Politics & Government

June 28, 2014

Democrats say it’s time to change Texas

Party leaders say the real work begins now that delegates have approved a platform and wrapped up the state convention.

Democrats aren’t happy with the way things are going in Texas.

Several key Republicans, including the state’s top two leaders — Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst — are leaving office next year, and Democrats fear that the next group could be even worse.

“The people in charge are not the good guys,” said U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, who likened Texas to an upside-down version of Dodge City from the TV Western Gunsmoke. “It is men who only care about people who look like them and live like them.

“That’s not the Texas I grew up in.”

But that can change, he told fellow Democrats on the last day of their state convention, if they stand together in November and elect members of their party to statewide office for the first time since 1994.

That goal is within reach, he said, because the party has its most historic slate of candidates, topped by state Sens. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth for governor and Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio for lieutenant governor.

Party members sought to appeal to mainstream Texans on Saturday, re-electing Gilberto Hinojosa as their leader and approving a platform that was in stark contrast to the one that Republicans recently approved.

This month, Texas Republicans meeting in Fort Worth passed a platform that took a harder stance on illegal immigration, supported the open carrying of guns and called for “reparative therapy” to heal gays.

“We live in the year 2014, not 1950,” Hinojosa said. “These folks just don’t get it. Maybe they need reparative therapy to help them.

“Their [planks] are extreme, mean-spirited and border on bigotry.”

Party business

After re-electing Hinojosa for a second term and choosing Fredericka Phillips as vice chairwoman, delegates approved resolutions calling for the full funding of education and support for marriage equality.

And in a voice vote, they unanimously — and loudly — backed a proposal to repeal the voter ID law. Not a person voted against it, although one delegate yelled: “So freaking moot.”

They approved a 62-page platform calling for decriminalizing the use of marijuana and abolishing the death penalty.

The platform calls for universal background checks on firearms sales and “sensible gun control laws” and asks President Barack Obama to approve a moratorium on deporting immigrants who “have meaningful ties to the U.S. and pose little or no harm.”

Several Democratic delegates protested part of the Republican platform, particularly the call for “reparative therapy.” They walked through the convention arena carrying signs that read “#wedontneedfixin.”

Building momentum

Despite the overflowing optimism at the convention, polls show that Davis and Van de Putte lag their Republican opponents, Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick.

Davis brushed off concerns Saturday that she doesn’t have enough time to catch up.

“We have four months left in the race,” she said. “This is the time when people begin to pay attention to the message.

“We are reaching out to so many people who have stayed home in gubernatorial election years,” she said. “I see them fired up, I see them enthusiastic, and most importantly, I see belief. And in these elections, belief is half the battle.”

Former Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, who lost the governor’s race to George W. Bush in 1998, said Democrats can’t let this chance to change the state’s direction slip away.

He said his gubernatorial bid “didn’t work out so well,” and now “the problems are worse than ever.”

‘Broken and corrupt’

U.S. Senate nominee David Alameel suggested one move to help the state: ousting Sen. John Cornyn, the minority whip.

“Our country is on the wrong track because Washington is broken and corrupt,” Alameel told delegates. “Our economy has hollowed out, and I fear the worst is yet to come unless we act fast to turn our country around.

“John Cornyn is a career politician who’s been on our tax dime for 30 years,” he said. “He never had a real job, never had to build a business and never had to meet payroll.”

Alameel said that he built a $50-million-a-year business from the ground up and that he’s ready to make a difference in Washington.

“Fellow Texans, our time has come,” Alameel said. “Establishment politicians like John Cornyn have had their chance and they have run our economy into the ground.

“It’s our turn now.”

A key local race

Longtime neighborhood leader Libby Willis urged Democrats to unify — and support her quest to follow Davis in representing Senate District 10, which includes Fort Worth, Arlington, Mansfield and Colleyville.

Willis faces a tough Republican opponent in November: grassroots activist Konni Burton of Colleyville, who has drawn support from U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and many Tea Party leaders.

“Our work is cut out for us,” she told the crowd. “This race is so crucial.”

The GOP hopes to claim the district to move closer to a supermajority and essentially remove Democrats’ ability to stop any proposal in the Legislature. A long-standing Senate rule calls for two-thirds of the 31-member Senate, or 21 senators, to agree before a bill can reach the floor for debate. Republicans hold 19 seats.

A recent poll of 500 likely voters, by Myers Research & Strategic Services, shows that the race is a dead heat, with Willis trailing Burton 49 percent to 46 percent.

Party rebirth?

As the convention wrapped up, state leaders say this year’s delegates, who brought an enthusiasm generally not seen except in presidential election years, are seeing a rebirth of the state party.

They say the party staff has grown, as has the number of Democratic hopefuls — a coup for a party that has long struggled to find candidates for many races.

“Nov. 4 is going to be a good day for Texas Democrats,” said Will Hailer, executive director of the party. “Folks will be surprised at how well Democrats will perform.

“It’s not going to be easy,” he said. “But I think the message is resonating.”

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