Texas Women Dems Part II

Following up on my last post about Texas women Dems, I’d like to highlight several current office holders. Given the focus these days on leaders who can create jobs, it seems fitting to start with Houston mayor Annise Parker. Parker, first elected in 2009, spent much of her first two-year term focused on city services and the redistricting of the city council, but she ran for re-election in 2011 with an explicit campaign focus on “jobs and a stronger economy.”  This was a smart move, given that Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city, has received significant national attention this year for its strength in this area. In May, Forbes named Houston the #2 city in the nation for job growth – second only to my hometown Austin J  – and #3 in the nation for green job growth. Houston also snagged the #1 spot on Forbes’ July list of coolest cities; its job opportunities, combined with its “strong theater scene, world-class museums, and multicultural, zoning-free mashup of a streetscape,” were cited as justifying the top ranking. (See a great clip here of Mayor Parker discussing jobs and other issues on the Colbert Report.)

Annise Parker

Another impressive leader I’ve learned about this summer is Leticia Van De Putte, a state senator representing the San Antonio area. Van de Putte has been a champion of reform for the state welfare and healthcare systems and the Texas juvenile code. This year, moreover, she has gained attention for her authorship of legislation to combat human trafficking and her support for veterans’ hiring. (For more on the latter, see this recent White House blog post.) A prominent Texas Latina, she has served as president of the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators and received the Matt Garcia Public Service Award from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Leticia Van de Putte

A third impressive Texas Dem I’ve discovered recently is Wendy Davis, a state senator from Fort Worth. Davis has a particularly moving personal story: At age nineteen, she was a single mother working to make ends meet when a co-worker dropped a brochure on her desk about a paralegal program at Tarrant County Community College. Davis decided to enroll in the program, and after two years she transferred to Texas Christian University. There she became the first person in her family to earn a college degree – not to mention graduating first in her class. She went on to become a practicing attorney and serve on the Forth Worth City Council, and in 2008, she was elected to the state senate in an upset victory over Republican incumbent Kenneth Brimer. Since then, she has been one of the state’s most steadfast progressives, particularly on issues like public education funding and justice for victims of sexual assault.

Wendy Davis

In conclusion, it’s worth noting at least two interesting things these women have in common. All have Harvard connections. (Davis was a 1993 graduate of Harvard Law School, Van de Putte a 1993 Kellogg Fellow at the Kennedy School, and Parker a 2005 participant in the HKS Senior Executives in State and Local Government Executive Education Program.) And all three have sparked speculation of runs for higher office. (Van de Putte considered a campaign for governor in 2010, and Davis and Parker now also appear to be contemplating the idea.) Texas can’t afford another two decades of Bush/Perry-style leadership, so for the sake of the state, I hope their political futures are bright.


Texas Women Dems

Working for Congressman Doggett this summer, I discovered a vintage bumper sticker asking, “What Would Ann Do?” It was referring, of course, to legendary Texas politico Ann Richards, whose quick wit and down-to-earth style propelled a distinguished career in public service as Travis County Commissioner from 1977 to 1983, Texas State Treasurer from 1983 to 1991, and Governor from 1991 to 1995. (To celebrate her electoral victory in 1990, she held up a T-shirt picturing the state Capitol that said “A woman’s place is in the dome.”) During her time as governor, Richards appointed unprecedented numbers of women and minorities to state posts, and shortly before leaving office, said she hoped to be remembered as having “opened government to everyone.” I also admire Governor Richards’ willingness to take unpopular stances; her vetoes of legislation to permit the carrying of concealed handguns and a bill that would have allowed the destruction of the Edwards Aquifer were the actions she was proudest of, even though they are thought to have cost her re-election when she ran against George W. Bush in 1994.

Ann Richards

Another Texas icon I’ve thought about this summer is Barbara Jordan, a Houston native who became the first African-American to serve in the Texas Senate since Reconstruction and the first African-American woman elected to Congress from the South. With her booming eloquence and dedication to the Constitution, a copy of which she carried in her purse, she had such gravitas – I sometimes wonder what she would have to say about the state of politics today… Citizens United? Texas’ voter ID law? The birther movement?

Barbara Jordan

These past few months, I’ve also learned interesting new things about women I knew about, and encountered several new names I’d never heard of before.

I hadn’t realized, for example, that Former first lady Lady Bird Johnson, who grew up in East Texas, was a champion of conservation and highway beautification and a successful businesswoman. (She turned a $20,000 investment in KTBC, a small radio station in Austin, into a multi-million dollar enterprise.) She was also an effective champion of President Johnson’s progressive agenda, embarking on a whistle-stop tour through the South in 1964 in defense of the Civil Rights Act.

