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A Game of Inches

Jon Mark Hogg, arms crossed, leaning to his left against a wall

The Texas Democratic Party is not a state-wide party. It has not been for over a quarter of a century. What I mean by this is that unless a party can win state-wide races on a consistent basis, it is not a state-wide party. It is a local and regional party in the state. The only purpose of a political party is to win elections. At this the Texas Democratic Party has failed miserably.

I do not say this to disparage the courageous efforts of decades of hard-working and dedicated party leaders, candidates, activists and volunteers. I am one of you. I am on your side. I have served as a precinct chair, county chair, volunteer and candidate. If what I have to say is unpleasant, please try to hear it in the spirit in which it is offered. We have all been holding on waiting for a demographic or cultural shift to save us that is not coming. The fault is not in our demographics but in ourselves.

The Texas Democratic Party’s great mistake was to fall for the lie that we could be a statewide party without the state. That is. without having strong support in all areas of the state. We flew right into our own Bermuda Triangle — DFW-Houston-San Antonio. This played perfectly into the hands of the message from Republicans which was — the folks in the “liberal” cities are out to destroy our “way of life” and our “Texas values”. This was simply another way to say the values held by rural people. In large measure they convinced people that rural and suburban meant Republican and urban meant Democrat. We bought into this and started believing the Texas GOP propaganda ourselves.

The Texas Democratic Party’s great mistake was to fall for the lie that we could be a statewide party without the state. That is. without having strong support in all areas of the state.

Time has shown us that the Texas GOP cares nothing about the rural “way of life” or “Texas values”. But by promoting this falsehood so effectively what they did was create and spread a division between rural and urban areas that Texas had never experienced before. The irony is that it is not rural voters but the urban/suburban ideologues that drive the Texas GOP agenda — from attacks on our public schools, to refusing to expand Medicaid, to the destruction of our rural hospitals and health care. We played into their hands perfectly. It is time to stop playing the game by their rules.

What the last two election cycles have shown us is that Texas Democrats will never win another state-wide election on the backs of the urban/suburban vote alone. 2020 confirmed that. Recovering our status as a state-wide party is not a question of voter registration or turnout. We do those well. But those are tactics. What we need are a grand strategy and great logistics. A cookie cutter approach using national campaign strategies and messaging will not work here. This is Texas.

The only place left for Democrats to gain significant vote growth is in rural Texas. We have done all we can do in urban and suburban areas. Out here is where the battle for the future of Texas will be fought. If we continue to ignore this fact, the Republicans in their rural fastness will still be able to maintain enough of an edge to defeat even our best candidates in state-wide races, even if it is just by 3–4% points. Thanks to the growth in the urban/suburban vote, we do not have to win outright in any of our rural counties to win state-wide. We only have to improve our position by a few points overall state-wide. Those percentage points will only be found in rural Texas. This is a game of inches. This is the only way forward for Texas Democrats, and it is not something that can be done for us by the party or dictated from the top down. We must do it ourselves. It is a long road full of hard work and yes, disappointments. It may take twenty or thirty years before we see real progress.

The first thing that must be cast off is the current message of the national and state party. Our formal party organizations do not understand rural Texas and do not really try to. They do not know how to talk to rural people and have no idea what people here worry about. The current message from Austin will not sell in rural Texas and the state and national parties will have to adapt to this new reality if they want to win in Texas.

Over my next few essays I want to explore this idea. If Democrats were to take this idea seriously what would such a project look like, how do we do it? This idea is not original. Many Texas Democrats, much smarter and more influential than myself, have been saying this for decades. My thoughts and ideas are just building on their work. So far the party has not been listening. I do not have all the answers, but it is time to ask the question and start the discussion. Do we want to be a state-wide party or not? If yes, are we willing to make the changes necessary to win?

As I said at the start, the only purpose of a political party is to win elections. It does not exist to promote any one ideology or philosophy over another. It is here to do the long hard work necessary to get votes and win. If it does not win elections it is useless. It is time for soul-searching, to accept reality, change, and work hard. If you are not interested in those, please get out of the way.

Jon Mark Hogg is the founder of The 134 PAC, a lawyer in San Angelo, Texas, and a former Democratic Candidate for Congress.

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