It’s true that of the 29 statewide offices available, the Texas Democratic Party doesn’t hold a single one. The party's chairman, Boyd Richie, says it’s legitimate to criticize the Democrats for that — but not to blame him for it.
“That’s been going on for 15 years,” he said in his Austin office on Friday. “I’ve been chairman for four.”
A lawyer by trade, Richie is — like his wife Betty — a Democratic stalwart. He was elected chairman of the party in 2006 and intends to stay for a while. But this year, he is fending off a challenge from Michael Barnes, a political novice and Edcouch schoolteacher who's looking to shake up the party.
“He seems to be a very energetic, intelligent young man,” Richie says. “He’s interested in the party, and I’m tickled to see that. Anytime we have young people engaged in the process, I’m happy to see it.”
Richie is less tickled by Barnes’ suggestion that he needs to get out and about in the state more. He points to a plaque in his office commemorating his 2007 Texas Town Hall Tour, which covered 18 cities and 9,762 miles. “We travel so much that Betty and I can’t have a dog,” he says, “and if we did, it wouldn’t recognize us when we came home."
Regarding the party’s statewide success — or lack thereof — Barnes recently posed the question, “Since when is zero-for-29 a winning record?"
To that, Richie responds, “For starters, zero for 29, in a political arena, is not like a baseball manager's record.” Additionally, Richie says, the first time he was able to weigh in on candidate recruitment was in the current 2010 cycle:
Statewide candidates aside, Richie maintains, the party has experienced “major electoral gains” under his leadership. In 2008, House Democrats came within two seats of regaining the majority, which they lost in 2003. “We were able to do work and put money and resources into 17 statehouse races and won 16 of them,” Richie says. “I think that’s a record of which I’m pretty proud.”
Does Richie think the Democrats' first statewide victory in 16 years will come from among this year’s crop of candidates? “Absolutely I do,” he says:
The 2010 November election is especially crucial to the future of Texas electoral politics because it will determine the political makeup of the Legislative Redistricting Board, which will tackle the upcoming redistricting process. This fact is not lost on the chairman of the minority party, which currently has no representation on the board:
One statewide office with a slot on the board that the Democrats certainly won’t win is comptroller. They didn't even run a candidate in the race. Richie says it wasn’t for lack of trying. “That was a seat that we took very seriously,” he says, “and I’m very disappointed that we weren’t able to recruit somebody.” He says there were people considering a run who decided they didn’t have the financial wherewithal — and that the party, with it’s limited resources, couldn’t provide the requested level of support.
In fact, much of the Democrats’ electoral effort in the last five years was bankrolled by the Texas Democratic Trust, which launched in 2005 with a five-year focus on “holding a majority in the statehouse and capturing one or more statewide offices during the 2010 elections.” Many have insinuated that Matt Angle, who leads the trust, has been acting as the man behind the party’s curtain:
With the Texas Democratic Trust's commitment to the party approaching its end, Richie says the party will be, and is preparing to be, funded by small donors — something he says his opponent might not be aware of:
Another source of pride for Richie is the self-described aggressiveness with which he has gone after the opposition. Currently, the party is engaged in a legal battle in an effort to stop what Richie believes is a GOP-fueled effort to drain “D” votes by getting the Green Party on the ballot:
“I wouldn’t have a problem with the Green Party being on the ballot if it was the Green Party,” Richie says. “If their activists had been the ones out voluntarily gathering these petitions, and they got enough to get on the ballot, then more power to ‘em. That’s what elections are about.”
Instead, Richie is echoing Matt Angle’s call for long-time Perry advisor Dave Carney, who they believe is tied to the Green Party petition drive, to resign. (On Saturday, Carney told the Tribune's Ross Ramsey that he had nothing to do with the Greens.) This comes shortly after Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign called for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bill White to drop out of the race, alleging unethical business practices — a charge Richie calls “absurd.”
“We ought to have choices in elections,” Richie says. “Rick Perry doesn’t want anyone to have a choice except him.”
Discussing the matter in his office, Richie's tone reaches levels White rarely even musters on the stump. Richie recognizes that some might desire more personality from their gubernatorial hopeful, but that’s just not White’s style — and he says that’s okay:
White isn't the only Democratic politician accused of playing it too cool under fire. President Obama has endured similar criticism since oil began spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, which hasn't helped his polling in Texas. Despite winning in a landslide nationwide, Obama wasn’t very popular in Texas when he got elected, and has become even less so as time has worn on — even with some Democrats, as Richie is well aware:
In the next presidential election, Richie says, Texas has the potential to become “a battleground configuration.” Democrats, he says, have the opportunity to “turn this thing around.” The first step will be introducing the statewide candidates and getting everyone “fired up” at the upcoming state convention, where they will also decide if Richie will be steering the party on its future course — or if he'll have to hand the helm over to Barnes.
If 2010 doesn’t go as he plans, Richie only asks one thing: