Turning Texas blue is about more than just a Democratic governor

Photo by Bob Daemmrich

Mary Beth Rogers, former campaign manager, LBJ School professor and CEO of KLRU-TV, has written an interesting book titled "Turning Texas Blue." Part partisan polemic and part advice to current Democrats, its subtitle should more accurately be “how to elect a Blue Governor.” The focus throughout is not on building (or rebuilding) a political party from the ground up but, rather, on how to elect a governor who, somehow will lead the state to turn blue.

While I hate giving advice to the opposition, if the Democrats are going to once again be dominant, reconstructing the grass roots of the party is essential.

While Rogers provides an overview of Texas political history over the past few decades and describes how she believes the GOP became dominant, "Turning Texas Blue" is more impressionistic than precise. In addition to some factual errors (for example, she misremembers Ann Richards' 334,066-vote loss to George W. Bush as "an astounding million-vote margin"), Rogers also misinterprets the lessons from the GOP rise to dominance with her emphasis on electing a governor.

Winning one statewide office is rarely the path to rebirth for a political party. Does anyone seriously believe that John Bel Edwards’ election last year will return Louisiana to Democratic Party dominance? It was 17 years after John Tower’s special election victory when the Texas GOP finally broke the ice on electing another statewide official, and 18 more years before Republicans became the dominant party in Texas. Meanwhile, the GOP was following a Fabian strategy, slowly winning more state legislative and county-level races and building grassroots support, volunteers and potential candidates for higher office. No single statewide victory brought about the change in Texas' partisan strength.

While I hate giving advice to the opposition, if the Democrats are going to once again be dominant, reconstructing the grass roots of the party is essential. As the saying goes, you cannot win if you don’t field a team. In both the off year of 2014 and the presidential year of 2016 – when an anticipated higher turnout is thought to benefit Democrats – nearly 40 percent of state Senate and House districts were ceded to the Republicans without even a fight because no Democrat filed.

Digging down to the county level uncovers even more reasons for distress: The party is failing to build a farm team of potential candidates with government experience. Two years ago, 86 counties had no Democratic candidate for any county office, while another 35 had just one candidate. In this year’s election, the numbers are even worse: There are no Democratic candidates for any county office in 117 counties and only one such candidate in another 41 counties. Unless and until Democrats start fielding candidates willing to lose in local and state legislative elections, they have little chance of rebuilding their party.

Wayne Thorburn

Author; former executive director of the Texas Republican Party

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