Having studied Texas history growing up, I had heard of Ima Hogg (1882-1975), daughter of Texas’ 20th governor Jim Hogg, who held office at the turn of the century; I hadn’t known, however, that Ima was a prominent supporter of causes from mental health to historic preservation, or that she had successfully campaigned to serve on the Houston School Board, where she advocated for arts education and equal pay for women and minority teachers.

Ima Hogg

Ima Hogg

Included in the last category of women I had never heard of before are two inspiring suffragists and civil rights activists, Christia Adair and Jessie Daniel Ames. Adair (1893-1989), who served as executive secretary of the Houston chapter of the NAACP during the 1950s, was an important force behind the Supreme Court case Smith v. Allwright and helped desegregate the city of Houston and the Texas Democratic Party. Ames (1883-1972) was an anti-lynching advocate, founding president of the Texas League of Women Voters, and a representative to the Democratic National Conventions of 1920 and 1924.

These are just a few of many fascinating Texas women. For anyone who’s interested, please check out the Handbook of Texas Online and my next post on current officeholders.

George P.

As promised, I’m working on a post about Texas women Dems, but in the meantime, wanted to note an interesting development from last week: On Monday, Texan George P. Bush – grandson of President Bush 41, nephew of Bush 43, and son of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush – was named deputy finance chairman of the Texas Republican Party. As the Bush dynasty’s heir apparent, this definitely looks like a(nother) step toward an eventual run for office.

The 36-year-old, a graduate of Rice and the University of Texas Law School, has a pretty impressive resume already. He worked as an associate for several years at Akin Gump, went on to become a partner at Pennybacker Capital, a real estate investment company in Austin, and recently served in Afghanistan as an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve. He has also been active with charity causes including Big Brothers Big Sisters in North Texas and the Dallas/Fort Worth Celebration of Reading effort, and serves as National Co-Chair of Maverick PAC, a political action committee he founded to “engage next generation Republican leaders from business, politics and law to build a national network and strengthen the future of our country.”

Bush would bring several distinctive qualities to the table as a future candidate: He is half Hispanic (mother Columba Bush is a Mexican immigrant), speaks Spanish, sits on the board of directors of Hispanic Republicans for Texas, and is already considered an important surrogate to Latino voters by the Republican Party. Given his family connections, he has instant name recognition, and yet seems to have done a good job navigating the recent Establishment/Tea Party divide (endorsing, for example, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz). And of course on top of all that, given his new post and MavPAC connections, he’ll be in a great position to fundraise!

Bush will undoubtedly makes some waves again next month when he represents his clan at this year’s Republican National Convention in Florida. (Neither W. nor H.W. will attend). But in case you miss it, don’t despair. George P. first spoke at the nominating event as a 12-year-old in 1988, so it won’t be his first time in the Convention spotlight, and if things keep going his way, I strongly suspect it won’t be his last.

George P. Bush at the Republican National Convention in 1988

Cruz vs. Dewhurst

Apologies for the lapse in posting. I’ve been struggling with a cold (yes, a cold in the heat of Texas summer!). However, I’m going to catch up here, and for my first post, want to give some initial thoughts on Tuesday’s Senate runoff between Ted Cruz and David Dewhurst. This race has really dominated the political scene in Texas this summer, particularly these last two weeks. It’s been an interesting one on so many levels, and one I’ll be thinking about (scratching my head?) for a while.

For one thing, I find the emergence of Cruz (a Princeton and Harvard alum, lawyer and former Supreme Court clerk) as a Tea Party favorite surprising to begin with, given the movement’s anti-establishment tenor. The way the race played out, moreover – with the candidate with greater national support trampling the candidate with more local support – highlights the tension between the Tea Party’s image as a “grassroots, homegrown” movement and its actual strategy, which has come to rely heavily on national publicity,air-dropped endorsements, and out-of-state campaign cash. (This particular contest featured a very high-profile host of out-of-towners swooping in to support Cruz, including Rick Santorum, Rand Paul, Sarah Palin, and Jim DeMint. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, it also attracted three times more outside money than any other Senate primary. This is a strange dynamic, particularly for Texas – a point this Austin American-Statesman piece captures well.)

