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Home | Tag Archives: Texas Democrats

Tag Archives: Texas Democrats

How Texas Democrats Lost a State Senate Seat Amid Talk of a Blue Wave

Republican Pete Flores’ upset victory in a Democratic-friendly Texas Senate district Tuesday night has spurred GOP jubilation and Democratic soul-searching with less than two months until the November elections.

“All this talk about a ‘blue wave’? Well, the tide is out,” Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick proclaimed at Flores’ election night party in San Antonio.

Flores beat Democrat Pete Gallego, a former U.S. representative, by 6 percentage points in the special election runoff for Senate District 19, where state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, resigned earlier this year after 11 felony convictions. The win made Flores the first Hispanic Republican in the Texas Senate and grew the GOP majority there to 21 members, a key addition as the caucus heads toward November looking to retain its supermajority.

Democrats moved quickly Tuesday night to blame Gov. Greg Abbott for scheduling the special election at a time when turnout was expected to be low and would favor his party. But they were nonetheless demoralized Wednesday, trying to figure out how they let a valuable seat flip in a district where Uresti repeatedly won re-election by double digits and that Hillary Clinton carried by 12 in 2016.

Gallego’s campaign said that at the end of the day, it was not able motivate its voters as much as Flores did.

“Our investment was in the grassroots and trying to increase the number of Democratic voters in the densest precincts where people hadn’t turned out and trying to cut through the clutter of all the other campaigns going on targeting November … and it proved to be a lot more difficult to get people tuned in to the fact that an incredibly important race was happening today,” Gallego strategist Christian Archer said.

The relative enthusiasm for Flores was evident in the district’s biggest Republican counties — places like Medina County, where he routed Gallego with 80 percent of the vote. Flores’ margins in the red counties were more than enough to offset Gallego’s advantage in vote-rich Bexar County, which gave Gallego a modest 54 percent of the vote.

Flores’ campaign said it benefited from a number of factors throughout the race, starting with the deep Democratic divide that unfolded as Gallego battled state Rep. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, ahead of the eight-way July 31 special election. Gutierrez, who won Bexar County then, never endorsed Gallego in the runoff, and on Wednesday, the two sides had different accounts of how much of an effort, if any, Gallego made to court Gutierrez.

But Flores also had to prove himself within his own party and emerge as the consensus candidate on July 31, when two other, lesser-known Republicans were on the ballot. Flores pulled that off with just days to spare, earning late endorsements from a who’s who of top Texas Republicans, starting with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and then Patrick, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Abbott.

“We knew that if we could get in the runoff, we’d have additional help because the stakes would be clear … and the value of winning would be obvious,” said Matt Mackowiak, Flores’ consultant.

The 11th-hour endorsements helped propel Flores from third place in early voting to first place in Election Day ballots — and a decisive first overall on July 31. Still, Democrats insisted the district remained bright blue, noting their four candidates combined for 59 percent of the vote and the three Republicans netted 40 percent. In a statement on Election Night, Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said it was clear “working Texans are overwhelmingly choosing Democrats to represent their interests.”

In the runoff, the high-ranking support proved vital — especially that of Patrick, who tapped his campaign account to the tune of nearly $175,000 to help Flores with mail, polling and ads. Gallego had some deep-pocketed donors, but nothing like the campaign machinery that Flores was able to import with Patrick’s aid.

There was an also a united front of political action committees assisting Flores, including groups like the Associated Republicans of Texas and Empower Texans — two outfits that were bitterly at odds during the primaries and runoffs earlier this year. The anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life got involved especially early, running digital ads that sought to disqualify Gallego among socially conservative Hispanic voters in the district.

One of the biggest differences between the two campaigns was media spending. Flores got a significant head start on radio ads — beating Gallego to the airwaves by at least a week. And Flores went on TV, while Gallego never did. Archer defended that decision Wednesday, saying he did not view it as an effective use of money in a district like SD-19 compared to, for example, investing in an aggressive field program.

In their ads and elsewhere, the campaigns took divergent approaches to messaging. Gallego put forward a largely positive pitch about being the safe, reliable choice — “I Trust Pete” was the slogan — while Flores was not afraid to hammer attacks, airing radio and TV ads seeking to tie Gallego to Democratic congressional leader Nancy Pelosi.

Gallego’s loss was not for a lack of money. While he depleted his campaign funds clashing with Gutierrez, he was able to replenish considerably and had much more cash on hand — $153,000 — than Flores did eight days out. That figure left some political observers wondering Tuesday night if he had left serious money unspent, but Archer said the campaign burned through the cash it had — as well as that which it raised — in the final days, ending the race with less than $15,000 in the bank.

The early voting period, which was from Sept. 10-14, held encouraging signs for Flores. Most of the biggest increases in early vote turnout over total turnout for the July 31 election occurred in counties where Flores had bested Gallego, according to an analysis by the website Texas Election Source.

At the end of the day, the race saw the largest percentage increase in turnout from a special election to a special election runoff in four years, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Still, Democrats pointed the finger at Abbott for calling the special election at a time that guaranteed there would be much lower overall turnout than if he had placed it on the November ballot. In an election night statement, Hinojosa, the state Democratic Party chairman, said Abbott “stole an election, plain and simple … denying the people of West Texas and the U.S. Mexico border representation that shares their values.”

