Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The legacy of Boyd Richie (and by extension, the Texas Democratic Party)

In another discussion forum on the topic regarding the announcement this past weekend, someone noted that Texas needs a strong corporate-influence-free Democratic party so that when the Republicans completely frack things up, Democrats can fix the damage with meaningful reforms.

Yes. And I'd like to be able to shit glazed doughnuts.

A short history lesson is in order. Did you know that the reason for John F. Kennedy's trip to Texas in the fall of 1963 was to mend fences between rival factions in the Texas Democratic Party? In fact, the conservative wing of the TDP has been in charge since Lloyd Bentsen defeated Ralph Yarborough for Senate in 1970. Don't believe me? Would you believe Wikipedia?

The campaign came in the wake of Yarborough's politically hazardous votes in favor of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and his opposition to the Vietnam War. Bentsen made Yarborough's opposition to the war a major issue. His television advertising featured video images of rioting in the streets at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, implying that Yarborough was associated with the rioters. While this strategy was successful in defeating Yarborough, it caused long-term damage to Bentsen's relationship with liberals in his party.

Bentsen's campaign and his reputation as a conservative Democrat served to alienate him not only from supporters of Ralph Yarborough, but from prominent national liberals, as well. Indeed, during the 1970 Senate race, the Keynesian economist John Kenneth Galbraith endorsed George Bush, arguing that if Bentsen were elected to the Senate, he would invariably become the face of a new, more conservative Texas Democratic Party and that the long-term interests of Texas liberalism demanded Bentsen's defeat.

In the forty-plus years since that election, Texas Democratic voters became Reagan Democrats, then Republicans, and now TeaBaggers. (Really though, I'm just describing my dad, a union man who voted D all his life, until 1980).

We've had well over a decade of 100% GOP rule at the state level, including all nine seats on the state Supreme Court. As a result of last November's Red Tea Tide, Republicans hold a super-majority in the statehouse, and are one vote shy of holding one in the state Senate. Since 1994: Ann Richards to W to Rick Perry. Dems held the Texas House in the '90's but it slipped to the R's in 2003 (Tom Craddick was the first Republican speaker since Reconstruction). In 2006 and 2008 we slowed their roll in the legislative chambers, but that was all undone in 2010.

Pete Laney was the last Democratic speaker; Bob Bullock was the last statewide Democratic office-holder. You may recall he endorsed George W. Bush for president in 2000.

Now of course that's just elected officials. Most Texans couldn't care less about internal party politics, Democratic or Republick. They don't know the players; they don't even know the game(s). So once again, a little history.

Opinions on Boyd Richie's greatest claim to success during his tenure will certainly differ. Mine: he got those wiretappers at AT&T to sponsor a couple of TDP conventions. I have a nice canvas totebag to prove it. Do you know who occupied the chair before him? Charles Soechting. Before that? Molly Beth Malcolm. Before that? Bill White.

That's fifteen years' worth. See anything slightly progressive there? Now keep in mind, just in the past few years delegates did have progressive options. They -- we -- could have chosen Glen Maxey. Or David Van Os.

You may be one of the people who knew all this history. You may even recall that Soechting resigned a few months before the end of his term specifically to keep Maxey from getting elected. Me, I had forgotten that.

One other thing: the absolute irrelevance of the party chairmanship -- more broadly the serious and severe internal squabbling that seems to dominate party politics -- has not prevented one political party in Texas from dominating state politics. The Dems did so for decades before the Republicans. The RPT, of course, is rife with its own dissension (see: TeaBaggers), which again isn't hurting their franchise at all.

There's a painfully obvious point of which even the most casual observer is aware, and it is that this intensifying Texas conservatism is a generational trend and it just ain't a-changin' in my lifetime, and maybe not in your children's lifetime either. Maybe a more progressive option on the ballot -- specifically,  the Texas Green Party -- can begin to influence the Texas Dems to pull back from their starboard veer, but I'm not holding my breath on that.

So, as with Obama and his re-election campaign, I wish the gentlemen well who are running for the state chair of the TDP in 2012. But it's not like any one of them will be able to make a noticeable difference in the status quo.

This is a convenient and workable excuse for Boyd Richie's incompetence, in case you were wondering.

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