Editorial note: I apologize for this getting out a day late–Wordpress has been absolutely terrible, corrupting over 2500 words of meticulously well-crafted opinions that I put together yesterday. This is my second stab at it. In the meantime, please give me a suggestion of a blogging software that is not completely worthless.
On Saturday, the 2014 Texas Democratic Convention came to a close after a number of productive days. I drove up to Dallas, where it was held, after work on Wednesday and stayed until late afternoon on Saturday. What I found, first and foremost, was a party that had the lights turned back on, one that was significantly more optimistic about the future than it had been in the past. That being said, there were number of things that I truly took exception to, which I will definitely delineate here. But for the most part, the convention was a rousing success.
I was absolutely overjoyed to see the excess of young people there, which felt significantly more numerous than my first convention experience, back in 2012. This could be for a number of reasons, among them that this a gubernatorial election cycle as well as one where refocused attention has been applied on Texas Democrats. The first convention after the formation of Battleground Texas as well as the Wendy Davis filibuster was bound to bring some more young people to the table. Finally, it may be that the last biennium has seen me expand my idea of who a “young person” was, so while a 25 year old might not have sufficed as a contemporary when I was 18, they would at 20.
From UT Democrats, Kirk Watson Campaign Academy, Davis campaign interns, Battleground Texas fellows to Texas Democratic Party staffers, I felt like the convention was literally filled with young people. It was not a rare sight at all to see people obviously younger than me, and my own Senate District (SD17), a ferociously suburban district where the median age is easily in the 50s, boasted over a dozen young people, including a couple who had just graduated High School. My point on all this is that the demographics, just on age alone, continue to work in the Democrats’ favor. Of course, there was racial and ethnic diversity, but that is not a new item at State Democratic Conventions. The young people were, though.
The only serious politics that transpired on Thursday was one last meeting of the State Democratic Executive Committee before new elections were called during the convention to fill it. While most of the SDEC’s acts that day were rather mundane, they did get to some pretty controversial business involving VAN. For those unfamiliar, VAN (Voter Activation Network) is a program run by the Democratic Party and used by Democratic primary candidates in order to ascertain the partisan affiliation of a specific voter.
In case you didn’t know, whether or not you voted, and which primary (if any) you voted in, are both public knowledge. Thus, in a State like Texas where Democratic primary campaigns are very, very specific, it is of great advantage to selectively campaign with certain people, thus not wasting money sending your direct mail to a registered Republican.
This brings us to the SDEC resolution. A number of members, led by former State Representative Glen Maxey (D-Travis County), pushed to disenfranchise certain Democratic primary candidates from VAN. Specifically, those who have voted in the most recent Republican primary or donated at least $1000 to GOP candidates or causes would be excluded.
Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa objected to this proposal because he felt it was detrimental to rural Democrats. Hinojosa explained that, in many smaller, rural counties, the Democratic Party is virtually non-existent, so there is no Democratic primary to vote in. Accordingly, many otherwise very liberal people there would have no choice but to participate in the GOP process if they wished to remain politically active, as it would be tantamount to election.
The SDEC narrowly overruled Hinojosa and adopted the proposal. I agree with the Chairman’s comments, but I thought there was a greater issue at play that no one thought to talk about. As I have said countless times in the past, what type of message are we sending moderate Republicans and Independents if we do not welcome them to our parties. Beggars can’t be choosers, and these are the exact type of people the Party needs to attract in earnest to win elections.
Of course, the inconsistency advanced by the small-minded ideology is noted as well. Wendy Davis, David Alameel, Mike Collier, Jim Hogan, Larry Meyers; the Democratic slate is quite literally filled with former Republicans. I am not being facetious when I say that I truly do not understand the arbitrary standards used by the Austin intelligentsia to determine who gets a pass into the Sapphire City and who is left at its gates. Do you understand?
If, for whatever reason, you want more of my opinions on this controversy, check out the column I penned in this morning’s issue of The Daily Texan!
When it came to the platform, rules, credentials, etc, there were not very many actual surprises. As many will remember from 2012, the platform took a huge step to the left two years ago, endorsing gay marriage and marijuana decriminalization, as well as calling for the abolition of the death penalty. Those three planks still got some press two years later.
Dos Centavos notes that the immigration plank was kind and humanitarian, as opposed to the cruel, Hobbesian planks advanced by the GOP. While they nixed a guest worker program, the Democrats remained steadfastly supportive of comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship. However, one of the interesting new tidbits was a provision calling for the end of the “287g program,” which has been implemented in cities such as Houston. The program calls for law enforcement officials to look into the immigration status of all those arrested –not convicted– within the jurisdiction.