Abbott spokesman John Wittman fired back in a statement: “When it comes to stealing things in SD 19, I’d expect that Texas Democrats, under the leadership of convicted felon state senator Carlos Uresti, know what they are talking about. However, the reason this was the biggest increase in turnout between a runoff and a special election in four years was because Col. Flores, whose life has been dedicated to law enforcement, focused on issues that matter to Texans.”

With Flores, there are now 21 Senate Republicans, giving the party breathing room as it approaches the November elections with as many as three GOP seats in play. That means Republicans can lose two of those seats and still have the 19 members required to bring legislation to the floor without Democratic support.

The value of the SD-19 pickup was not lost on the caucus, which issued a first-of-its-kind unanimous endorsement of Flores about two weeks into the runoff.

“The Republican caucus has never had 21 members until today, so that’s a two-thirds majority,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, who chairs the caucus. “That’s a huge advantage on passing legislation like property tax reform.”

Some Republicans also saw Tuesday night as a harbinger for the 23rd Congressional District, a perennial swing district that Gallego once represented in Congress and that overlaps much of SD-19. U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, is fighting for re-election there in November against Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, who was on hand Tuesday night as Gallego addressed his supporters.

“The Resistance collided with reality tonight in SD19,” Jack Pandol, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a statement. “Nobody should be more worried about this Republican blowout than liberal Gina Ortiz Jones, whose chances in TX-23 are growing dimmer by the day.”

Jones’ campaign echoed other Democrats in saying Abbott scheduled the special election “to beat what’s coming in November” — and dismissed the notion her chances had decreased.

“We’re seeing it on the ground every day on our campaign—voters are excited about opportunity, excited about change and excited to vote for Gina on November 6,” Jones spokeswoman Noelle Rosellini said in a statement.

Disclosure: The Texas Secretary of State’s Office has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Analysis: Texas Democratic Candidates Find Friendly Donors in Hostile Congressional Districts

Democratic challengers outraised Republican congressional incumbents in seven races in Texas during the second quarter of the year. But in most of those races — including the statewide contest for U.S. Senate — recent election history favors the Republicans. Sometimes, it favors them by a wide margin.

Money helps. A challenger to an incumbent has to become known to voters to have a chance, and some sort of advertising — door hangers, radio and TV advertising, social media ads — is a big part of that. An expensive part.

So don’t discount the importance of money, or the boost that a challenger gets by out-raising a better-known incumbent. But don’t ignore the political atmosphere, either. These are, for the most part, Republican districts.

Seven Republican incumbents in the Texas congressional delegation were outraised by their Democratic challengers in the second quarter of 2018: U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Reps. John Carter of Round Rock, John Culberson of Houston, Will Hurd of Helotes, Pete Olson of Sugar Land, Pete Sessions of Dallas and Roger Williams of Austin. They were outdone by some Democratic names that, for now, are a little less well known: Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, MJ Hegar of Round Rock, Lizzie Pannill Fletcher of Houston, Gina Ortiz Jones of San Antonio, Sri Preston Kulkarni of Houston, Colin Allred of Dallas and Julie Oliver of Austin.

Cruz’s race against O’Rourke is this year’s marquee event. It’s the top race on the ballot, and the contest for governor that might contend with it for public attention looks considerably less competitive.

Cruz has run only one statewide general election —for Senate in 2012 — but was on the presidential ballot in 2016 before losing the Republican nomination to Donald Trump. He’s better known than all but a handful of Texas Republicans — a significant advantage over the Democrat — but he has also raised less money. That’s got people who don’t usually pay attention to these things paying attention; in a Texas where Republicans regularly beat Democrats by double-digit margins, recent polls have this contest in single digits.

The question being answered in November is a biennial one: Can a Democrat beat a Republican in a statewide race in Texas? For more than 20 years, the answer has been a consistent “no.” But the financial results to date — the candidate nicknamed Beto has outraised the candidate nicknamed Ted in all but one of the reports filed so far — has made “maybe” one of the possible answers.

Democrats in Texas do better in years when presidential races are on the ballot. Turnout is heavier — those national contests are more interesting to more people — and the margins tighten in statewide races. The average Republican margin of victory in 2014 — the last gubernatorial year — was 22.4 percentage points. In 2016, it was a smaller but still substantial 14.1 percentage points.

In the six congressional districts where Democrats outshone Republicans in second-quarter fundraising, only one — the 23rd — has been competitive in recent elections. Hurd won by a hair (1.3 percentage points) in 2016 after successfully challenging a Democratic incumbent two years earlier in an election he won by a relative landslide of 2.1 percentage points. He’ll face Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones in November.

Sessions didn’t have a Democratic opponent two years ago; in 2014, he finished 26 percentage points ahead of the Democratic candidate.

The other four seats are — at least in recent elections — testaments to a very effectively drawn political map: Each of the incumbents won easily in 2016: Culberson by 12 percentage points, Williams by 20, Olsen by 19 and Carter by 21.

Trump’s finish in some of those districts is encouraging to Democrats. He lost to Hillary Clinton in Culberson’s Houston district, in Hurd’s border district and in Sessions’ Dallas district. His political misfortunes weren’t enough to sink the people right behind him on the ballot, however, and he won’t be at the top of the ticket this year, anyhow.

