Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The TDP's election strategy got hosed -- by Texas Democrats

I owe a long posting on the Austin events I attended this past Monday and Tuesday: the goings-on associated with TDP chair Boyd Richie's presentation at the quarterly Senate District Executive Committee, and his dress rehearsal -- err, blogger's conference the day before, as well as my day at the Capitol for the opening of the Texas Lege's 80th session and the swearing-in of my new representative, Borris Miles of HD-144.

But I wish to begin with a bottom line observation:

The TDP's celebration of their 2006 election strategy -- targeting a handful of selected legislative races -- was blown up 24 hours later by the Craddick Fifteen.

Let's begin with last Sunday afternoon's get-together: on location at the little office on Rio Grande were Texas Progressive Alliancers Anna, Muse, John, Bo, McB and others. On the phone (in the middle of the conference room table) with me were Hal, Marc, Vince, and maybe more.

The very first thing Amber Moon, the party's communication director, said as we began was that there were going to be some breaking-news elements in what the chairman had to tell us, but we could not say anything about them on our blogs until 1 p.m. the next day, when he was to make the same PowerPoint presentation to the SDEC members.

This just doesn't reflect much knowledge about what we do, does it? "Keep a secret," you say? Oh, shurrrrre we will ...

And actually we did. In the interests of, you know, good working relations.

So Boyd got a dress rehearsal for Monday and we got some inside dope, such as the news that the TDP would be filing a lawsuit against Secretary of State Roger Williams and Attorney General Greg Abbott for their failure to enforce HAVA, specifically the integrity of Texans' ballots as they relate to DREs (electronic voting machines), and most particularly straight-ticket votes.

This is very good news, actually; the party has been extraordinarily successful in the courtroom in recent years, and the two attorneys named by Richie as taking charge of this case, Chad Dunn and Buck Wood, are capable litigators.

But most of Richie's remarks -- full transcript here -- were of the self-congratulatory variety regarding the Democratic victories in November, along with the obligatory cheerleading and back-slapping. This spin has always irked me more than a little bit, since the state party all but ignored every single other race in the state that they considered 'unwinnable'.

Monday, January 8: SDEC meeting, Hyatt Regency, Austin

The first part of the general assembly is no secret: Boyd gives his talk but I'm seeing the slides for the first time, and I note that the photos of the six new House members do not include Joe Heflin of Plainview; Donna Howard replaced him for some reason. Following that there were the various committee reports, but the most interesting exchange came when the finance report was given by Dennis Speight.

A handful of SDEC members -- Linda Perez of SD-21 (Floresville), Lloyd Criss of SD-11 (Galveston), Don Bankston of SD-18 (Richmond), Bob Dean of SD-19 (Pecos) -- raised questions about the campaign committee's revenues of $400,000 and its objectives but another SDEC member, Bill Perkison of SD-24 rose and shouted a non-sequitur about candidates needing to raise their own money and called the question, which was acceptance of the finance report.

This rather mundane circumstance has significance because the printed agenda for this meeting contained no item for new business. Richie did call for new business at the very end of the meeting, and when Linda Perez requested the creation of a campaign committee for 2008, that motion was referred to the rules committee for discussion at the next quarterly meeting.

What was apparent to this observer was that the SDEC as a group has generally abdicated its responsibility to direct and execute political strategy, leaving the void that Boyd (and in fairness, Fred Baron and Matt Angle) filled. The new blood on the committee intends to provide some oversight and accountability but they will be stonewalled by the old guard, who seem more interested in preserving the status quo.

The Texas Democratic Party desperately needs a governing body that is more activist and energetic and less beholden to the inertia of longtime members who consider their positions ones of prestige and social networking exclusively, not designed for any real effort.

Tuesday, January 9: Opening Session of the 80th Texas Legislature, Capitol

My bus departed Houston around 8 am with several government students from Westbury High School and a handful of Borris Miles' staff and supporters. It was a grand celebration on behalf of my new rep (details appear in my previous posting).

You've likely read all the analysis regarding the election of the speaker of the Texas House elsewhere, so let me repeat the contention I stated at the top here again:

The Texas Democratic Party's strategy in the last election cycle of maintaining a narrow focus on a few legislative contests was proven to be completely worthless as a result of the Democratic members of the Legislature who refused to stay with their caucus in the election for speaker. Moreover, since a legislative body almost by definition relies on compromise in order to be effective, this minimalist/defeatist strategy continues to be a problem until such time as enough seats flip to retake the majority. That certainly seems a stronger possibility in 2008 with a speaker named Craddick, but unforeseen presidential, economic, and assorted other socio-political scenarios always cloud the future.

