Tag Archives: Texas Democrats

Gerrymandering: sometimes it works!

A blog item I just posted reminded me of one of the few regrets I collected while serving as a journalist for nearly four decades.

I remembered a C-SPAN segment I was honored to do regarding the former 19th Congressional District representative, Republican Larry Combest and the sprawling district he was elected to represent in 1984.

My regret? I didn’t resist my boss’s dogged insistence that Amarillo be “made whole” by the Texas Legislature. You see, the Democrats who controlled the 1991 Legislature split Amarillo into two congressional districts during its once-a-decade redistricting ritual. The idea was to peel off Democratic voters in Potter County to protect the Democratic incumbent, Rep. Bill Sarpalius.

The Amarillo Globe-News went ballistic over that arrangement. It hated the notion of the city being split into two districts, represented by a Democrat, the other by a Republican.

Sarpalius got re-elected in 1992. Then something happened in 1994 that no one foresaw when the Legislature gerrymandered the city’s representation: Sarpalius lost to Republican Mac Thornberry, who happened to be Combest’s former chief of staff.

Do you know what that meant? It meant Amarillo would have two members of Congress from the same political party — which now controlled Congress — representing its interests.

I arrived at my post at the Globe-News in January 1995, the same week Thornberry took office.

But still the newspaper insisted on redrawing the lines and putting Amarillo into a single congressional district. I went along with the publisher’s insistence on that change. For the life me as I look back on that time, I must’ve had rocks in my head for not arguing against it.

Thornberry and Combest comprised a sort of one-two punch for Amarillo. Thornberry’s district covered Potter County, Combest’s included Randall County. I get the difficulty when two House members from opposing parties were representing the city. But after the 1994 election that all changed.

Did the two GOP House members always vote the way I preferred? No. That’s not the point. My point is that our city could depend on two elected members of Congress doing our community’s bidding when the moments presented themselves.

Eventually, the Legislature did as we kept insisting they do. They redrew the boundaries and put the 19th District much farther south and put all of Amarillo into the 13th.

Combest resigned from the House in 2002. Thornberry is still in office. I’m trying to assess what actual, tangible benefit Thornberry has brought to the city all these years later.

Well, you know what they say about hindsight. It all looks clearer looking back than it does in the moment.

Is it possible for a huge upset in Texas?

I’ll say it once more with feeling: I want Beto O’Rourke to win the U.S. Senate seat now occupied by Ted Cruz.

O’Rourke is the Democratic challenger to the Republican incumbent.

There. That’s out of the way.

A new poll by Quinnipiac University suggests that this moment, O’Rourke is well within striking distance of shooting down the Cruz Missile. The poll puts Cruz a 47 percent, with O’Rourke at 44 percent; the margin is well within the poll’s 3.6-percent margin of error.

I’m not going to pop the bubbly. It’s only mid-April; the election will occur in November. That’s about a thousand lifetimes, politically speaking.

Texas remains a heavily Republican state. I get that it always remains a huge hurdle for a Democrat to win a statewide race in Texas, something that hasn’t happened since 1994.

With all this talk of a “blue wave” getting ready to sweep over Congress in this year’s midterm election, I am left to wonder if that so-called Democratic wave is going to wash over Texas this fall. If it does, and O’Rourke at least keeps this contest competitive, then it well might portend something quite significant happening around the rest of the country.

To be truthful, it concerns me that Texas has been so maddeningly non-competitive in these statewide races. It really isn’t critical that Texas flip completely from Republican to Democratic leanings. What I would prefer to see is a competitive political climate that keeps the major parties more intellectually honest.

I don’t like one-party dominance. I don’t like it now and I didn’t like it in the Golden Triangle, where Democrats once ruled supreme over the political landscape. That has changed in that corner of the state. I wish it would happen in the Texas Panhandle.

I also am hoping it can happen in at least one highly visible statewide race: Beto vs. the Cruz Missile.

But … yes, I want Beto to win.

More money: Does it equal more votes?

Beto O’Rourke is raising more campaign money than Ted Cruz.

Yes, that is correct, according to the Texas Tribune.

The Democratic challenger for the U.S. Senate is outraising the Republican incumbent … in heavily Republican Texas!

I know what many Texans are thinking about now: This means Beto is going to win the election this fall; Cruz is toast; he’s a goner; he’s done.

Not so fast, dear reader.

I’ll stipulate that I am no fan of The Cruz Missile. He has p***** me off plenty during his six years in the United States Senate. Cruz is the latest version of former Sen. Phil Gramm, of whom it used to be said that “the most dangerous place in Washington is between Gramm and a TV camera.” Replace “Gramm” with “Cruz” and you get the same punchline.

As the Tribune has reported: Over the first 45 days of 2018, O’Rourke raised $2.3 million — almost three times more than Cruz’s $800,000. 