Instead, the congressional candidates from both major parties will be watching the U.S. Senate race between Cruz and O’Rourke, hoping one of the two candidates directly above them on the ballot gets voters going in their direction.

Fundraising in these races during this most recent quarter went to the Democrats. Mark that as a hurdle overcome.

November is the bigger obstacle.

Author: ROSS RAMSEY – The Texas Tribune

Analysis: Why Texas Republicans Hope 2018 Won’t be Like 1990

Unpopular presidents regularly get their parties clobbered in mid-term elections, but Texas Republicans have a couple of layers of political insulation. Donald Trump is still popular with the party’s voters, and Texas Democrats would have to have an unusually strong year to win big even if there’s a Trump slump in 2018.

When Texas Republicans won the last round of state elections in 2014, the margins of victory were almost as important as the victories themselves.

In contested statewide races, the average Republican candidate finished 13 percentage points ahead of the average Democrat.

To win in an environment like that, a Democrat would have to outperform the rest of his or her ticket by a huge margin.

Of course, some Democrats won, but not statewide and not in districts that performed like the rest of the state. Those who won did so in districts drawn to favor Democrats, or more accurately, in districts where Republicans couldn’t legally configure the maps to favor their own candidates.

There are a number of congressional and legislative districts in Texas where Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in 2016. National apparatchiks from both parties have their eyes on U.S. Reps. John Culberson of Houston, Will Hurd of Helotes and Pete Sessions of Dallas — Republicans seeking reelection where Trump was weak.

That’s interesting, but so is this: In Culberson’s district in 2014, Republican Greg Abbott beat Democrat Wendy Davis by 21.8 percentage points. The spread in Hurd’s district was 13.8 percent; below the state average of 20.4 percentage points, but still formidable. In Sessions’ district, Abbott beat the Democrat by 15.8 percent.

Texas Democrats and their candidates weren’t completely responsible for that performance; they were running against the political winds in a mid-term election during the Obama administration. If you flip the logic, lots of Democrats are hoping Trump will do for Republican contestants what Obama did for his.

In that sense, 2018 potentially provides a clean test of where the parties stand. Texas voted against Obama twice, and thumped his side in both of his midterm elections. And Texas was relatively kind to George W. Bush, the Texas president who preceded him.

Trump’s a break from all of that. Still, Texas Democrats have a lot to overcome, and doing that will require locating a standard-bearer to run well enough against the Republicans to attract voters to the polls.

What they’re hoping for is something like the 1990 election, which was a big break for Republicans, who pinned their hopes that year on Midland oilman Clayton Williams Jr. He lost, famously, to Democrat Ann Richards. But U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm won reelection and the Williams-Richards race was close enough to get a couple of down-ballot Republicans — Kay Bailey Hutchison and Rick Perry— past their Democratic rivals.

Those two wins — Hutchison as state treasurer and Perry as agriculture commissioner — were key to the eventual Republican takeover of Texas state government.

The loudest part of the election was the governor’s race, but the wins came elsewhere on the ballot.

Texas Democrats haven’t been able to put that formula together. They’ve certainly tried, running South Texas oilman Tony Sanchez Jr. against Perry in 2002, former Houston Mayor Bill White against him in 2010 (the year Perry beat Hutchison in a GOP primary) and Davis in 2014. The odd year out was noisy enough, with Perry facing Democrat Chris Bell and independents Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman in 2006.

None of those races got any other statewide Democrats close enough to snag a victory. But this kind of thinking is what has so many eyes on the race for U.S. Senate between incumbent Republican Ted Cruz and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, a congressman from El Paso. It’s the statewide race getting the most attention to date, both inside and outside of Texas. Cruz, after an unsuccessful run for president and an attention-seeking first term in the Senate, is a national figure. He remains popular with Texas Republicans and unpopular with the state’s Democrats — a perfect figurehead for a big political race.

O’Rourke has never run statewide, but has put together a voter-charming road-trip candidacy that has generated a lot of attention, news coverage and small donations to his campaign. It’s got a lot in common with the campaign Cruz ran as an upstart candidate in 2012.

It’ll be interesting and, perhaps, competitive. Maybe the president’s ratings will have an effect. And the rest of the people on this year’s ballot — no matter their party — will have something more than a sporting interest in the outcome.

The other Republicans on the ticket don’t want to end up like Jim Hightower or Nikki Van Hightower, the losers in those two 1990 upsets.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author: ROSS RAMSEY – The Texas Tribune

On First Day of Early Voting in Texas Primaries, Turnout Looks Up – Especially Among Democrats

On Tuesday, more Democrats cast primary ballots than Republicans on the first day of early voting in the 15 Texas counties with the most registered voters. That hasn’t happened since 2008.

Fifty-four percent of the day’s 51,249 in-person votes in those counties Tuesday were cast in the Democratic primaries, according to the Texas secretary of state. In 2014, that number was slightly less than half, and in 2010, Democrats represented just 45 percent of first-day voters.

Meanwhile, the total combined first-day turnout in those counties was up by more than 10,000 compared to the last two mid-term elections.

It’s hard to know what is responsible for those numbers — or whether the trends will continue through primary election day. The growth in first-day turnout comes during a time of high motivation among Democrats across the country. But there aren’t high-profile Republican primaries for governor or U.S. Senate in Texas this year.