The notable lack of a Democrat at the statewide executive level -- a drought entering its second decade -- means that until the party musters the will to get one (or some) elected, we'll be stuck in minority status for longer than ought to be necessary. As long as legislators don't see the state party standing up for statewide candidates, they're not tempted to run for higher office, thus making themselves content to feather their nests with plum committee assignments and the temptations of the trappings of entrenched power. This also means that Democratic bench strength -- having worthy challengers for higher office like senator or governor -- remains illusory.

As to the folly of having Democrats voting for a Republican speaker to support their own interests at the expense of everyone else's, a diarist at Burnt Orange put it best:

Every time a child gets kicked off CHIP, remember the Craddick 15.

When your public schools are once again under-funded, remember the Craddick 15.

When teachers are denied a real pay raise, and their health insurance once again fails to get restored, remember the Craddick 15.

When Jim Leininger forces the Texas House to endure a bloody floor fight on his risky private school voucher scheme, remember the Craddick 15.

When a Craddick lieutenant kills the ethics bill, remember the Craddick 15.

Every time you read an article about Craddick's corruption, self-dealing, being in business with a lobbyist, or collecting rent from a state contractor, remember the Craddick 15.

When (Rep. Will) Hartnett tries to outlaw a woman's right to choose, remember the Craddick 15.

When (Warren) Chisum uses the $14 billion "surplus" to buy down the property taxes of Bob Perry, Louis Beecherl, and Exxon Mobil, instead of restoring health care benefits for kids, or teachers, or the elderly, remember the Craddick 15.


When Phil King tries to outlaw stem cell research, remember the Craddick 15.

When kids can't afford to go to a state college because of the skyrocketing price of tuition, remember the Craddick 15.

When homeowner insurance rates continue to skyrocket, remember the Craddick 15.

When a coal plant gets built in your back yard, remember the Craddick 15.


When machines malfunction and arms are broken in public after close votes, remember the Craddick 15.

When the open meetings law is ignored, and Craddick lieutenants cut deals in the back halls in secret, remember the Craddick 15.

When tolls roads are built through minority neighborhoods, remember the Craddick 15.

When farmers lose their land through imminent domain so those toll roads can be built, remember the Craddick 15.

When the El Paso Medical School fails to get funded, remember the Craddick 15.

When promises made to the Valley don't get funded, remember the Craddick 15.

When appraisal caps are imposed on local governments, remember the Craddick 15.

When utility rates fail to get reduced and the poor and elderly in Houston and Dallas start dying from the heat this summer because they can't afford to pay double the national average for electricity, remember the Craddick 15.


When you see any nutty bill on the floor authored by Frank Corte, Bill Zedler, or Sid Miller, remember the Craddick 15.

When Leo Berman causes racial unrest on the House floor with his "round `em up and throw `em out" solution to immigration, remember the Craddick 15.

When you see Beverly Wooley at the front microphone (with her designer blouse and her Dooney Burke purse) bumble her way through every calendars committee announcement, remember the Craddick 15.


When you see a high school basketball team from a minority school represented by a Democrat denied access to the House floor, remember the Craddick 15.

When you see a story about a kid dying at CPS because they are still under-funded, remember the Craddick 15.

When you see the Enterprise Fund invest in some Midland deal, remember the Craddick 15.

When you have to endure a self-serving, pseudo-intellectual history lesson from Aaron Pena, remember the Craddick 15.

Every time you see a Republican lobbyist kissing Patrick Rose's ass, and calling him "Mr. Chairman", remember the Craddick 15.

When you see Bill Ceverha, a bankrupt lobbyist who ran Tom DeLay's TRMPAC, get re-appointed to manage a state fund worth $21 billion dollars, remember the Craddick 15.

Every time you're sitting on your toilet, think about Craddick sitting on his $1000 toilet that was paid for by special interest money and remember the Craddick 15.

There is still lots about Texas Democrats that needs fixing. We got a long way to go and a short time to get there, and worse yet, a bunch of good ol' boys and girls allegedly on our side blocking the way.

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