Texas Democrats have a recruiting problem – Texas Monthly
As Texas Democrats think of the 1998 election, it is with a good deal of humility and embarrassment. Then-Lands Commissioner Garry Mauro lost the gubernatorial race to a man named George W. Bush by 37 points, the worst performance so far by a Democratic gubernatorial candidate since the reconstruction. But W. was popular. In the race for lieutenant governor, Democrats fared much better. Republican Agriculture Commissioner Rick Perry won just 50.04% against his old friend John Sharp, then Comptroller of the State, a good old beloved Democrat, who won 48.19%.
But the 1998 election, dismal as it was in many ways for the minority party, was a high point for others. Sharp came closer to victory than any statewide Democratic candidate after 1994. In the 1998 campaign, the Democratic Party was able to field two candidates for statewide office. state that had a proven track record of electoral success. And that effort almost paid off. If Sharp had done a little better, he probably would have become governor once Bush won the White House. Perry’s career could have stagnated and the state’s history could have been very different.
Fielding just two experienced candidates for the top seven positions in state government may seem like a low bar, but Democrats have rarely reached it since. And it will not be achieved this year, to the great discredit of the party.
Since 1998, most Democratic candidates for high office have fallen into one of three camps: well-meaning novices, self-financiers and eccentrics. In 2002, the party’s gubernatorial candidate was Tony Sanchez, a wealthy businessman who had never held elected office. In 2006, only gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell could boast substantial experience in office – one term as a congressman. In 2018, a year when Democrats might have hoped to ride an anti-Trump wave, El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke exceeded expectations in his bid to defeat incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz. But aside from hapless Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, O’Rourke had no one under him on the ballot who had even won a local election to help get voters out.
The Democratic list for 2022, vanished by the March 1 primary, will no longer be tested. Several races are heading for runoffs, but the only candidate with a substantial record in elective office is once again O’Rourke. To say that the roster below him is weak is not to dismiss the candidates who come forward: many, if not most, are undoubtedly hard-working and intelligent people. But it should be maddening to rank-and-file Democrats that the slate of candidates the party is fielding for important statewide positions is less formidable than it was in 1998, or in most elections. since, after all these years of effort and promise after promise of a blue wave that never arrives.
In the runoff of the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, arguably the most powerful seat in state government, Mike Collier, a three-time candidate who has never held office, faces Michelle Beckley. She is a two-term member of the State House in suburban Dallas, which would normally count for something, but her tenure was extremely poor. In Texas monthlyIn the most recent rankings of the best and worst lawmakers, we included her in a list of “furniture,” a venerable term used by lawmakers to refer to colleagues who have done so little they might as well be a bench in a hallway.
Beckley, who won 30% to Collier’s 42% in the first round, naturally called on him to drop out of the race the day after the primary. She compared Collier to Joe Manchin, and not in a good way. She suggests that her opponent and the senator from West Virginia are not real Democrats. (But Democrats should hope that Collier is as strong a candidate as Manchin, who has won multiple elections in a state where Donald Trump won by a thirty-point margin greater than his victory in Texas.) Friday, Beckley’s the former chief of staff took to Twitter to write that she knew Beckley “better than most” and that “there’s no way she’s going to be a good” lieutenant governor.
In the race for attorney general, in which Democrats are expected to field as strong a candidate as possible against corrupt comedian Ken Paxton, the leading contender is Rochelle Garza, a former ACLU attorney from Brownsville. She will face a runoff against Joe Jaworski, who had a distinguished but brief stint as mayor of Galveston, or Lee Merritt, a Dallas lawyer who specializes in racial justice cases and represents victims of police brutality. All have strong resumes, but would face a very steep learning curve in state government, and none won elected office with more than four thousand votes.
The two Democratic run-off candidates for Comptroller and the candidates for Agriculture Commissioner and a seat on the Board of Railroads, which regulates the oil and gas industry, all seem like good people, but they have no experience in elected office. In the race for lands commissioner, two of the strongest contenders in the Democratic primary were Jay Kleberg, a conservationist whose family owns the legendary King Ranch in South Texas, and Jinny Suh, an organizer community with a long list of supporters from prominent Democrats and Democratic groups.
They placed second and third respectively. Kleberg will face the winner of the first round, Sandragrace Martinez, a family therapist from San Antonio. On February 22, Martinez’s campaign brought in $42.47 in cash. (Note the decimal point.) This was a marked improvement from his February 8 financial report, when his campaign war chest contained $8.43. “Sandgrace is a kind and compassionate born leader, with many friends,” reads Martinez’s particular website. “People respond positively to him, therefore.” She “brings expertise in psychology and zoom that would be essential in leading the current GLO staff and boards to operate effectively and with good will.” (To be fair, that would be a marked improvement over how the GLO operated during the current commissioner’s tenure.)
The Democratic Party faces a structural disadvantage in recruiting credible statewide candidates. The pool of those who have won elections is slim, given the party’s 27 years of failure in statewide races and the gerrymandering of congressional and legislative districts. Many Democrats have experience leading Texas’ most populous cities and counties, which are more liberal than the state as a whole. But they choose not to run, and that’s partly a vote of no confidence in their party.
An ally of the Castro brothers, long celebrated as the future of the Texas Democratic Party, once told me that Joaquin and Julián would tell friends questioning their reluctance to run for office nationwide. State that they could close a few point gap with the Republicans, but not ten points – and were basically waiting for someone or something to close the gap for them. This thought puts Democrats in a bind.
Accredited candidates aren’t enough, of course — in 2014, a relatively formidable statewide slate headed by Senators Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte was skimmed — but without strong candidates it becomes even more difficult. for the party to appear viable. And Democrats miss the rare opportunities that might arise on a ballot, like in 2018, when Paxton won just 3.6% against a friendly but first-time candidate, Justin Nelson. What if the Democrats had presented a stronger candidate?
Report this to a party loyalist and the response is often to say anyone would be better than the guys in office right now. Such responses demonstrate remarkable complacency for a party that has been in the wasteland for nearly three decades. Texas Democrats need to look serious before voters take them seriously. When the statewide slate is made up largely of incumbents, the Democratic party looks less like a serious GOP competitor and more like the Greens – taking up space on the ballot without any expectation. of success.