(Ed. note: This column by Boyd Richie, chairman of the Texas Democratic party, ran in last week's issue of Texas Weekly)
The first great Texas Democratic leader, Sam Houston, set a standard for public service that defines the difference between today's Texas Democrats and Republicans.
Houston said, "Do right and risk the consequences," reflecting the Democratic Party's belief that government exists to protect and serve "we the people." That belief stands in stark contrast to a Texas Republican Party that has surrendered doing what's right to serve the special interests and satisfy ideologues who want government to tell us how to live.
Texans are proud, independent people who don't back down in the face of great challenges. Like all Americans, Texans are fed up with today's self-serving politicians. In Texas, Republicans have run the show for the past decade, but Texas remains strong despite their failure to lead.
Too many students are dropping out of Texas schools, but Republican politicians have dropped out of the solution business. Texas has the highest percentage of citizens without health insurance, but with Republicans in charge, the doctor is out. Our roads are congested with traffic, but Rick Perry only offered us a ride on a toll road operated by a foreign company.
Texans have the skill, ingenuity and ability to solve these problems, but the Party of Rick Perry and Tom DeLay used the offices of government to enhance political power and serve the wealthy special interests instead. Meanwhile, the Republican Party of Cathie Adams demands that its officeholders don an ideological straightjacket that makes it harder to reach out to solve problems.
Texas Democrats have a natural advantage in the problem solving business. We come from all walks of life. We welcome moderates, conservatives and progressives. We are workers, small business owners and teachers who know we have to listen and work with each other to find common ground.
Texas Democrats have been winning recent elections in what was once considered safe Republican territory. We've won a dozen Texas House seats, a Texas Senate district and scores of local races in major Texas counties because voters — Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike — are supporting candidates who will put partisanship aside to represent their communities.
Voters know that shouting partisan slogans doesn't improve their neighborhood schools and they understand that politicians beholden to special interests aren't going to cut sky-high insurance premiums or utility rates.
The 2009 legislative session showed how things can improve by electing mainstream Democrats and sending 74 Democrats to a more equally divided Texas House.
House Democrats led the effort to end the freeze on school funding imposed by a 2006 Perry-Republican school finance plan that had forced hundreds of local school districts to consider property tax hikes, teacher layoffs and reduced academic offerings. Likewise, House Democrats worked successfully to restore CHIP coverage for hundreds of thousands of Texas children and put a roadblock in the path of Perry's Trans Texas Corridor. These are not the long-term solutions, but by electing a stronger Democratic minority, Texans forced the Legislature to move in the right direction.
Ironically, it took $14 billion of the federal stimulus funds Republicans love to hate to accomplish this modest progress while preserving billions in the state's Rainy Day Fund. Still, the "Party of No" refused to say thank you for a Democratic economic plan that bailed Republicans out of a state budget bind while starting the difficult task of recovering from a Republican recession that cost over 200,000 Texas jobs.
Recently, the Hill Country Times reported that GOP Chair Cathie Adams told a Republican audience that the idea first advanced by FDR that everyone has a right to a job, home, medical care, and education is wrong, because this mindset can only lead to total government control. Ms. Adams' mindset recalls claims that Social Security would lead to socialism and communism. Yet 74 years later, Social Security has served generations of Americans while Democrats have presided over periods of free enterprise economic growth and elected the last two Presidents who balanced the federal budget.
Like Sam Houston, Texas Democrats don't cotton to talk about secession and we don't look down on others, but we'll fight for the Texas we love and do our best to build a better Texas for generations to come.