Also, the state’s urban centers tend to lean more Democratic, so it’s unclear whether the numbers are similar in more rural counties.

Strong primary turnout for one party doesn’t necessarily replicate itself in a general election. The last time Democratic voters outnumbered Republicans on first-day voting in primaries was 2008 during a heated presidential primary between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Republicans still swept the state that year.

Still, some of Tuesday’s numbers have Democrats excited.

In 2010, 15,523 Democrats in the top 15 counties voted on the primary’s first day of early voting. This year, that figure has nearly doubled, to 28,475. Republican first-day turnout increased over the same period, but only by about 4,000 voters.

In Harris County, home of Houston, Democratic turnout was up 200 percent from 2014, while Republican turnout increased by 25 percent. And in Dallas County, Democratic first-day turnout grew 56 percent from 2014 to 2018, while Republican first-day turnout shrunk 19 percent.

Texas provides for nearly two full weeks of early voting before the state’s official primary election day March 6. In 2014, nearly 600,000 total votes were cast in early voting.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author: EMMA PLATOFF – The Texas Tribune

UT/TT Poll: A new President, Popular with Texas Republicans

Texas Republicans have rallied strongly around President Donald Trump in the first weeks of his administration. Texas Democrats had just as strong a reaction — in the other direction.

In his second month in office, President Donald Trump is getting overwhelmingly good grades on his job performance from the state’s Republicans, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Trump is popular enough to cast positive light on Russian President Vladimir Putin, a world figure who turns out to be markedly more unpopular with Texas Democrats than with Texas Republicans.

Overall, 46 percent of Texans approve of the job Trump been doing and 44 percent disapprove. But Republicans are crazy about him: 81 percent approve of Trump’s work so far, and only 10 percent disapprove. Moreover, 60 percent of Republicans said they “strongly” approve; another 21 percent approve “somewhat” of the president.

Emily Albracht | The Texas Tribune
Emily Albracht | The Texas Tribune

“He looks good,” said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll. “Republicans as a group were tentative in their embrace of Donald Trump during the election campaign. They are hugging him now. His favorability rating among Texas Republicans increased 21 points between October and February.”

Likewise, 81 percent of Texas Republicans have a favorable opinion of Trump, while 12 percent have an unfavorable impression of the president.

As you might expect, Texas Democrats fiercely disagree in what amounts to an almost equal but opposite reaction to the Republicans: 83 percent of Texas Democrats disapprove of the job Trump has done as president, 76 percent of them “strongly.” And 85 percent of Democrats said they have an unfavorable opinion of the new chief executive.

“If you’re a Republican, even if you don’t like the guy, well, there’s the Supreme Court and the repudiation of a bunch of smug ideologues [on the left]; this isn’t the worst thing in the world,” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a professor at UT-Austin. “The reaction of the left — the resistance — probably reinforces that.”

Independents were split almost evenly on both questions in the poll, with 39 percent approving and 36 disapproving of the job Trump is doing; 42 percent saying they have a favorable impression of the president, while 45 percent have an unfavorable one.

Overall, 45 percent of Texans have a favorable impression of Trump and 46 percent have an unfavorable one.

TT-RossChart-poll.004
Emily Albracht | The Texas Tribune

Putin seems to be benefiting from Trump’s attention and from the American president’s popularity.

“On the surface, the topline number looks like you would expect: Vladimir Putin is not a popular figure with Texans,” Henson said. “But the details testify to the powerful influence of presidential signaling on his partisans. The president of Russia’s negatives are 28 points higher among Democrats than they are among Republicans, full stop.”

Overall, Putin is clearly unpopular, but while only 10 percent of Texans have a favorable impression of the Russian president and 62 percent have an unfavorable view of him, the disdain is much stronger among Democrats than Republicans. While 79 percent of Democrats have unfavorable opinions of Putin, 51 percent of Republicans do — a 28-percentage-point difference of opinion. Few Texans have favorable opinions of Putin — 7 percent of Democrats and 14 percent of Republicans — but while 7 percent of Democrats had neutral view of the Russian, more than a quarter of Republicans said they had neither positive nor negative opinions of him.

“It’s not like they’re loving Putin,” Shaw said. “You’re basically getting 50 percent of Republicans saying, ‘No, the guy is a thug.’ Which means 50 percent are saying he’s not a thug.

“This speaks to the Trump halo effect,” he added. “Putin seems to prefer Trump, and I prefer Trump, therefore Putin can’t be all bad. But the notion that there’s an openness to cozy up to Russia, I don’t think so.”

Emily Albracht | The Texas Tribune
Emily Albracht | The Texas Tribune

Texans’ views of Vice President Mike Pence more or less mirror their opinions of Trump: 42 percent view him favorably, 40 percent unfavorably. Among Republicans, 79 percent have favorable views of Pence. Among Democrats, 74 percent have unfavorable views of him. Independents were more negative than positive about the Veep: 29 percent have favorable views, while 44 percent said their opinions were negative.

About half of the respondents said Donald Trump does not have the temperament to be president and do not think he is honest and trustworthy. That’s an improvement over what they said in the October 2016 UT/TT Poll, when only a third of Texans said he was honest, trustworthy and had the temperament to be the country’s top elected official.

“I don’t think that people’s impression of Donald Trump has changed all that much,” Henson said. “But these numbers are a testament to the role of the president as a figurehead and the power of partisanship.”

