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May 6th, 2013:

A Q&A about the TCDCC

Last week, I introduced you to the Texas County Democratic Campaign Committee (TCDCC), which is focused on recruiting and supporting county-level Democratic candidates outside of our current urban strongholds. It’s an idea and an organization that is long overdue. I wanted to know more about it, so I sent some questions to TCDCC founder Robert Ryland. Here’s our conversation:

1. What made you think of this? Are there organizations like the TCDCC in other states, or is this a first?

Well, for starters, Democrats have lost hundreds of county offices over the last few cycles and not many people seemed to have noticed, but it is crippling us at the grassroots level. I’ve been organizing and working with local candidates in Bastrop County over the last three cycles and seen firsthand their difficulties in trying to be heard over the din of the big media and big money that drives so much of the election narrative – and which has a much bigger impact on turnout than seemingly anything our local party can do for them. It’s like trying to control the tides. Access to resources outside their immediate community is virtually non-existent, and the state party hasn’t had the bandwidth or the funding to really support them in any meaningful way. In a state so dominated by hyper-conservative messaging, local Democrats are at a huge disadvantage in close races, especially in rural & suburban areas like ours. Losing local races also means losing our profile in the community and makes local politics discouraging to activists. We can’t keep hoping that some magical leader will ride to our rescue – Democratic county officials have to unite and work together and fight for themselves and for more progressive and responsible local government.

And we’ve needed something like this for a while. Our caucuses in the legislature and Congress have PACs to protect endangered incumbents and recruit and support candidates for competitive seats; why shouldn’t we have something similar for our elected officials at the level that’s closest to the voters? This is long overdue, in my opinion.

I haven’t come across organizations like this in other states, though I would hope they exist somewhere. I do know that in some states with strong Democratic infrastructure, the party does this kind of work.

2. What are the goals of the TCDCC? Do you intend to contribute directly to candidates, or to provide in-kind assistance (consulting, website, etc)?

The big picture is about rebuilding our bench with capable candidates and rehabilitating the Democratic brand at the neighborhood level. Our immediate goals are bringing our county-level incumbents together as stakeholders in this endeavor; identifying potential pickups, recruiting and training good candidates to run competitive races and supporting incumbents who may be facing serious Republican challenges.

We’ve modeled this somewhat after HDCC. We’ll build this out to be able to provide different services depending on the candidate’s needs. That may be direct contributions, or in-kind work by helping them put together a solid campaign, connecting them with the right vendors, training them to run field programs and work with voter data, etc. It may mean other things directly from the PAC. Moving forward, we want to be able to provide a suite of member services to office-holders to help them serve their constituents more effectively and make the case for more progressive policy and budgeting at the county level.

3. How will you identify the candidates you want to assist? How can a candidate put himself or herself on the TCDCC’s radar?

The best way for prospective candidates to put themselves on our radar right now is to contact us at and tell us about themselves.

The big question for any candidate is always “can you win?” But it’s never as simple as the numbers might suggest.

We’ve started by looking closely at precinct-level election data, demographics, and trends as well as local issues and community assets. Several factors can affect a local race. Who has a good profile and background for the office, and the skill set to run a strong race? What kinds of factors might make the Republican incumbent or potential challengers vulnerable? I think that wherever we can find a strong candidate who wants to run, it’s important that we find a way to help them somehow – even if the numbers may not favor them this cycle. This is a long-term project. We have to look at future cycles too, find ways we can make a dent in the Republican machine. We should keep in mind that a lack of opposition implies consent. There’s an old saying: the best time to plant a tree is 40 years ago – the next best time to plant a tree is right now.

4. Do you intend to prioritize certain office types over others, or are all county offices in scope?

We want to start by focusing on the policy and budgeting end of county government – commissioners and county judges, for the most part. Administrative and law enforcement offices are a different animal, and we’ll need more time and study to figure out where those might fit in to our plan. In some counties they carry more authority than others. We don’t want to box ourselves out of anything at this point, so we will certainly examine any opportunity. But the commissioners’ courts are where our focus is for now.