Hurray for O’Rourke, right?

The Tribune also notes: While this is a sign of momentum for O’Rourke, it’s worth considering that this race, in a state as big and expensive as Texas, could cost into the tens of millions. Moreover, Cruz is likely to have a deep well of super PAC money to help him in the fall, while O’Rourke early on in his campaign pledged to not accept corporate political action committee money.

Hey, I want O’Rourke, a congressman from El Paso, to win this fall as much the next guy.

It’s good to remember that Texas Republicans are a dedicated bunch. They go to the mat for their candidates no matter what.

It is true that O’Rourke has spent a lot of time at town halls, talking to folks at plant gates, grange halls, saddle and tack shops, shopping malls — you name it — he still is campaigning in a state that hasn’t elected any Democrat to statewide office for two decades. He also has familiarized himself with the expansive landscape of the Texas Panhandle, which is Ground Zero of the Texas Republican political movement.

Now that I think about it, this might be the year for that lengthy streak to come to an end.

Maybe. Perhaps.

Is hell about to freeze over?

Hell is going to have to freeze over if Greg Abbott is going to lose his bid for re-election next year as Texas governor.

This is not a statement of preference, mind you. I’m merely stating what I believe is a stark reality facing any challenger who might square off against him.

A Texas Tribune analysis points out that eight Democrats are lining up to run in the state’s primary next spring. Ross Ramsey believes the early Democratic favorite is likely Lupe Valdez, the recently resigned Dallas County sheriff. Another key Democratic challenger could be Andrew White, son of the late Gov. Mark White.

Read Ramsey’s article here.

Valdez has won election and re-election several times in the state’s second-most populous county, Ramsey points out.

But if she wins the Democratic primary — which is a huge first test —  get a load of the hurdle she faces. She is going to seek to become the first governor on a couple of important levels … and Texas has not been known in recent years as a place prone to establish significant political precedent.

First, Valdez is a Latina. She wants to become the first Latina ever elected governor. Indeed, the state never has elected anyone of Latin American descent. That’s one hurdle.

Here’s the big one: Valdez is openly gay.

She wants, therefore, to become the first openly gay, Latina candidate ever elected governor.

I feel the need to point out that Texas voters a few years ago approved an amendment to the Texas Constitution that outlawed same-sex marriage, even though there already was a statute on the books that prohibited it. That didn’t matter. The state’s voters said not just “no,” but “hell no!” to gay marriage.

Do you believe Valdez can win the governor’s race in a state that has enacted a double-whammy prohibition against same-sex marriage?

As the Tribune piece illustrates, whoever wins the Democratic primary is going to face an enormous task as he or she seeks to topple a Republican incumbent governor.

As Ramsey describes Abbott: He’s a well-financed, popular figurehead for a political party that hasn’t lost a statewide election in Texas in almost three decades.

But … you never know. Hell could get mighty cold.

A&M chancellor takes on a huge new rebuilding task

Hurricane Harvey’s devastation along the Texas Gulf Coast has delivered an important political metaphor.

It is that human misery crosses party lines. To that end — and this appointment likely isn’t being done to illustrate that point expressly — Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has tapped a leading Texas Democrat to lead the Gulf Coast rebuilding effort.

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp, who’s got a most-demanding full-time job already, is going to lead that rebuilding.

Indeed, Chancellor Sharp has serious skin in this game. He served in the Texas Legislature — in the House and then the Senate — while living in Victoria, a community that was rocked by Harvey’s first landfall on the Texas coast. So, he feels the pain of the folks suffering the ongoing misery that Harvey left behind.

Sharp also is the latest Democrat elected to statewide office in Texas. He served as comptroller of public accounts from 1991 until 1999. I have no particular reason for mentioning that, other than to note that Sharp’s partisan affiliation is well-known; it speaks well, too, of Abbott’s willingness to reach across the political aisle to find someone to lead this massive effort.

I join the rest of the state in wishing the chancellor well and Godspeed as he takes on this huge task. He surely knows what awaits him as he takes charge of the governor’s new task force.

It’s big, John Sharp. Real big.

Castro clears the decks for Beto O’Rourke

I swear I thought I could hear the faint chants way off in the distance.

“BE-TO, BE-TO, BE-TO … “

And on it goes.

They could be coming from breathless Texas Democrats who have worked themselves into a tizzy over news that U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro has decided to forgo a challenge to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in next year’s mid-term election.

Thus, the way is cleared among Democratic Party loyalists to rally behind the candidacy of U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who’s been barnstorming our massive state of late, acquainting himself with Democrats who want little better than to oust Cruz, the fiery Republican senator who I’ve dubbed — in not-so-friendly terms — the Cruz Missile.