Emily Albracht | The Texas Tribune
Emily Albracht | The Texas Tribune

Again, the Republicans and Democrats among the respondents acted as political reciprocals: 68 percent of Republicans think Trump’s got the temperament for the job and 84 percent of Democrats think he does not. Among Republicans, 70 percent said Trump is honest and trustworthy; only 6 percent of Democrats agree.

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from Feb. 3 to Feb. 10 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points. Numbers in charts might not add up to 100 percent because of rounding.

This is one of several stories on the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. Also today: Texans on the economy and the direction of the country and state. Coming Tuesday: Texans’ views on immigration, cultural issues and health care.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here

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Author:  ROSS RAMSEY – The Texas Tribune

Texas Democrats Begin to Plot out Strategy for 2018

In late January, a high-profile forum for candidates vying to be the next Democratic National Committee chair brought hordes of Democrats to Houston ready to plot the party’s national future. But for Texans in the party, the more consequential meeting may have occurred the day before in Austin.

A tight-knit group of Texas Democratic leaders traveled to the state capital that day to begin preliminary conversations about the 2018 midterm races.

According to over a dozen interviews with Texas Democratic insiders and national Democrats with ties to the state, the meeting included some of the party’s most well-known figures from Texas including former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, his twin brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, Texas Democratic Party Finance Chairman Mike Collier, former state Sen. Wendy Davis, state Democratic Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, former Houston Mayor Annise Parker and state Reps. Rafael Anchia of Dallas and Chris Turner of Grand Prairie.

Their main agenda: mapping out a strategy for the 2018 midterm elections.

The expectations in the room were not soaring but were cautiously hopeful. That optimism was mostly rooted around one person: President Donald Trump.

“I think 2018 will be the most favorable environment Texas Democrats have had in a midterm election in well over a decade,” said Turner, who declined to comment on the meeting. “I think when you look at the actions of the Trump administration just three weeks in, you’re seeing a president with historically low approval ratings in what should be a honeymoon period, and no indication that’s going to change given his divisive actions.”

Trump’s presidency brings together a confluence of several factors that Democrats hope will get candidates over the line: a stronger-than-past Texas Democratic performance last November in urban centers, the traditional backlash against a sitting president in the midterms and an increasingly expected added drag that Trump will create for Republicans. 

The Democratic calculation is that in this unpredictable and angry climate, a full 2018 slate could produce a surprising win or two statewide or down-ballot. 

At the Jan. 27 gathering in Austin, attendees strategized how to make inroads in the state at any level, from municipal races up to the ultimate prize, taking down U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who will be up for re-election for the first time next year. 

That meeting roster largely reflects a new generation of Texas Democrats who only know life as part of a minority party that often functions as an afterthought in state politics. A Democrat has not won statewide office in Texas since 1994.

Despite attendees’ omerta-esque unwillingness to comment on the meeting, what can be gleaned is that the powwow pulled together politicians from disparate regions who, in at least one case, only a few months ago had not even heard of some of the people in the room. 

Sources say no decisions were made on whom should run in which slot, nor was that widely discussed. Instead, the emphasis was on ensuring that state leaders would work together to present the strongest slate possible. 

And also unlike past cycles, the Democratic planning this term centers on the political climate, rather than on a singularly compelling personality running for governor. 

That the meeting happened at the outset of the state’s legislative session was also no coincidence. Democrats sense an opportunity to win over some of the business community, particularly as the “bathroom bill” touted by Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick continues to percolate at the state Capitol and as immigration, and particularly Trump’s proposals for a border wall and Mexican tariffs, roil national politics.

Parker did emphasize to the Tribune that the conversations about 2018 are happening throughout the state. 

“It’s never going to be about what a small group of people said or do in a room,” she said. “It’s about what the people of Texas tell us what they need. Many of us have committed to going out and having those conversations.”

The nascent battle plan is to charge the hill.  

The assumption is that only a few candidates will break through and lay the foundation for the future. But candidates need to be in place to help the collective whole, the thinking goes. 

Some Democratic insiders pointed to the 1990 election, which, at first blush, was just another year of Texas Democrats continuing their ancestral dominance of the state’s politics. 

But two relatively unknown GOP candidates, Rick Perry and Kay Bailey Hutchison, won lower-level statewide races: agriculture commissioner and treasurer, respectively. Those two Republicans helped usher in the full GOP sweep that was to come later in the decade. 

In that vein, the gubernatorial race is unlikely to take center stage.  

Since the Jan. 27 meeting, Julian Castro, the most-speculated Democratic contender to take on Gov. Greg Abbotthas made clear he is unlikely to run statewide in 2018. He all but closed the door on that possibility in an early morning tweet Thursday

Instead, the most frequently floated gubernatorial candidate is Collier, a 2014 state comptroller candidate. Collier is relatively unknown statewide but impressed several Democrats in that previous run. He has also been suggested as a possible contender to run for lieutenant governor.

It’s the U.S. Senate race that is quickly becoming the center of the Democratic world, in part because of the incumbent, Cruz, and because of the two Democratic up-and-comers mulling runs: O’Rourke and Joaquin Castro. 

Both men are in the same 2012 congressional class and are considered friendly with each other. 

