WASHINGTON, D.C. — On a day when many Democrats back in Austin might have been eyeing the hemlock, U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey offered a shred of optimism about his party’s future in the Lone Star State.
A reinforced Republican-dominated legislature was taking office in Austin just as the Fort Worth Democrat — a week into his second congressional term — sat down for an interview with The Texas Tribune in his Washington office.
Certainly, the state House and Senate appear more conservative than ever, the new lieutenant governor is pushing an unabashed Tea Party agenda and Wendy Davis' Democratic star has all but vanished since her gubernatorial bid ended in a thrashing.
But things will get better, Veasey said.
“There’s no question about the fact that for Democrats, Texas is a tough place. It just is,” he said. “It seems like the Republicans are winning everything, but things are changing."
Thanks to immigration patterns, Democrats like Veasey have reason to hope that their political standing will improve in the coming years, or even possibly decades.
“Now does that mean we should just sit back and wait for demographics to change?” he said. “No, absolutely not.”
The political world has not seen the last of Davis, Veasey insisted.
“In my estimation, we’ll see Wendy Davis return in some capacity,” he said. “And we need her to return in some capacity, because she just is a dynamic woman and a very intelligent individual.
As for his own political future, the prospects are foggier. The oddly drawn nature of his district means there are no assurances he will win re-election.
The 33rd district snakes across the Metroplex from north and east Fort Worth into West Dallas. With a heavy Hispanic and Dallas-based population, a viable primary challenge could emerge from either — or both — of those worlds. And former state Rep. Domingo Garcia, Veasey’s rival from the 2012 Democratic primary, is the most closely watched potential challenger.
For now, Veasey expressed confidence about his chances for a third term.
“I’ve had two tough primary challenges,” he said “I’ve had two well-funded primaries, but now, particularly during a non-election year, [I have] to focus on legislative priorities.”
On a legislative front, he said the three issues that are most important to him are education, jobs and health care.
His impoverished district has a sizable uninsured population, and he said part of his job is to encourage his constituents to enroll for health care.
But he also said he hopes the state Legislature and Gov.-elect Greg Abbott will take up Medicaid expansion.
“Abbott has said that he’s not going to be a clone of Perry,” Veasey said. “I think that if he really wants to show Texas that there’s going to be change and that there’s going to be compassion, that would be the first thing that he could do."
In Washington, Veasey displayed rebelliousness within his own house Democratic caucus last week, when he and five other Texas Democrats crossed party lines and voted for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
“It was huge for labor,” he said, and, despite what environmentalists might say, the safest way to transport oil.
Much like U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, Veasey said he is calm about declining oil prices.
“While low gas prices are good, I think that eventually everything is going to stabilize,” he said. “But I think the good thing since the mid-'80s, too, we’ve diversified our economy so much."
He pointed to the pricing of $70 per barrel as the sweet spot for Texans. “Everybody can have low gas prices and all these guys can go to work at the same time,” he said.
Even as he is confident that Texas will weather the economic impact, he recalled the last oil bust in the 1980s, when he was an eighth-grader at Monnig Middle School in Fort Worth.
“It was a very mixed-income school,” he said. “I can literally remember like yesterday kids whose parents … were living it up and everything came to a crawl.”
“You would hear stories of people that lost their houses,” he added. “I remember people who had their whole lives turned upside down.”
“I think people did learn lessons from the '80s.”