O’Rourke, who hails from El Paso, stopped in Amarillo over the weekend for a meet-and-greet at a local restaurant. From what I have heard, the crowd to meet him was enormous, meaning that O’Rourke’s advance team — with a lot of social media help from a group called Indivisible Amarillo — did a good job of filling the room.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and let’s heed a dose of sobering reality — if you’re a loyal Democrat we used to refer to in this state as “Yellow Dogs,” meaning they’d rather vote for a yellow dog than vote for a Republican.

Texas flips from D to R.

Texas is a seriously Republican state. It has flipped just in the span of a few years from being reliably Democratic. The Cruz Missile represents the colossal strength of the state GOP. He is one of a complete slate of statewide elected officials who wear the Republican label.

Cruz will be difficult to beat, so let’s not believe that just because there might be an attractive and articulate challenger from the other party that it guarantees a neck-and-neck race. Do you remember another Democrat who was thought to be a serious challenger to the GOP vise grip in Texas? Her name is Wendy Davis, the former state senator from Fort Worth. She was supposed to present a serious challenge to then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott in the 2014 race for governor; she lost by 20 points.

I am not crazy about one-party control at any level. I prefer a competitive two-party system. A healthy minority party puts the majority party on notice to defend its positions; a competitive environment makes incumbents accountable for the statements and the decisions they make on our behalf.

Maybe we can restore some level of competitiveness to the Texas political battleground. For the sake of those anxious Democrats around the state — and in the Texas Panhandle — I hope it’s O’Rourke who can make Cruz answer for his grandstanding and his transparent self-centeredness.

U.S. Sen. O’Rourke? Let’s wait and see about that one

Beto O’Rourke wants to succeed Ted Cruz in the U.S. Senate.

To be honest, few things political would make me happier than to see the Cruz Missile brought back to Earth by a loss to a up-and-comer such as O’Rourke.

Will it happen?

I refer you to “Gov.” Wendy Davis, the former Democratic state senator who once was thought to have an actual chance at defeating Greg Abbott in the race for Texas governor in 2014. She lost by more than 20 percentage points.

O’Rourke represents an El Paso congressional district. He’s seen as one of the next generation of Texas Democratic stars, along with, oh, Julian and Joaquin Castro, the twins from San Antonio; Julian served as San Antonio mayor and then went to work in Barack Obama’s Cabinet as housing secretary. Joaquin serves in the House along with O’Rourke.

Cruz became a serious pain in the patoot almost immediately after being elected to the Senate in 2012. He took no time at all before inheriting the role once occupied by another Texas U.S. senator, fellow Republican Phil Gramm, of whom it used to be said that “The most dangerous place in American was between Gramm and a TV camera.” Cruz loves the limelight and he hogged it relentlessly almost from the moment he took office.

Sen. Cruz repulses me, as if that’s not already clear. Cruz once actually questioned the commitment of two Vietnam War combat veterans — Democratic Sen. John Kerry and Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel — to the nation’s military strength; Cruz never wore a military uniform.

But is he vulnerable to a challenge from Beto O’Rourke? There’s no need to count the ways why I don’t think O’Rourke is going to beat him. There’s really only a single factor to consider: O’Rourke is a Democrat and Cruz is a Republican and as near as I can tell, a semi-trained monkey can get elected to damn near any office in Texas — as long as he runs as a Republican.

I say this understanding that a year from now a lot of factors can change. Will any of them turn O’Rourke from prohibitive underdog to overwhelming favorite?

Texas remains a deeply red state and is likely to remain so for, oh, the foreseeable future — if not beyond.

My most realistic hope is that Rep. O’Rourke —  if he wins his party’s U.S. Senate primary next year — makes this enough of a contest to force Sen. Cruz to think of Texans’ needs before he thinks of his own political interests.

A rigged election? Yes, but not the way Trump calls it

Texas house of reps

Donald J. Trump likes issuing dire warnings about a “rigged election” on the horizon.

He means, of course, that the presidential election will be rigged and that the Republican nominee will lose only because of “crooked” politicians seeking to grease it for Democratic nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton’s election to the presidency.

Trump is mistaken, but only partially so.

Yes, the election at another level will be “rigged.” The rigging occurs in the election of members of Congress.

The culprit is the tried-and-tested method of gerrymandering, which the Republicans in charge of Congress and in many state legislatures around the country have fine-tuned to an art form.

David Daley writes in a blog for BillMoyers.com that the rigging will allow the GOP to maintain control of the House of Representatives, even as the Senate could flip to Democratic control — and as Clinton is swept into the White House in a landslide.

http://billmoyers.com/story/real-way-2016-election-rigged/

Yep. The GOP has done well with this totally legal process of apportioning House congressional districts. It’s done every 10 years after the census is taken and ratified.

They have gerrymandered the dickens out of the House districts, drawing lines in cockamamie fashion to include Republican-leaning neighborhoods and to shut out Democrats.

