Bud Kennedy

For Texas Democrats, Trump is a gold-plated political gift

A demonstrator holds a sign during a rally to protest Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as he attends a private fundraising event Friday in San Antonio.
A demonstrator holds a sign during a rally to protest Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as he attends a private fundraising event Friday in San Antonio. AP

Texas’ ever-infighting Democrats finally focused Saturday on the giant gift-wrapped present at their door: a Donald Trump Republican ticket.

Not since rape-joking 1990 gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams has a Republican candidate stirred Democrats this way, and Latino Democrats took the state party convention stage Saturday to fear for their civil rights, their future and their children’s future.

After West Texas congressional candidate Pete Gallego’s son, Nick, 10, introduced him, Gallego sternly warned against electing a candidate who calls a 62-year-old federal judge born in Indiana a “Mexican” and smears the children of immigrants: “No one will steal my son’s American dream!”

Beyond the now-customary jokes about Trump’s hair and hands, speakers described him as a serious threat to Texas Latinos’ freedom and to their children’s healthcare and education.

“We must vote — our entire family must vote!” shouted state Sen. José Rodriguez, saying the Texas Legislature is led in part by “Trumpistas.”

Before a speech where he drew loud cheers by calling Trump “an overgrown tick … a bloodsucking parasite,” state Rep. Ramon Romero Jr. of Fort Worth mentioned getting calls and comments from lifelong nonvoters.

“They say, ‘I’ve never voted before, but this guy’s got to go,’ ” Romero said.

Trump anxiety fired up the boisterous crowd of 6,000 or so on the Alamodome floor Saturday even as tension lingered between supporters of presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and challenger Bernie Sanders.

Whenever U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson and other established Democrats tried to talk up Clinton, they were interrupted with “Bernie!” shouts. The spirit for Clinton was also dampened Friday when the hometown host, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, said he is not being vetted as a possible Clinton running mate.

Delegate Celina Vásquez of Fort Worth, elected Friday to represent Texas Latinas on the Democratic National Committee, said Democrats should be more excited for Clinton: “the first female president of the United States of America!”

But fear of Trump and a more nativist Republican Party is driving new voters.

“I worry about my son’s public school education,” said Vásquez, a college history and government instructor who teaches at Tarleton-Fort Worth.

“I worry if my son” — Diego is 8 — “will have the same opportunity as other students for a good education. I wonder if my nieces will have the same opportunity as the boys. And I wonder why we’re still talking about this in 2016.”

Vásquez and Romero were the only Tarrant County Democrats with a prominent role at the convention, although former state Sen. Wendy Davis, formerly of Fort Worth and now of Austin, was cheered when she came onstage to introduce Castro.

In 1990, Williams’ blurted rape joke and the Midland Republican’s acknowledgment that he didn’t have to pay any income taxes that year helped hand a surprise victory to Democrat Ann Richards.

This year, Vásquez, a co-founder of the Texas Latina List women’s political action committee, sees hope for some Tarrant County women to win if Trump’s candidacy leads to a similar Republican collapse. Arlington Democrat Ruby Woolridge has a long-shot bid to upset U.S. Rep. Joe Barton in a district with a growing Democratic population, and Texas House candidates Nancy Bean and Kim Leach might have a chance against Tea Party incumbents.

Tarrant County will get more attention when the party convention returns to Fort Worth in 2018.

Both Vásquez and Romero said that convention is meant to feature a yet-unnamed Senate District 10 challenger to state Sen. Konni Burton of Colleyville.

In 2014, Burton succeeded Davis in the seat representing Fort Worth and Arlington, but the district has swung three times lately between a Democrat and a Republican.

“We let it be known how important Senate District 10 is,” she said, referring to the swing-vote clout Davis held.

Burton defeated 2014 nominee Libby Willis, 53 percent to 45, with a large turnout in southwest Fort Worth and southwest Arlington. But the mostly central-city district has a large minority population and active Democratic groups involving women, veterans, schoolteachers and labor groups.

“I don’t see Fort Worth as this ultraconservative city,” said Romero, the owner of a stonemason supply who is often aligned in the House with a business-friendly moderate faction.

“I think Democrats will see that,” he said: “In Fort Worth, we’re not building walls, we’re opening doors.”

This campaign is now about much more than a wall.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, bud@star-telegram.com, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.