I have always been somewhat disappointed by Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia’s support of this program, given that he is a Democrat. Back when it truly flared up, in 2010, I was working at City Hall. One of the most heated debates I ever had there was on this program. My opinion back then was the same as it is now, and it still points back to my rather laissez-faire view of immigration. Thus, I’m happy that this plank was inserted.
Other new items of note included an unequivocal call to ban on so-called “reparative therapy,” which the GOP endorsed in their own convention. The Republicans have received an astounding amount of bad publicity for this, including from their own Chairman.
However, the biggest item involving the platform that I could find was that the party offered no leadership on the issue of marijuana legalization. At a time when two States have already legalized marijuana (Colorado and Washington), Texas Democrats truly made a mistake of not taking a bold stand on this issue. The sluggish reaction of the old guard is troubling, and eerily reminiscent of all the resistance to gay rights. To me, the biggest issue is that the platform still includes sentences such as “Marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco.”
Marijuana is actually far less dangerous than either of the other drugs. Alcohol directly kills something like 80,000 people a year, while Tobacco kills over 400,000. Marijuana has directly killed ZERO people since time immemorial. As far as hallucinogenics go, it is the safest option out there. Once again, I’m just disappointed with the lack of leadership that was shown on this issue.
Then, of course, there is the mandatory discussion over the Chairman’s race. The astute will surely remember that I did work on the campaign of Hinojosa back in 2012, though I did not work for any candidate this year. Hinojosa, a former Judge from the Rio Grande Valley, was re-elected with over 95% of the vote, winning at least five Senate Districts unanimously, including my home district, SD17!
Texpatriate endorsed Hinojosa for reelection, and for good reason. To borrow a line from Racehorse Haynes, one of my father’s old legal mentors, I would like to plead in the alternative. First, I think that the Texas Democratic Party is on the right track. Second (if I did not think the TDP was on the right track), I do not think that changing the Chairman would have a significant effect. Third (if I did think changing the chairman would have significant effect), I do not think that Hinojosa’s opponent, Rachel Van Os, would be a suitable replacement.
Van Os’ speech was an exercise in “not ready for prime time” if I ever saw one. Woefully unprepared and scarce on specifics, Van Os failed to give me a good reason why Hinojosa did not deserve a second term and she definitely failed in demonstrating why she would be any better.
As unbelievably harsh as I often am on Democrats and the Democratic establishment, individuals often find it surprising that I am such a resolute supporter of leadership, be it TDP Chairman Hinojosa or Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Lane Lewis. As my friend Carl Whitmarsh says about such leadership positions, they are the jobs “that everyone wants, but no one wants to do.”
It is remarkably easy to criticize someone in the leadership positions, and I will be the first to admit that I have criticized those local party leaders countless times, but it is significantly harder to actually change things in a meaningful way. Constructive criticism should never be misinterpreted for a lack of support, and I got the feeling that most delegates agreed with such sentiment.
I tried to find someone –anyone– from the general public who would go on record supporting Van Os, but I was unsuccessful. My friend Perry Dorrell, of Brains & Eggs fame, was a supporter of hers, but I have a policy not to interview other members of the press–it’s too insidery.
The race for Vice-Chair, however, had significantly more sparks. Under a gentleman’s agreements, given the demographics of the current Chair, the Vice-Chair must be an African-American woman. I’m not necessarily sure that I’m comfortable with those types of requirements, but that is a discussion for a later day. Accordingly, the battle was fought at the Black Democrat Caucus, where incumbent Tarsha Hardy –first elected in 2012– would run for a second term.
Challenging her were Fredericka Phillips, a Houstonian, and Terri Hodge, a former State Representative from Dallas. Some may recall that Hodge resigned under scandal in 2010, following allegations of impropriety and bribery. Under a plea deal reached with prosecutors, Hodge accepted a charge of tax evasion and spent one years in prison. After working on a number of campaigns since getting out, she finally threw her hat into electoral politics once again this past weekend. That being said, she got clobbered in the running, coming in a lonely and distant third place.
Phillips was the eventual winner, defeating Hardy by just two votes. Graciously, the two stood on stage together at the Convention and pledged to work with one another for not only a smooth succession of power, but for the betterment of the entire party. The respectful tone of the entire event was truly a sight to see and one that I was proud to witness.