Now, to be totally fair and above-board, this isn’t a uniquely Republican idea. Democrats sought to do it, for example, in Texas when they ran the Legislature. As recently as 1991, the Democratic-controlled Texas Legislature monkeyed around with congressional districts, seeking to protect Democratic incumbents in the U.S. House.

Amarillo became something of a testing ground for that experiment. The Legislature divided the city into halves, with the Potter County portion of the city included in the 13th Congressional District, while the Randall County portion was peeled off into the 19th District. Potter County contained more Democratic voters and the idea was to protect then-U.S. Rep. Bill Sarpalius of Amarillo, a true-blue Democrat, from any GOP challenge.

Randall County, meanwhile, is arguably ground zero of the West Texas Republican movement and its residents ain’t voting for a Democrat to any public office.

The tactic worked through the 1992 election, when Sarpalius was re-elected. Then came the 1994 Republican wipeout, led by that firebrand Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia. Sarpalius got swept out by the GOP tsunami that elected a young Clarendon rancher and self-proclaimed “recovering lawyer” named Mac Thornberry.

The Republicans would wrest control of the Legislature from the Democrats after that and they have perfected the art of gerrymandering. Sure, the Democrats tried to gerrymander themselves into permanent power.

Republicans, however, have proved to be better at it.

You want a “rigged” election? There it is.

The GOP presidential nominee, quite naturally, isn’t about to call attention to the real rigging of the U.S. electoral system. Instead, he’s going to fabricate suspicion in a scenario that will not occur.

Rep. Castro gets Dems’ hearts to flutter

Castro_in_IA_3_jpg_800x1000_q100

That pitter-patter you might be hearing belongs to the hearts of Texas Democrats who might seem to be excited at the prospect of an actual serious challenger to run against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

The cause of the racing heartbeat is U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, who has let it be known that he might run in 2018 against the man I’ve enjoyed referring to as the Cruz Missile.

Cruz is a Republican lawmaker who was the last man standing in the fight to deny Donald J. Trump the GOP presidential nomination. He made a heck of splash at last week’s Republican national convention by declining to endorse the man who beat him to the finish line.

He got booed off the Cleveland stage.

Will this damage him in Texas? My gut tells me he might face a stronger challenge from within his own party than he might face from a Democrat, even one as attractive, articulate and polished as Joaquin Castro.

https://www.texastribune.org/2016/07/26/joaquin-castro-considers-texas-senate-run-cruz/

I remain fervent in my belief that Texas is better served with a vibrant two-party system. We do not have a Democratic Party that is yet able to challenge Republicans at the statewide level. Republicans win big — every time. They’ve held every statewide office in Texas since 1998. I don’t see any sign of weakness in the GOP vise grip.

Will it present itself in 2018 when Ted Cruz runs for re-election to the U.S. Senate. Rep. Castro seems to think it might.

I hope he’s correct. Cruz simply is not my kind of senator.

However, I’m not yet ready to presume that the Cruz Missile will fizzle out.

Clinton, Trump: party unifiers

donald

Texas Democrats are meeting in San Antonio this weekend.

They appear to be downright giddy about their chances in this election year. Then again, they proclaim their giddiness at every election cycle, only to be disappointed when the ballots are counted.

Do you remember when former state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth ran for governor in 2014 and how Democrats said that was the year? It wasn’t. Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott thumped Davis by more than 20 percentage points.

That was then, Democrats are saying now.

They’re squaring off against a Republican Party being led by one Donald J. Trump as their party’s presidential nominee.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston asked convention attendees: “Can you really believe that they nominated Donald Trump?” Why, the delegates couldn’t get enough of the “good news.”

Trump is going to be the unifier the Democrats need to help them carry Texas this fall with Hillary Rodham Clinton at the top of their ticket.

https://www.texastribune.org/2016/06/18/analysis-republican-whos-keeping-texas-democrats-t/

But here comes the wet blanket.

Hillary Clinton is going to unify the Republicans, too.

There are differing dynamics, as I see it, working against both parties’ presumed nominees.

Democrats cannot believe that Trump — the huckster, reality TV celebrity, hotel and real estate mogul, thrice-married media star — is actually running for president of the United States of America. They dare not take him too lightly, and delegates are being warned of the risks inherent if they do.

Republicans, meanwhile, detest Clinton. They’ve been looking high and low for something that rises to the level of an indictment. They can’t find anything. They’ve hated her since her husband was president from 1993 to 2001.

I’m not going to project which emotion — the Democrats’ perverse joy or the Republicans’ loathing — is going to be the greater partisan unifying effect.

The major concern facing Republicans in Texas might not be the Democrats. It might be that their own party is showing signs of splitting apart because of their nominee’s own trouble within the party he wants to lead.

That, all by itself, might be enough to put Texas in play for Democrats, giving them a real honest-to-goodness reason for optimism.