Democrats in the state and in Congress are closely watching how the two men maneuver around a possible primary race against each other, but the betting money is that O’Rourke is more likely to follow through with a run.

The possible independent candidacy of Texas-based political operative Matthew Dowd only increases the intrigue surrounding the Senate seat. 

Party insiders are also coveting two other statewide offices: attorney general and agriculture commissioner. The two Republican incumbents, Ken Paxton and Sid Miller, respectively, have faced a series of political struggles that could complicate their re-election campaigns.

”I think you’ll see with a lot of the troubles that Ken Paxton and Sid Miller have found themselves in over the last couple years, I think you’re going to see considerable interest in those seats as well,” Turner said. 

But no Democratic challengers emerged among these interviews. 

Todd Smith, Miller’s political consultant, told the Tribune that the Miller campaign “had no concern about a Democratic opponent in the general election.” 

“We feel very confident about where we are in a re-election planning and our position in strength in the race, and we welcome all comers: Republican, Democratic and independent, and we have a great story to tell and look forward to telling the people of Texas that story,” Smith said. 

The House Democratic campaign arm recently announced it was eyeing three GOP-held congressional districts: U.S. Rep. John Culberson‘s 7th District, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd‘s 23rd District and U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions‘ 32nd District. Only the appearance of Hurd’s district on the list was unexpected.

Democrats did not spend money in either Culberson’s or Sessions’ districts in recent cycles, but presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s performance there in 2016 encouraged the party to take a second look. Dallas school board member Miguel Solis recently told the Tribune he was considering a challenge to Sessions.

One prominent Texas Democrat who is not outwardly entertaining a 2018 run is Davis, as observers detect little interest from her. However, she is very much in the strategic mix, with sources saying she is positioning herself as a font of advice after her brutal 2014 gubernatorial run. 

To be sure, there is nothing new about this planning. 

Back in July, when most Democrats assumed Hillary Clinton would win the presidency, Texans at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia offhandedly floated the notion that a Trump presidency would present a morbid opportunity for Texas Democrats to do well amid a 2018 backlash. 

But now a Trump administration is a reality and thousands of Democrats are marching in the streets across the state. And more than once, in conversations with the Tribune, Democrats noted that the Trump-Clinton margin in Texas in November – 9 percentage points – was nearly as narrow as that of perennial battleground Ohio. 

And yet, there’s a clear-eyed understanding of just how difficult any of this will be.

Any Democratic candidate is likely to begin a statewide race with a double-digit deficit to a Republican incumbent. The Congressional and state legislative maps were drawn years ago stacked in favor of the GOP with few competitive seats. 

The way to narrow those gaps is typically to swamp voters with television advertising, which in Texas is prohibitively expensive. 

Fundraising remains a constant struggle for state Democrats, and there will be no shortage of Republican money. Abbott alone recently reported a $34.4 million war chest. And while Cruz had an unsteady landing after his presidential campaign, he was a money magnet as a candidate. 

And there is little optimism that the national Democratic campaign arms for gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races will be inclined to invest in the state. 

In effect, these Texas Democrats assume they are on their own.

Republican pollster Chris Perkins said there is some semblance of logic to the Democratic mindset but remains dubious that the opposition will make an effective case to voters.

“I can see the Democrats’ argument for optimism, based on national historical trends — but this is Texas,” he said. “We’re a conservative state and the Democrats’ most recent rhetoric suggests that they will once again run hard to the left and alienate independent-leaning voters.”

Still, Parker, the former Houston mayor, told the Tribune she sees more value to this cycle than just wins and losses. 

“I’m really excited as I interact with Democrats around the state, how many young electeds are ready to move up in the leadership,” she said. “There’s a lot of young Turks out there who are planning their future.” 

Read more: 

An earlier version of this story misidentified U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions’ congressional district.

Authors:  ABBY LIVINGSTON AND PATRICK SVITEK

Texas Democrats Aim to Show a United Front at National Convention

After a tumultuous Republican National Convention, Texas Democrats are heading to Philadelphia anticipating relative unity — relative being the key word — as they formally nominate Hillary Clinton for president.

There are still some raw emotions among supporters of Bernie Sanders, and those feelings were heightened recently as leaked emails revealed that the Democratic National Committee was less than neutral in the nominating process. The turmoil was compounded Sunday evening, when DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultzannounced she would resign at the end of the week.

On the whole, however, Texas Democrats are not expecting anything like what happened in Cleveland, where Republican National Convention events showed disunity over the party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump. Those events included a controversial speech by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who pointedly declined to offer any support for Trump, his former bitter rival in the race for the White House.

“I don’t expect to see much discord,” said Ed Espinoza, executive director of the liberal group Progress Texas. “I think the email situation could drive some consternation with the Bernie folks, and that’s understandable. But I don’t think it’s going to be anything like what we saw in Cleveland because I’ve never seen anything like what we saw in Cleveland.”

Clinton, the former secretary of state, easily won the March 1 primary in Texas, meaning the overwhelmingly majority of Texas delegates are aligned with her. Just about every elected official from the state who is attending the convention is a Clinton supporter.

That is not to say Democrats will not be faced with their own questions about unity in Philadelphia. The thousands of leaked emails, which came out Friday, show DNC staffers favoring Clinton over Sanders throughout the primaries, confirming Sanders supporters’ suspicions that the national party was working against them.

