Do We Need a New Party to Turn Texas Blue?

Ideas and Issues

Blue-TexasDallas     With the results of the recent primary elections in Texas, perhaps it is time to look at the progress of Battleground Texas and the notion of “turning Texas blue,” as the Democrats call it. 

            The hope in a nutshell is essentially that “demographics are destiny.”  Robert Draper in the Texas Monthly summed it up quickly:

The 2010 census found that the state’s population had increased by 4.3 million over the previous decade and that more than 3.3 million of the new inhabitants were minorities. Of these, an astounding 2.8 million were Hispanic, historically a reliable constituency for Democrats. These numbers conveyed a new reality: the Texas political landscape was getting friendlier for Democrats and tougher for Republicans.

The challenge though is daunting, no matter who is moving into the state and how rosy it may color some politicians glasses.  There are 13.5 million registered voters in Texas.  The estimates of party strength is 45% Republican to 21% Democratic.  If those figures are correct, that means that the party preferences within the 13.5 million fall to 6,075,000 elephants and only 2,835,000 donkeys, more than a 3 million voter gap, and another 5 million quasi-independents among the registered voters who are out there, which doesn’t exactly indicate that they are up for grabs.  The actual strength of the primary voter participation this week underlines the problem when 1.2 million voted in the Republican primary and only about a half-million voted in the Democratic primary.  And, this is despite the fact that Democratic election strength is increasing in the major urban centers, especially Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio and that almost 60% of the state’s general election votes are in 13, mostly urban counties, of the state’s 254 counties.   Nothing happens overnight certainly, but this is hardly an auspicious beginning.

A party is built from the ground up, not the top down though, and despite the mixed results tallied by the Tea Party insurgency in the state, I wonder if it is not helping the Republicans stay politically healthy by providing the competitive contests and candidates, no matter how wacko, that deeply engage Texas voters.  Most of the lions of the Republican Party in Texas emerged scratched by the Tea Party candidates but not unscathed, and the Tea people had enough success to remain lively, but the favor they are doing the Republicans is getting their base to the polls and forcing a better definition – and profile – for the Republicans on the issues.  Democrats may tear their hair at the Republican excesses, but might should be more concerned by the solid showing of Jeb Bush son and general Bush family scion, George P. Bush, 37-years old with an American-Hispanic heritage, won solidly as the Republican nominee for Texas Land Commissioner.  Think that’s not serious?  The Democrats haven’t won any statewide race in 20 years since 1994, and young Bush jumped right over from Florida and picked their pockets.

To turn Texas blue is not going to just be a matter of registering voters.  Party building is grassroots and involves candidates, competition, and winning and governing at the local level.  Bill White was an excellent Mayor of Houston but lost when he ran for governor by over 600000 votes, ending his career.   To turn Texas, I think we need a Working Families Party or New Party of Texas or some formation along those lines that can act as a progressive, deeply organized and grassroots effort to bring the party alive at the base with local candidates and sharp, effective and progressive campaigns on issues that push voters our way.  Such a caucus would clarify issues, push the Democrats, and start to turn the terms of the debate about Texas and the future.  

Sitting with a friend in Houston the other night we were in a solidly democratic state senate district in the Houston Heights.   The incumbent had a decent record and more than enough money so 6000 voted to push him forward.  A couple of years ago there were twice that many votes in the primary.  The winner might have been the same, but a real contest might, like the Tea Party has given Texas on the issues,  put life back into the regulars and pushed independents in Harris County into the party.  To ever win statewide again Democrats need to win here by 20-30%, not 10% to offer the kind of margins that fuel victories. 

To turn Texas blue is not a matter of injecting national issues and nationally favored candidacies on the Texas hardscrabble but a matter of building an indigenous, aggressive local party, candidate, and initiatives that organize hard, take on fights without apology, and win.   A new party formation might be able to do that, but it’s hard to see it happening many other ways.