5. You said in your introductory email that the TCDCC seeks to support “county-level Democratic candidates outside of our current urban strongholds”. Are there particular parts of the state that you will be targeting? Are there any races you are looking at already?

We’re looking all over the state, but working outside our urban strongholds is really central to this; it’s where we need it most. The big cities have strong local parties and campaign infrastructure; they’re already developing young candidates and campaign professionals through their ranks, and have a broader base of institutional assets to draw on. Plus, with electorates of their size, much larger financial interests come into play. We want to focus in counties where we don’t have such muscular advantages – but where a little investment could go a long way. Staying out of the biggest counties also stretches our resources because the voter universes are much more manageable, especially for first-time candidates. We can keep these contests on a grassroots level, where you can shake hands with pretty much every person who can cast a ballot for you, and build relationships with voters face-to-face. There are a number of races we’ve already identified as potential pickups and we’ve only scratched the surface. Keep in mind that we lost quite a few seats in 2010 that we shouldn’t have; there’s actually quite a bit of low-hanging fruit, even in some less-than-obvious places.

The fun part about looking at county-level seats is that, while a particular House district or county may be heavily Republican, it may still be possible to find a precinct where Democrats can win. Instead of fretting about our chances to elect a Governor in 2014, let’s drill down and find places where Democratic voters could be propelled to the polls by a local candidate. At that level, the playing field can be pretty broad. Lots of folks are talking about Battleground, and their work is very important, but it only creates a new set of building blocks for us. To make that effort meaningful we need candidates for these newly-registered people to vote for – at every level.

6. The email also mentioned candidate recruitment. What are your plans for that?

Recruitment is the most critical element in this project. There’s a lot of research and profile-building that goes into successful recruitment, but I believe there is a great deal of value to be found in people and places that have historically been overlooked by our party’s establishment. We’ve already met with some folks who are exploring runs for county office, and we’ll be meeting with local officials, community leaders, party activists and others, anywhere and everywhere over the next 6 months. I just came back from the West Texas Conference of the County Judges and Commissioners Association out in Midland, where I met some great local Democrats who are prevailing against a pretty stacked deck. There are more opportunities like that to talk with potential recruits and incumbents – but we certainly won’t limit ourselves to those. All over the state there are Democrats who are community & business leaders, local school board & city council members – lots of talented folks serving right now, or wanting to serve, who could make formidable candidates. It’s important to find people with a good background, who will reflect well on our party, but who also understand the local political landscape and what it will take to connect with voters in their community.

It’s worth noting that some of our existing candidate committees (HDCC, DCCC etc.) have been forced leave some talent off the field for lack of a competitive district, and some folks who would make great candidates have declined to run due to the hefty price tag. Running for the State House is now a half-million-dollar proposition at least. That’s intimidating to anyone, let alone someone who’s pondering their first race. County races are much more affordable and manageable, and the candidate has the added comfort of being able to remain much closer to home and the community they know best, so the learning curve is shorter as well. Those are strong selling points.

7. What has the reaction been from the Democratic establishment?

I’m happy to say that the reaction has been uniformly positive and supportive. Lots of folks had the same reaction you did – “Great idea! Why haven’t we been doing this already?” It’s been a perpetual weakness in our infrastructure, and not working at this level has cost us dearly in terms of our bench and our impact on public policy. There’s been lots of encouragement for the project so far; we need to translate that support into a steady revenue stream to build a strong organization and maintain it over the long haul. This is just the beginning.

8. What can people do to help?

Supporters can donate to TCDCC via ActBlue. For info on other ways to contribute, go to

Beyond that, We need help with the number-crunching. We need to build a database of crucial information, down to the voting precinct level, that can be instrumental not only to this project but to other Democratic organizations across the state. We also need current Democratic elected officials at every level to see the big picture and climb on board with this effort.