“When people find out something like this, it really undermines the integrity of the Democratic Party as a whole,” said Jacob Limon, who served as Sanders’ Texas state director. “When you see something like that, it just undermines the voters’ beliefs, and it gives fuel to the Bernie folks who’ve said, ‘We’ve been getting a raw deal ever since.’ It really adds to that narrative.”

Limon was among the Sanders backers from Texas working in recent days on the Rules Committee to change the nominating process after a primary season in which they viewed the system as rigged against their candidates. The Sanders and Clinton campaigns reached an agreement Saturday to set up a “unity commission” that could recommend, among other things, reducing the role of superdelegates. Critics say the process is undemocratic.

Some talk of the Texas delegation will undoubtedly center on the Castro brothers, long regarded as rising stars in Democratic politics. U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, is scheduled to address the full convention. Both he and his brother, U.S. Housing SecretaryJulián Castro, are set to speak at daily breakfasts with Texas delegates. Also slated to speak at the Democratic National Convention is U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston.

Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, was considered by Clinton to be her running mate, though she ultimately settled on U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia. Texas Democrats greeted the decision with disappointment but offered warm words for Kaine, citing in particular the attention he paid to Texas while DNC chair from 2009-11. 

“We wanted to see a Hispanic on the ticket because we thought he was going to engage and turn out Hispanics like we never have before,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said, nonetheless praising Kaine’s connection with Latinos in America. “He understands the Hispanic community, and he understands how important it is to engage that community.”

The Castros were again part of the national political conversation Sunday as potential candidates to permanently succeed Wasserman Schultz. DNC Vice Chairwoman Donna Brazile has been tapped to serve as interim chairwoman

“In our humble opinion, Texas Democrats believe that both Julián and Joaquin Castro have what it takes to pick up the reins and move the party forward,” Hinojosa said in a statement. “It would be remarkable to have the first Hispanic Chair of the Democratic National Committee.”

While there has not been as much attention paid to Democrats skipping Philadelphia as there was to Republicans passing on Cleveland, at least one prominent Texas Democrat is staying home: Pete Gallego. The former U.S. representative from Alpine is running to take his seat back from Will Hurd, a San Antonio Republican who is branding Gallego as a rubber stamp for Clinton, in one of the most closely watched races across the country.

Author:   – The Texas Tribune

Platforms Reveal Texas Republicans, Democrats Actually Agree on Stuff

Though they disagree on nearly every major policy issue, from education funding to abortion to immigration, Texas Republicans and Democrats apparently have common ground on a few things, according to the platforms approved at recent state conventions.

Both state parties approve new platforms every two years, covering dozens of issues. Republicans put their platform together in May in Dallas. Democrats followed suit last week in San Antonio.

The platforms provide an opportunity for activists in both parties to outline the positions they expect their candidates and elected officials to hold, though there’s always some that choose to ignore some of their party’s positions.

While much of the two parties’ platforms is irreconcilable, there are a handful of policy areas where Republicans and Democrats appear to come together.

Medical Marijuana

In nearly identical language, both parties ask the state Legislature “to improve the 2015 Compassionate Use Act to allow doctors to determine the appropriate use of cannabis” to patients. The law, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott last year, legalized the sale of oils containing CBD, a non-euphoric component of marijuana, for the treatment of certain medical conditions. Supporters of medical marijuana are expected to lobby the Texas Legislature to expand the law next year.

The addition of the plank in the GOP platform represents a significant shift for the party that has long opposed any marijuana decriminalization efforts, medicinal or otherwise. The Texas Democratic Party’s platform had previously advocated for decriminalization of marijuana, but the reference to the Compassionate Use Act is new.

READ MORE Abbott Legalizes Cannabis Oil for Epilepsy Patients

Toll Roads

Both parties also express concern about toll roads in Texas, suggesting the funding of such roads should be made clearer to the public.

“We oppose the use of taxpayer money to subsidize, guarantee, prop-up, or bail out any toll projects, whether public or private, and we call upon both state and federal lawmakers to adequately fund our highways without hidden taxes, tolls, or raiding emergency funds,” the GOP platform reads.

Democrats, similarly, call for “legislation to demand transparency in how toll roads are financed and how funds are managed.”

The GOP platform also singles out its opposition of “public-private partnerships, specifically regarding toll projects.” The Democrats highlight concerns with certain toll road deals, advocating against “foreign-owned U.S. toll roads that require Americans to contribute to the balance-of-trade deficit when they travel on local roads.”

Responding to growing public resentment of the state’s reliance on tolls, state lawmakers last year ordered the Texas Department of Transportation to to review the state’s toll road network and produce a plan detailing what the state would have to do to remove them. TxDOT is expected to release the report in September.

Trans-Pacific Partnership

Although their platforms suggest the parties stand on opposite sides of free trade – with Democrats in opposition and Republicans in support – both parties are opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal between the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim countries that is endorsed by the Obama administration but currently stalled in Congress.

In their platform, the Texas Democrats compare the TPP to the North American Free Trade Agreement passed in the 1990s, decrying the “NAFTA-style trade agreement” and urging that similar arrangements “must be opposed.”

The Texas GOP’s platform goes further, calling not only for opposition to the TPP but also “immediate withdrawal” from other trade deals, including NAFTA and the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

READ MORE Trade Deal Squeezes Texas Congressional Democrats

Campaign Finance

There is clear support on both sides of the aisle for the “full disclosure” of some campaign funding sources.