Picking up on the jobs theme I mentioned in my initial post, I also find it odd that Dewhurst couldn’t manage to make more of his background as a former energy executive, and the fact that, as Rick Perry’s #2 for the last ten years, he has helped oversee a relatively impressive period of statewide economic growth. As we’ve seen with Romney, apparently a strong business background just isn’t an ace in the hole, even as strengthening the economy is at or near the top of everyone’s priorities list this election season. Indeed, the Club for Growth in Washington was one of Cruz’s largest contributors, pumping $1.5 million in pro-Cruz TV ads during the final week of the campaign alone. So much for Dewhurst’s “native Texan, proud veteran, successful businessman” mantra!

While I’m at it, let me comment on a few other aspects of this race with respect to the themes I laid out in my June 19 post:

Growing Hispanic political clout: Cruz is a Cuban-American whose father immigrated to the U.S. in the ‘50s, and his primary victory (essentially guaranteeing success in November’s general election), has made him the nation’s newest “Latino star-in-the-making” and an “overnight A-lister of Republicans to watch.” I’m very curious to see how his relationship with the Hispanic community will develop. While Cruz has been drawing comparisons to Florida senator and fellow Cuban-American Marco Rubio (also a Tea Party darling), the course of the primary suggests that he and Rubio will go very different ways with respect to the immigration debate; while Rubio has been a vocal supporter of the DREAM Act, Cruz’s approach to immigration/border control issues during the primary was basically: “be more hardline than Dewhurst.” (Same as with everything else – point for consistency, I suppose!) I certainly can’t think of any good reason to expect he’ll start to back down.

Campaign finance: At a speech last Friday in the Woodlands, Cruz spent most of his time attacking Obama but briefly jabbed at Dewhurst: “My opponent thinks a big, big checkbook can buy this race… Let me tell you, nobody is going to buy this U.S. Senate seat. This race has been a testament to the power of grassroots.” On one hand, given my concern about the role money plays in electoral outcomes, I suppose it’s encouraging that Cruz was even able to prevail against someone with $20 million of his own money to pour into his campaign. (As opposed to just ~$1 million of his own money, like Cruz!) But let’s face it: money played a ridiculously huge role in this race. So far, it has been the most expensive in the country in terms of money spent. (And the second-most expensive in terms of fundraising, with Massachusetts in first.)

Tea Party vs. the establishment: At a rally for Cruz last week in Dallas, Sarah Palin promised the crowd that he would “never make nice with the frou-frou, chi-chi cocktail crowd” in Washington, and I think that sentiment (in less than 10 words!) really captures what has fueled Cruz’s dark horse candidacy all along. Frank Bruni seems to me to hit the nail right on the head:

Politico’s Mike Allen goes further, anticipating Cruz’s likely triumph in the general election and noting: “This means a growing swath of Capitol Hill Republicans have NO allegiance to leadership: The incentive, rather, is to REMAIN PURE. And these candidates have access to their own media and money—the traditional party levers for containing rebels. So even if Romney were to win—even if the GOP held the House and took the Senate—there’s no guarantee he’d be able to broker a deal with his own party, on deficits or anything else.”

Lovely. Just lovely. And just what Congress needs: more rancor and stasis. We’ve seen so very little of that over the last few years.

If, like me, this story depresses you, please stay tuned – I plan to discuss old-school and up-and-coming Texas Democratic women in my next posts. On to happier things! : )

Obama in Texas

This week, President Obama made a pair of whirlwind campaign stops in Texas:

Air Force One first touched down on Tuesday around 11 am in San Antonio, where the President was greeted at the airport by San Antonio mayor Julian Castro, the mayor’s twin brother State Rep. Joaquin Castro, and U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez. The presidential motorcade quickly made its way to the San Antonio Convention Center, where the President addressed a ballroom of 1,000+ supporters, and then to the home of San Antonio attorney Mikal Watts for a private fundraiser.

Around 4pm the President arrived in Austin, where he was greeted by Mayor Lee Leffingwell and other local notables, addressed a 1,000+ crowd at another large event hosted by the LGBT Leadership Council at the Austin Music Hall, and attended a second private fundraiser at the residence of former Dell CFO Tom Meredith.

Obama at the Austin Music Hall

During this most recent trip to the Lone Star State — Obama’s first visit to San Antonio since 2008 and his third to Austin in three years — the President continued to hammer away on his message of support for the middle class and touted accomplishments of the last four years including health care reform, the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and this summer’s executive order allowing hundreds of thousands of young immigrants to remain in the U.S.

Unsurprisingly, the visit also unleashed a volley of protest from Texas Republicans (see my previous post “Texas vs. the Feds”); Governor Perry reiterated his criticism of the Administration’s response to Texas’ new voter ID law, while Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst called the President the “most serious threat to America since World War II.”

