My op-ed in ‘bAustin’

From my day job at The Justice:

When I flew home to Houston following my last final exam this past May, I do not remember if I even ate dinner before making the 160 mile trip to Austin, the state capital of Texas.

Over the next two days in Austin, I met with all the stalwarts of the Texas Democratic Party that I had known of for most of my life, and known personally for at least a year: State Representative Jessica Farrar, State Representative Senfronia Thompson, State Senator Leticia Van de Putte, State Senator Kirk Watson and, of course, State Senator Wendy Davis.

When I left school last spring, these individuals were foreign to most of the students here at Brandeis. However, upon my return this autumn, the heroes of Texas liberalism will have been household names. Make no mistake; this was not a fluke. This is a sign towards the future, of the upcoming, inevitable Democratic Texas.

On June 25, millions of people across the world became familiar with Democratic Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, among others, when she filibustered a draconian anti-abortion bill that, among other things, would have closed 37 of Texas’ 42 abortion clinics while enriching the business interests of the Governor’s sister. (The bill requires clinics to convert into ambulatory surgical centers, and the Governor’s sister is the chief lobbyist of the Texas Ambulatory Surgical Center Association). That fateful evening, between Davis’ 12 hour filibuster and the cheering from the gallery, the nation learned an invaluable lesson: liberals exist in Texas and, given the right opportunities, we can win. For even though Republicans later changed the rules to force another special session to pass the bill, the filibuster brought national attention to the measure, which will be sure to be struck down in Federal Court.

For most politically-active Texans, the filibuster of June 25 was not the first we had heard of the massively building resistance to the omnibus anti-abortion bill. In the previous weeks as committees debated the bill, thousands of women showed up to testify, driving hearings into the middle of the night before the chairmen—that’s not an oversight, they are exclusively men—abruptly stopped the proceedings and locked the witnesses out before voting on the people’s legislation behind closed doors.

Just two days earlier, when the state house debated the bill, Democrats used every parliamentary point of order and dilatory tactic at their disposal in an attempt to slow down the process and garner media attention. Democratic State Representative Senfronia Thompson, the first African-American woman to serve in the Texas Legislature, who has served since 1972, made statewide news at the time, as she held up a wire coat-hanger during her speech and warned that she did not want to go back to the Dark Ages.

Back in the state Senate, Democratic Senator Leticia Van de Putte arrived at the capitol with just an hour left before midnight during Davis’ filibuster. Van de Putte had been in San Antonio just that day attending her father’s funeral. Trying to make a point upon her arrival, she was repeatedly ignored by the Republican leadership, finally exclaiming, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room.” At this point, the crowd in the gallery rose to their feet and yelled until midnight, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The entire spectacle brought Texas Democrats, foremost Wendy Davis, into the international spotlight. Democratic power brokers in Washington, D.C. and New York began calling for Davis to run for governor, calling her the best shot for the state’s future. However, liberals in Texas have been saying this for years, while the powers-to-be in the national Democratic establishment have completely ignored and neglected Texas Democrats. Given a chance, we can do great things.

Texas’ politics are trending towards the Democratic Party; it is only a matter of time at this point. Bellwethers like Bexar and Harris Counties mirror state demographics by combining urban areas (San Antonio and Houston, respectively) with less diverse suburban areas.

They have slowly been trending toward the Democratic Party for years, and the state is right behind them.

For example, Texas is one of only three states, along with California and New Mexico, to be less than 50 percent Caucasian. What is preventing my state’s sizable Hispanic minority from causing victory for the Democratic Party is a staggeringly low voter turnout. In fact, according to an article last February from The Dallas Morning News, out of every state, Texas ranks dead last in voter turnout.

When it does vote, the Hispanic population of Texas supports the Democratic Party by overwhelming margins. Despite being one of only three states with a Hispanic senator, barely one third of Texas Hispanics voted for the Republican Party last year. The only thing stopping Texas politics from mirroring New Mexico’s is turnout (38 percent higher in 2010), something national organizations such as Battleground Texas have now begun to focus on. This national spotlight and financial backing of Democratic candidates has only drastically expanded following Davis’ filibuster and will swell turnout in the state until Texas mirrors New Mexico’s politics. Texans are ready for this metamorphosis; the only outstanding question is if the national establishment is ready.

So make no mistake: Wendy Davis, Leticia Van de Putte and Senfronia Thompson are not lonely outliers. They are the future of Texas.

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