The Texas GOP specifically calls for the disclosure of the “amounts and sources” of campaign contributions, “whether contributed by individuals, political action committees or other entities.”

The state Democratic platform urges disclosure of funding sources for political advertisements, “including the largest major funders of all political television, radio, print, slate mailer, and online advertising for ballot measures, independent expenditures, and issue advocacy.”

Space Exploration

While NASA’s future and funding remains a subject of debate in Washington, D.C., both parties in Texas identified ambitious aspirations to continue human travel into space and, as the GOP Platform put it, “maintain America’s leadership in space exploration.”

The GOP platform also called upon NASA to develop relationships with citizens and American businesses to further their efforts, while the Democratic platform simply expressed support of the nation’s space program, “including both manned and unmanned flight.”

READ MORE Starstruck: The Fights and Flights Behind the New Texas Space Race

  • REFERENCE MATERIAL
Texas Democratic Party 2016 Platform
PDF (1.3 MB) download
Republican Party of Texas 2016 Platform
PDF (482.2 KB) download

Author:  – The Texas Tribune

Analysis: In Texas, the Loyal Opposition is Dysfunctional

As Texas Democrats prepare for their biennial state convention this week in San Antonio, many questions arise: Are they meeting out of habit, or is there a reason for this gathering? Why is the list of scheduled speakers so provincial? What are they doing to drive turnout and enthusiasm in the 20 weeks between now and Election Day?

The Texas Democratic Party’s convention lands at a moment when the state’s Republicans are feverishly manufacturing topics for the opposition party to talk about, from personal and public legal issues to social media stumbles to plain, old-fashioned operational failures in foster care and student testing programs.

The Republican Party of Texas held its convention last month in Dallas. Attendance was down. The local favorite — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz — had just packed his presidential candidacy in a Tupperware canister in the back of the fridge — hoping it would keep for four years when there will be another race for president.

Gov. Greg Abbott didn’t even say Donald Trump’s name out loud in his speech. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick did, but most other Texas Republicans stayed away.

National candidates are not their only worry. Republicans who’ve been behaving themselves might be wigging out about the escapades of some of their top statewide officials, but they’re not talking about it.

And the Democrats, who ought to be having a hoedown right now, can’t seem to find anyone with sufficient gravitas to make the opposition’s voters hesitate.

The presidential race is different from the state races because it’s competitive. National politics remains hypersensitive to slights and gaffes; Texas politics — especially in general elections — seems numb to those things.

Elsewhere, there’s a Hillary Clinton for every Trump, and the slightest error can put a national figure on the broiler. In Texas, where the partisan competition is almost imaginary, a conservative officeholder can get into all kinds of political trouble without threat from the other party.

Pushback is useful even when it falls short. Trump wasn’t exactly toppled when U.S. Rep.Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, told him to “take your border wall and shove it up your ass.” But it bought people a moment to sort out their thoughts about Trump’s big fence.

That’s something. It’s what checks and balances are meant to do — to freeze things, if only for a second, for a reconsideration of whether an idea or action is really a good idea.

Talking about the troubles of confederates is so repellant to people in the civics business that they prefer ignorance over having to express their own views.

This is not a Republican malady; it’s politics.

Democratic officeholders in the 1980s were pretty damned quiet when Speaker Billy Clayton and Attorney General Jim Mattox were indicted. Both were eventually acquitted, too. Clayton won another term as speaker. Mattox won another term as the state’s top lawyer. Sometimes, these things pass.

In that interim period between full Democratic control of Texas and the full Republican control we have now, there was an oppositionttgfx party making noise at every turn. Ask Democrat Garry Mauro, who as land commissioner was accused of running Bill Clinton’s Texas campaign out of his state offices, or Kay Bailey Hutchison, who was accused of handling too much of what should have been done in her campaign through her office of state treasurer.

Mauro was never indicted. Hutchison was acquitted. But both were scorched by opponents in the other party throughout their ordeals. Mauro, whose party was waning, went on to lose a lopsided 1998 governor’s race against George W. Bush. Hutchison, whose party was waxing, won a special election and then three full terms in the U.S. Senate.

It’s not that the bellowing from their political enemies did them in — it’s that it constrained their behavior. You keep your mitts off the cookie jar when the folks are watching, but what if they’re not around?

Right now, for Republican Texas officeholders, the folks are not around.

That’s why you get the kinds of news you’ve been getting out of Austin.

State funds being used for severance pay, which isn’t supposed to even exist for state employees.

Officeholders taking personal or political trips on the taxpayers’ tab.

Elected officials using their offices to try to silence whistleblowers who complain of political pressure in state business.

Remember your governor’s recent words on Attorney General Ken Paxton — accused of violating criminal and civil securities laws — and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller — accused of using state funds for private travel: “Because I don’t know the facts concerning any of the allegations against either of them, I have no basis to have concern. I think that’s up to the appropriate authorities to be involved with.”

He’d rather say that he doesn’t have a clue than to have to say what he thinks about the clues he does have.

Fair enough. Paxton and Miller could come out like Clayton and Mattox. And Greg Abbott is a team player.

So where’s the other team?

Author:  – The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues

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