Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Texas in Play (part two)

The continuing series from Open Source Dem ...


The peculiar delegate selection process in Texas described in Burnt Orange Report and elsewhere is designed and managed between conventions by white male liberal lawyers -- mostly -- pretending to administer affirmative action (quotas actually), but succeeding only in perpetuating their own and a few large donors’ disproportionate influence over the party.

This is not a system that can stand up to competition with the GOP externally or internally, between diverse individuals, alternative leadership, or -- now -- two national candidates.

It is a kludge.

Actually the race-based analysis of likely voters, used by campaign or segmented marketing consultants, suggests a narrow Obama delegate count advantage but does not show either how or why either candidate for nomination could win big in Texas --"run the table" -- by inspiring rather than by categorizing and manipulating Democratic voters. It does not reflect the fact that the state party establishment is in a panic over the possibility that likely voter "categories" may be swamped by unlikely voters.

No, political elites are unhappy and unprepared for vigorous competition. But most Democratic voters will happily put up with unprecedentedly long lines and confusing directions to show up, speak up, and stand up for candidates they like. Both of them.

The Progressive Populist Caucus (PPC) is the party-building caucus in the TDP (Texas Democratic Party). It is not a PAC; it does not endorse candidates in state or federal campaigns but rather encourages regular participation, non-discrimination, good order, and sustaining membership in the Democratic Parties of Texas and of the United States.

In this primary, convention, and general election cycle, populists seek to sweep statewide races and countywide races in Harris County rather than do the more usual targeted campaign and incumbent protection “arrangement” with the GOP. We also propose a “campaign for change” to sweep a self-perpetuating control faction out of power in Austin and to rebuild a real party from the ground up -- without entrenched social, economic, and professional discrimination left over from a patronizingly “inclusive” but still fundamentally Jim Crow party.

On two-­timing the voters ... the Houston Chronicle and other media are surely correct in observing that nobody expected the Democratic 'prima-caucus' in Texas to be “decisive in the contest for the party’s presidential nomination.” No, the mindless complexity this party wallows in -- more rulesmanship than rules -- mainly serves to divide and demoralize the party by preserving a self-perpetuating control faction within the party. That faction includes a handful of special interests and a fading clique of mercenary campaign consultants. Nearly all of these are holed up in Austin, hangers-on from a previous era, not really leaders of any sort today.

Two years ago the state convention nearly dissolved into chaos because the absurd party rules did not even support orderly election of a State Chair(man) -- that, too, being ordinarily uncontested. This election cycle, the party establishment tried to avoid having a decisive impact by collaborating with some in the GOP to move the primary date up early, when they hoped to “deliver” Texas for John Edwards.

Still, most big-money donors in Texas work around all that. They deal directly with local or statewide campaigns or with national campaign committees. Meanwhile, small donors and party activists have to camp out in the blogosphere. Besides rendering the state party dysfunctional, the little faction in Austin has made the state convention nearly irrelevant ... until now.

Most of the Democratic elites were initially favorable to John Edwards and now have to scramble to embrace Hillary Clinton, or maybe split up to plant a few of their number on an unwelcome Obama bandwagon. Who cares? They will probably do Hillary or Obama as little good as they did Edwards. Remember: this entrenched faction would rather lose elections than lose control of the patronage chain they preside over. “The way we have always done it!” That is their battle cry. Over many years they have taken a battleground state and made it a red-state write-off.

Patriotic, loyal, and simply energetic Democrats -- whether supporting Clinton or Obama -- need to rise up and overthrow this failure-prone party establishment. That takes vigorous participation in the three-tier state convention system. Do not just vote: Flood the conventions! Caucuses and conventions are fun, gratifying, and today, of historic significance. In the convention system delegates each have vote and voice. Moreover, the party establishment has maybe two hundred (no more than one thousand) out of seven thousand votes at the state convention.

The only way to change a moribund party is at the party convention. So a “change agenda” starts at 7:15 p.m., March 4. Change cannot wait until January of next year. You will not see it on television. You cannot download it on your computer. You have to show up, speak up, and stand up, and not just for personalities but for principles -- you know, what reckless conservatives claim to have a monopoly on.

Oh, and delegates in convention have plenary power over the entire party. That is kind of a secret. Yes, state delegates in convention, every single one equally -- not place-holders on the state executive committee, not paid staff or hired guns in Austin -- are the highest authority in the party. Behind a curtain of mumbo jumbo this party is still actually republican in form and democratic in purpose. So contrary to how political control freaks portray it, the conventions are not a stupid beauty pageant in which almost half of the national delegation from Texas get a free ride to Denver while everyone else has to compete in order to pay full freight and more. If we have a real state convention, Texas can actually deliver an outstanding delegation. We could speak clearly on energy and the environment. Real Democrats could say “no” to malarkey about corn ethanol, coal power, obsolete nuclear reactors, or whatever else lobbyists are peddling and dumping in Texas.

In any event, it will do no good to nominate our best ticket in Denver just to leave the old party establishment sitting there in Austin, administering demeaning quotas and petty patronage on behalf of a few white male attorneys protecting a few safe seats, Craddick Democrats mostly. Democrats have a huge, latent Democratic majority in Texas and vital statewide races on the ballot in November.

Between 4 March and 6 June, Texas Democrats need to get out of the latest Grisham novel we are stuck in. We need a Democratic Party that can handle competition within the party fairly, manage time and materials effectively and compete against the GOP decisively. That is not rocket science. But it is more than the cornpone legalism that the Houston Chronicle and the national media just noticed.

Update: Neil adds his sly dry wit.

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