Editor's note: We asked prominent Democratic consultants from around the state about the moribund condition of their party, why they think voters should stick with them, how the party can become competitive and how they'd try to sell Republican and independent voters on their candidates. To read the other two guest columns on this subject, go here and here.
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Texas Democrats, Texas independents and even the few remaining moderate Republicans in our state don’t have to think hard or look far for a reason to consider fair-minded Democratic candidates in 2012. Rick Perry all by himself has come to personify what is wrong with one-party Republican control in Texas.
An unforgiving Presidential campaign has exposed Perry as a man without substance. What he skillfully portrayed in Texas as core conservatism built around bedrock values is now accurately seen as cynicism built around personal ambition and arrogance. Perry’s sputtering incompetence in unscripted moments don’t so much expose a man of weak intellect but one of weak convictions combined with a thirst for power.
Perry reflects a whole generation of Texas Republican officeholders and candidates. Their path to power is based on dividing Texans by party, by region, by race and by income. They engage and encourage the most extreme, mean spirited and divisive elements within our society. Their method of holding power is to reward friends, punish enemies and pit Texans against one another.
Democrats can’t win by dividing Texas in a different way or by complaining and pointing fingers. Instead, we can do more to embrace the diversity in Texas that Republicans attack. We must do the hard work to bring Texans together and to build coalitions.
The demographic trend in Texas is set. The Anglo population will continue to shrink compared to Hispanics, African Americans and other ethnic minorities. The Republicans have chosen to attack the future. They would rather suppress the political participation of minority voters rather than go to the trouble to earn their vote.
Texas Democrats should not wait for demographic changes to elect their candidates or simply accept minority voter support by default. We must work for, and earn, every vote — whether coming from an Anglo, Hispanic, African American or Asian voter.
Some of the work to build and maintain this coalition is not particularly stimulating but is crucial. After the 2004 elections, Democrats in Texas were far behind in campaign data and technology. The Texas Democratic Party has caught up with and likely passed the Republicans. The TDP has one of the best political data bases in the country, utilizes state-of-the-art voter modeling and is increasingly using geo-coding to identify voter locations to help manage get-out-the-vote efforts. As the technical needs of campaigns grow, party services must keep pace.
Democrats must look beyond the high-profile statewide and legislative races to recruit and field strong candidates for county level races, particularly in the large urban counties. Too many Texas Democrats have forgotten that Ann Richards was a County Commissioner before she ran for statewide office.
Middle-class Texans, independent voters and many conscientious Republicans have good reason to turn away from the Perry Republicans now in control. For all their talk about jobs and economic growth, fewer jobs were created during Perry’s first ten years as Governor than in the previous ten years. All the while, the keys to keeping Texas strong in the future — public schools, air quality, public health, transportation — have eroded under one party Republican control.
Without statewide officeholders to expose the failure of Republican leaders, Democrats must find and empower other trusted opinion leaders and provide them the support and hard data needed to speak out with facts and clarity.
Our current Democratic officeholders, especially those in safe seats, should be encouraged and given incentives to campaign and turnout voters in their districts, knowing it will help in statewide and countrywide races where help is badly needed.
Finally, perhaps the most important obstacle Texas Democrats must overcome has less to do with candidates, competence, money or strategy than it does with confidence. For many Texas Democrats the 2010 elections were a kick in the stomach. Too many of us are still bent over and gasping for air.
The 2010 election was not the end of a war that Democrats lost but rather one of many battles that will take place as Texas moves from a failed one-party Republican state to a diverse two party state. Rather than relive a bad election over and over again, it’s time to straighten up and go back to work.
Matt Angle is founder of the Lone Star Project and is President of Angle Strategies, which provides strategic planning and technical services.