At the conventions
Texas Democrats have a colorful history with the Democratic National Conventions, starting with the 1928 DNC in Houston, in which the Texas delegation railed against its own party’s presidential nominee because he was against prohibition (and the Ku Klux Klan).
That was the first time any political party had held its national convention in a Southern state since the Civil War, and the Texas delegation didn’t disappoint — feisty as ever.
Nearly 85 years later, as Democrats wrap up their national convention in Charlotte, the delegation from the Lone Star State can come home boasting one big splash again, this time on the convention stage.
They at least gain a PR win: The more positive Texas Democratic images outside Texas, the more willing people are to believe that there are, in fact, Texas Democrats.
After San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro made history as the first Hispanic to keynote the Democratic National Convention(introduced by his identical twin brother, state Rep. Joaquin Castro, who’s about to win election to the U.S. Congress), the two of them became, as aptly described in the Texas Tribune this week, “the darlings of the cable news circuit.”
Eva Longoria brought more Lone Star buzz to the convention floor with her speech on the closing night a few hours before President Barack Obama accepted the nomination for re-election.
But in spite of the national face time Texans got in front of the mic during the convention, the rank and file delegation were stuck, yet again,in the shadows, sidelined not by any lack of enthusiasm on their part, but by having the great bad luck of being in a state that Democrats love to hate.
Not just because this state produced George W. Bush and Rick Perry, but also... well, OK, mainly that. Most recently. Ask one of them and they’ll give you plenty more, as long as they’re not from Texas. Texas Democrats love Texas. They also love being Democrats. Just for the record.
But, as most of us have learned outside the political arena, sometimes love ain’t enough.
Take a look at the 2004 national convention in Boston, where they should have been rock stars. A year earlier, Texas Democrats had made international headlines when they had walked off the floor of the Texas Legislature and broke quorum in order to stop then-Congressman Tom DeLay’s mid-decade redistricting effort.
There were senators hiding out for months in Albuquerque, and House members exiting mid-session with the state troopers hot on their tails, in a dramatic episode straight out of Hollywood. There were Democrats being escorted back into the chamber by uniformed officers, for God's sake. Really? No video?
More than Texas, Democrats love to hate Tom DeLay. You’d think that alone would have given them some standout status. Nope. They should have had a video dedicated to them — and if you’ve watched any of the coverage or been to a convention, you’d know that videos are a big dang deal there — but they were barely noticed.
Why? It was 2004. Bush was finishing out a term after winning what many Dems called a fraudulent election. Texas Democrats were guilty by association. They were lucky their convention floor seats weren’t actually in the parking lot.
There’s a good bit of discipline in the national parties, on both sides of the aisle. If you can’t get it done, you aren’t playing, even if you know how. The vicious cycle is, of course, without money it’s hard to be a player. If you’re not a player, it’s hard to get money.
This is as true in politics as it is in life, and we all know that life can be, well, just like that.
Four years later, in Denver, when Obama accepted his nomination, the Texas Democrats were out in the cold again: in a dumpy hotel in Aurora, a good 45-minute trip away from the convention center when you take into account the traffic, lines and closed roads — and protestors breaking windows and fighting cops.
This year, Texas shines on stage, but the delegation is seated in the back of the floor by Indiana, stuck in a hotel 20 miles away from the convention hall, and — in spite of their enthusiasm — dependent on bigger names to give them some national street cred.
From this, they at least gain a PR win: The more positive Texas Democratic images outside Texas, the more willing people are to believe that there are, in fact, Texas Democrats.
Texas is a huge delegation (more than 300 strong) and this year’s crop is young (as young as 20) and diverse (with a handful of Native Americans and a big group of Latinos) and enthusiastic.
“We are #FIRED UP and #READYFORJOE,” read the Twitter feed from Huey Rey Fischer, the 20-year-old Texas delegate, just before V.P. Joe Biden took the stage Thursday.
And yet missing among them, and at the convention altogether, was the Texas Democrats’ candidate for highest office: U.S. Senate nominee Paul Sadler, who has reportedly been financially snubbed by the national party in spite of his insistence that GOP nominee Ted Cruz only appeals to the Tea Party and can be beaten by a Dem.
See, nobody believes him, which means no money from the national party. Then again, odds are certainly against a Democrat running statewide in a race in which Democrats didn’t garner more than a third of the vote in at least the last few cycles.
On the flip side, they’re spending millions for Texas state Rep. Pete Gallego of Alpine, locked in a tight contest with incumbent Quico Conseco, who had a speaking slot at the RNC in Tampa last week. Gallego didn’t make it Charlotte.
So what does all this mean, really? It means that Texas Democrats may be fired up, but they’re a long way from real recognition and influence on the national level. They’ve been unable to get anyone elected to statewide offices in a couple of decades. They represent a state that the national party has written off with the exception of a couple of Congressional races. Which means that if they don't go into races odds-on, they're on their own.
Until they can turn that tide, it’s likely to remain that way.
In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Houston Mayor Annise Parker said she expects the sidelining to end at some point and the prominence of Texas Democrats, once national rock stars in their own right when LBJ was in the White House, to return to the national conventions.
“Texas is too big a state to be ignored,” said Parker, a first-time delegate. “The pendulum goes in one direction, and then swings back to the other.”