The speeches themselves were a whole other amazing event. Speaking to many people in the know, I was told time and time again that the convention was the first time since the Ann Richards era that all the speakers had so invigorated the crowd for such a long period of time. From the small time-filling speakers to the headliners, the convention hall was FULL and people were on the edge of their seats. That simply did not happen in 2012, and I was told it did not happen in the years before either.
When it came to specific speeches, I thought State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor, and Mike Collier, the Democratic nominee for Comptroller, delivered the best presentations by far. State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic nominee for Governor, and Daivd Alameel, the Democratic nominee for Comptroller, meanwhile, also delivered speeches worthy of examination.
First, Alameel’s speech struck me as good on the writing but a little iffy on the delivery. His speech, more than any other I heard, was literally filled to the brim with one-liners. Alameel, a veteran, lambasted his opponent, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), as a draft-dodger who sought deferment after deferment. That was probably the most intense attack line of the weekend.
However, his delivery is still lacking. Alameel, an Israeli-born immigrant of Lebanese ancestry, still has a very heavy accent. His speeches at the podium seem almost unnatural and somewhat forced. While his intentions are certainly good, I fear that this may not play out very well for him on the stump. The general public does not devote much time to trying to normally comprehend a politicians’ words, but definitely does not do so through a thick accent.
When it came to Davis, meanwhile, I similarly liked her speech but –as usual– was disappointed in the delivery. As I have said many times in the past, Davis is famous for dedication and perseverance, rather than any specific oration abilities. That same point of view was definitely put on display this weekend in Dallas, when she truly poured her heart out in a speech that blasted the “insiders” and “good ol’ boy” culture of Texas, both of which she referenced to slam her opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott.
Mike Collier, moving on, probably had the second best speech of the weekend. Collier, a very pragmatic Democrat who was a Republican as recently as a couple years ago, could easily be my favorite downballot candidate on the Democratic slate. As an aside, there were these funny T-shirts being sold by the TDP that said “Nerd out with Mike Collier.”
Anyways, Collier’s big push the entire campaign has been about taxes. His opponent, State Senator Glenn Hegar (R-Harris County), made some news earlier this year when he said that the property tax should be abolished and replaced with an upped sales tax, probably around 25-30%, to be exact. I wrote a column in The Daily Texan back in April about how absurd this is, and about how spot-on Collier’s reaction has been. Rightly so, Collier has blasted Hegar as a Big Government tax-and-spender, even deriding him with the nickname “The Tax Man” in a recent campaign commercial.
Accordingly, when Collier went on stage and expressed his disgust for taxes, saying that he thought it would be wrong to hike up any margins, I was on the edge of my seat seeing how the crowd would react. There might only be 2000 people in Texas who support a State Income Tax (all of them living in Austin, obviously), but they were probably all in that room at the Dallas Convention Center. But Collier explained how we can provide many of the services this State needs simply be closing loopholes and accurately forecasting revenue. He was very specific and yet casual in his speech, reminding me of a less comely version of Bill Clinton on the stump.
Last, but certainly not least, there is Van de Putte. What can I say that has not already been said in obsequious adulation of the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor. But in all seriousness, she gave hands-down the best delivery of any of the speeches, combined with some darn good speechwritng. More than anyone else, Van de Putte had everyone on the edge of their seats.
Some other miscellaneous points to note included the personalities who went above and beyond to let themselves be known. Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-TX) and State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer (D-Bexar County), colloquially known as TMF, both set up huge booths in the convention hall and the latter even hosted one of the three official afterparties. I thought the vulgarity in his speech was an unforced fumble, but there were far worse things that could have happened.
Also, there was exceedingly spotty wifi at the convention, or you could choose to pay $13 for nominally less awful internet connection. This was rather annoying, but worse things could have happened I suppose. An anonymous source at the Democratic Party told me that it would have cost over $6000 to furnish free wifi at the convention, and it was a charge they simply could not come up with.
Finally, it was truly a pleasure to see fellow TPA Bloggers there, including (but not limited to) Harold Cook (Letters from Texas), Perry Dorrell (Brains & Eggs), Vince Leibowitz (Capitol Annex), Trey McAtee (McBlogger), Ted McLaughlin (Jobsanger) and Karl-Thomas Musselman (Burnt Orange Report). Interacting with these fellow bloggers made the entire trip worth it in and of itself.