While yesterday’s visit was undoubtedly a fundraising success (expected to collect over $3 million), I look forward to the day Democratic presidential candidates start coming to Texas for votes — not just dollars.


Obama at a 2007 rally at Austin’s Auditorium Shores…

…and giving the “hook ’em horns” sign before a speech at UT Austin in 2010.

Texas vs. the Feds

Several months ago the Texas Tribune published a little “interactive” piece on Texas vs. the Feds. I couldn’t help but think of it last week, when Governor Perry told federal officials on Monday (in a letter to Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius) that Texas would not pursue Medicaid expansion, a major provision of health care reform (i.e. the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act). With a flourish, he called the provision a “major intrusion into the sovereignty of our state” that would “enlarge a broken system” and “threaten even Texas with financial ruin.”

Secretary Sebelius responded the next day with a letter to governors declaring the Administration’s commitment to “listening to feedback and concerns,” but others offered a more pointed response. Rep. Doggett, for example, said the following:

“Having once talked about Texas’ right to secede, Governor Perry’s move to secede from health insurance reform is not surprising, but it is disgraceful.  He is only trying to protect his Big Insurance buddies and deny millions of working Texans access to an insurance marketplace similar to the one through which he once obtained his own health insurance.  And his refusal of billions of federal dollars is more of the same—a narrow-minded policy, which denies our most economically disadvantaged neighbors access to a family doctor and denies many employers a more healthy workforce.”

(25% of Texans lack health insurance, the highest rate in the nation.)

Rebecca Acuña, spokeswoman for the Texas Democratic Party, offered a similar reaction:

“Rick Perry’s announcement is both cruel and negligent. No person with a speck of intelligence would turn down billions in federal dollars that would be a boon to our economy and help Texans. But then again this is Rick Perry. Rick Perry could’ve brought billions in federal dollars to Texas, reduced the rate of the uninsured and improved the quality of life for Texans. Rick Perry’s Texas solution is to let Texans stay ill and uninsured. That is not a health care plan. Once again Perry is putting partisan political pandering in front of the interests of Texas.”

In spite of Perry’s grandstanding, some (such as former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm) believe that Texas will eventually change its tune and opt to expand. But that is probably not much consolation to the 1 in 4 Texans today that are without health insurance.

A new leader for Texas Dems

This week I’d like to highlight a number of interesting articles on newly-elected chairman of the Texas Democratic Party Gilberto Hinojosa. A 59-year-old Brownsville attorney and former Cameron County judge, Hinojosa was elected by a wide margin at last month’s state convention in Houston and is the first Hispanic to hold the post.

He certainly has his work cut out for him: Democrats haven’t won a statewide election since 1994 and are hungry for an aggressive new strategy to lead them out of the wilderness. As Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune notes with respect to the convention: “The outgoing state party chairman, Boyd Richie, gave a carnivorous valedictory speech that had some of the audience wondering where that guy had been for the last six years. He served red meat, and they gobbled it up.” (Kind of reminds me of John Kerry’s convention speech in 2008!)

Hence the excitement surrounding Hinojosa’s plans to “deliver the base” – through increased voter turnout and unabashed commitment to a progressive agenda. According to the San Antonio Express:

“Base” is a word that comes up repeatedly when Hinojosa talks politics. He believes it’s the Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans, unionized workers and others whom the party needs to get to the polls in order to win.

Only then will deep-pocketed Democratic donors stop sending all their money out of state, he said.

Adds the Austin American-Statesman

There are two things that turn out the vote: big issues and exciting candidates. Hinojosa believes that Republican policies on illegal immigration, health care, public education and college tuition will give Democrats a boost in the years to come, particularly among Hispanics and young voters.

To win, Hinojosa said Democrats must address other liberal issues that motivate core supporters, something the party hasn’t always done in the past. Hinojosa admits he was one of the party leaders who thought pushing centrist positions was the way to win back independents and attract Republican moderates.

“They have left — not to return,” Hinojosa said, adding that hard-core Democratic supporters lost interest and stopped voting.

The party will no longer hesitate to embrace issues important to the base, such as abortion rights, decriminalization of marijuana and equal marriage rights for nonheterosexuals, Hinojosa said. The party’s platform takes liberal stances on many issues, and Hinojosa did not try to backpedal.

As a Texan, it will be particularly fascinating to see if this approach proves successful. Texans, however, are not the only ones who will be watching. Hinojosa himself has said of the strategy’s national significance:

“If you increase Latino turnout in the state of Texas, by every study that’s out there, by 8 to 10 percent, Texas becomes blue… If Texas becomes blue, it is impossible for the Republicans to elect a president of the United States.”