It is Time for Some Serious Talk
2018 offered some hope that the Democratic Party was gaining ground in Texas. 2020, still looked fairly bright, although it was not as favorable. This turned out to be wishful thinking. These small gains vanished once Trump was no longer a serious issue. What 2022 showed us, once again, is that Texas is a center right state and is firmly in the control of the Republican Party. Beto, O'Rourke, Mike Collier, Rochelle Garza, Susan Hays and Luke Warford never really had a chance simply because they were running as Democrats, with little to no name recognition and without prior political experience. One can Monday morning quarter back their campaigns, and the disarray and poor leadership of the state party, but in my view the problem is much more fundamental and goes a lot deeper. No amount of urban or rural strategy, voter registration or turnout efforts can overcome the simple fact that there are more people in Texas who would rather take their chances on the devil they know than the devil they don't know.
If they ever want to be relevant again, Democrats of all stripes, whether they like it or not, must come to terms with the reality that this is a center right state and if you want to gain power every electoral strategy and decision has to be made with this reality in mind. The strategy to win by registering more young, progressive or liberal voters is a failure. We are not going to out register the Texas GOP. They won't let us. We do not have a problem registering people to vote, and we know how to turnout our core voters. The problem is we do not have enough core voters to win statewide. We have a problem giving people beyond those core Democrats a reason to change their default pattern of electing Republicans and vote for Democratic candidates.
All things being equal, the average Texas voter is more likely to vote for a Republican than a Democrat. That is the fundamental truth and that is something no Democrat has any idea how to overcome. To try to change this will require deconstructing the party in Texas as it is currently known and rebuild it from the ground up. It would have to make some of its trademark priority issues to no longer be the top priority--issues it has built its recent brand around such as abortion, guns, LGBTQ and trans gender rights. Those planks will have to get out of the driver's seat and ride shotgun for a while. This is something the current direction and party establishment appears to be unwilling to even consider.
The Texas Democratic Party, as a whole, must decide what it wants to be. Does it want to be a left wing, progressive party fighting first and foremost for liberal, progressive causes, or does it want to gain and hold power and guide the policy decisions of state and local government on a host of issues. There are consequences to whichever we choose, and we must be honest enough with ourselves to acknowledge and accept the consequences of our decision. Choosing the former means, that Democrats may hold their claim to the moral high ground but accept their status as a permanent minority party in government for the foreseeable future. Since the 1990s this is the path we have chosen, and we are still choosing it every day and losing. By making this choice Democrats have no real impact on the public policy of this state. Choosing the latter can lead to eventual electoral success, power and the ability to govern, but it is the much more difficult road. It will require that we yield on some of our pet projects and issues, it will require significant more financial resources than we are used to, a level of hard work we apparently are not prepared for, and a multi-generational commitment.
The urban v. rural divide within the party needs to be healed and we need to formulate a long term, state-wide plan to gain power from the precinct level up all across the state. To my knowledge, no candidate has ever won statewide office in Texas without getting a sizeable percentage of the rural vote. The rural vote is what saves Republican candidates every election. To ignore this fact, and to put all our hopes in urban issues and urban votes, is to be willingly ignorant of Texas political history. As we saw in 2022, there is no guarantee that the urban/suburban vote will be there for Democrats in the future. There are over 3 million rural voters in Texas. That is larger than the population of many states in the Union. No party can win Texas on rural votes alone, but no party can win statewide without them. The Republicans have known this for decades, while Democrats refuse to face reality.
Another major problem for Democrats is the lack of qualified candidates to hold office if they were to be elected. Out of the statewide candidates in the 2022 election, I believe only Mr. O’Rourke had previously held public office of any kind. What is even worse for the future is that we do not have a bench of low-level office holders who could run for higher office in huge swaths of the state. With the Republican lock hold across the state, and with no candidates to run for the hundreds of offices available in those areas, the Democratic presence in large parts of the state is likely to vanish completely if something is not done to address this problem. Why would anyone who wants to get elected to office and serve her local community every run as a Democrat in most places in Texas? In the vast majority of the cities, towns and counties in Texas if you want to win you must run as a Republican. I know scores of local Democrats who serve as elected officials, but they run on the Republican ticket. Everyone knows they are really Democrats, but they don't care as long as there is an R behind their name. That same person could not get elected street sweeper if they ran as a Democrat.
It is time for Democrats to have serious conversations about these hard topics. Shouting down the views and opinions of conservative and moderate Democrats as DINOS just means that we are no different than Republicans. I welcome everyone who wants to reexamine everything and is willing to be serious and have serious conversations. Those who only want to tell me how wrong conservative and moderate Democrats are and defend the super progressive status quo, I do not have time for.
Jon Mark Hogg is a co-founder of The 134 PAC. The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Mr. Hogg and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the other co-founders, the advisory board or supporters of The 134 PAC.