicaid.

Like the rest of the nation, the doors to a blue Texas continue to swing open thanks to the continued failings of the GOP. But if we’re going to get there, it is critical for Progressives and the Democratic Party to come to state, talk to voters, and get a better understanding for what’s really going on down here. I invite MSNBC to broadcast some shows from the great state of Texas. Come to cities like Austin and Houston, and meet some of your faithful audience members. Show the rest of the nation that when it comes to turning the state blue, Texas Progressives are ready to rodeo.

30th Time’s A Charm: Can Texas Democrats Win in 2014?

Before any true goal can be realized, it must first be visualized, idealized, and then actualized.

Over the last few weeks, there’s been a lot of buzz about the Texas Democratic Party… lots of talk about how it’s only a matter of time before Texas becomes a swing state. I’ve certainly done my fair share of prognostication too (See here from before the 2012 election and here for afterwards). But now in February 2013, has anything concrete taken shape to make this goal a reality?

The current answer is… kind of. The biggest news out of Texas’ blue prospects is the creation of Battleground Texas, a left-leaning money group that is meant to help revive Lone Star Democrats. The group has pledged to put big money into the efforts, and have an aggressive media presence. If that is their true intent, it seems that they are off to a slow start. There is a website up, but it hasn’t had any activity since January 29th, and the site still lists as “Under Construction. Same for the Facebook page… no updates or activity. Of course, 2013 is not an “election year” in Texas, at least not for state-wide offices, but make no mistake that this is a critical time for political mobilization in the state. The Legislature is convened from now until June, and local elections will be held all over the state this November in cities like Houston. Without a Presidential or Gubernatorial race, it may seem like an off-year. But in my opinion, it’s anything but.

Of course it’s not like a true Texan to wait around for someone else to get a job done. Texas Democrats are working hard to get ready for 2014 right now. Groups like the Harris County Democratic Party (Houston) and the Dallas Democrats have launched new websites geared for social media organizing, and are off to an impressive start in fundraising. In Harris County, the party is focused on holding year-round events and community efforts, to not only raise money for Democrats to stay competitive, but to keep voters actively engaged year-round.

These are the types of cues that the national Democratic party should take in Texas. In order for this state to turn blue, it’s going to take serious grassroots organizing, just like we typically see in Ohio, Florida and the other “traditional” battleground states.

The other essential factor for blue state success in Texas? Strong candidates. Thankfully, the Texas Democratic bench is looking stronger than ever before. 2014 will bring state-wide races for 3 critical offices… Governor, Senate and Lieutenant Governor. Eventhough some candidates like Julian Castro have decided to sit out 2014, there are still some very capable Texans that can compete in a state-wide race.

One person to definitely watch is State Senator Wendy Davis from Ft. Worth. In a swing district that voted for McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012, Senator Davis defeated a Republican Incumbent for her first trip to the Senate, and won again in 2012. A tireless advocate for Texas public education, she has garnered much attention by mounting aggressive opposition to Republican lawmakers. If Ms. Davis were to run for either Governor or Senator, she has a serious shot, and is my TOP contender for 2014. Make sure to put her on your radar!!

Houston Mayor Annise Parker has garnered an impressive record in her nearly two terms leading the nation’s 4th largest city. She has taken bold steps to help Houston weather the economic downtown, and now public sector employment is being restored. Houston has also been a national leader in job growth during the Recovery, and all signs point continued prosperity for the city in 2013 and 2014. Not only jobs, but Mayor Parker has also worked hard to improve the quality of life for Houstonians through massive investments in the city’s infrastructure, parks and bike trails. She’s managed to do it all through meticulous work on the city’s budget, and partnering with local business leaders. Though Mayor Parker has already committed to run for a third term, Texas Democrats can expect big things from her in the near future.

Equally impressive at the local level is San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro. He garnered national attention last year after delivering the keynote address for the Democratic National Convention. Thanks to that, more Americans now know his name. But what they may not know is how hard he’s been working on behalf of the great city of San Antonio, whose voters not only re-elected Castro by a whopping 82 percent in 2011, but approved a landmark new early childhood initiative in 2012. Pre-K for SA establishes city-wide Pre-Kindergarten for all San Antonio kids, and is funded by city taxpayers. It’s sure to be a national model not unlike what President Obama mentioned in the 2013 State of the Union speech. Thanks to Mayor Castro’s leadership, San Antonio is getting is done. Texas Democrats… don’t be surprised if President Obama shows up in Texas soon. And if he does, expect Mayor Castro to be in the vicinity. For the moment, Castro has again committed to run for a 3rd (and final) term as Mayor of San Antonio. With such hearty commitments to Texas’ children, Wendy Davis and Julian Castro would make quite a team on a state-wide ballot.

Mayor Castro’s twin brother is U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro. Though he’s a freshman in Congress, Joaquin is no slouch to Austin politics having just finished a 10-year run in the Texas legislature. He’s built his political career on a solid record of bi-partisan accomplishments, and has lately become a very popular commentator with the national news media. As Immigration reform continues to be a hotly- contested issue on Capitol Hill, we should all expect Congressman Castro to be a key figure. That alone would be enough to put him on the radar for a state-wide office.

I’ll be looking at more candidates later.