Of course folks should Like us on Facebook, and spread the word to their friends. And we need eyes and ears. A project of this scope needs to have friends everywhere who can help us identify local assets, potential candidates and funding sources. We’ll have to lean on locals who know their communities and what issues are important to their neighbors. Information is going to be our lifeblood, and in that sense, Democrats in all parts of the state can play a critical role in this effort. Honestly, what better way to rebuild than from the ground up?

Robert can be contacted at if you have questions or information to share. I hope you’re inspired to donate to and like the TCDCC as I have been. There are many facets to turning Texas blue, and we need to be engaged in all of them.

Texas versus EPA, round one zillion

The desire to coddle polluters is strong in this one.

Houston Ship Channel, 1973

Houston Ship Channel, 1973

A Texas-led coalition of energy-producing states has asked the Supreme Court to hear a case involving the Obama administration’s efforts to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.

The petition, which was filed last week, comes 10 months after a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the legal underpinnings of the Environmental Protection Agency’s first-ever rules limiting emissions of greenhouse gases.

In the 33-page petition, the states said the justices should hear their appeal because the new federal rules are hurting their economies. The EPA “is a runaway federal agency that must be reined in,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said.


David Doniger, who directs climate policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the argument would be a non-starter with the court.

“The court has ruled that the Clean Air Act covers climate-altering pollution, just like any other pollution,” he said. “I don’t see it reaching a different conclusion now.”

The Supreme Court already ruled in 2007 that the EPA had the authority to regulate greenhouse gases, but that’s not stopping Abbott and his gang. This is as much about politics as anything else. Let’s hope SCOTUS remembers its ruling from six years ago and sends this appeal off to the dustbin.

No X Games for Houston


After more than 10 years in and around downtown Los Angeles, the X Games will leave Southern California for a new destination next year. Chicago, Detroit, Austin, Texas, and Charlotte, N.C. have been announced as finalist cities to earn three-year contracts to host the North American summer stop on the X Games global tour beginning in 2014, the X Games said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The X Games have grown significantly and has been enjoyed by millions of fans over the past 10 years in Los Angeles,” Scott Guglielmino, senior vice president, programming and X Games said in a statement. “Our partners AEG and the city of Los Angeles have been instrumental in our success. As we embark on a year of significant global expansion and transformation for X Games in 2013, we are excited about the potential each of these cities bring, and look forward to identifying our next host city for the X Games.”


Detroit has been the most vociferous in its desire to host the games, at least on social media. The committee representing the Detroit bid has started a Facebook and Twitter campaign and a website encouraging people to sign up to “join the movement.” Dan Gilbert, owner of Quicken Loans and the Cleveland Cavaliers, has recently added his support to the committee headed up by Kevin Krease and Garret Koehler. Charlotte has mounted a public campaign as well with a Facebook and a LinkedIn page.

The new host city is expected to be announced this summer.

The city of Houston had submitted a bid to host the X Games here, but apparently that didn’t measure up. Austin’s bid was made in conjunction with Circuit of the Americas, which is their new F1 Grand Prix facility. Here’s their press release on making the cut.

Austin’s proposal included utilizing the 1500-acre Circuit of The Americas facility, located in southeast Austin near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, as the primary site for the competition. With the on-site infrastructure for hosting tens of thousands of fans, entertainment amenities such as the Austin360 Amphitheater and park-like Grand Plaza, and lots of space to stage a variety of competitions, X Games officials determined the site is well-suited for the massive event.

“This is fantastic news for Austin and Circuit of The Americas,” said Paul Thornton, leader of the effort on behalf of Austin extreme sports fans and the Circuit. “ESPN’s X Games are hugely popular, large-scale sports and entertainment events that have become an important part of the annual major events calendar. Bringing the X Games to Austin would mean a significant economic impact for our community, bringing fans, competitors and media representatives from around the world to our hometown while once again putting Austin in the international spotlight.”

“We are thrilled that Austin is on the short list,” said Matthew Payne, executive director of the Austin Sports Commission. “We feel that the world-class venue at Circuit of The Americas is the perfect location for the ESPN X Games. If we are selected, the exposure for the city of Austin would be great on all fronts.”


ESPN will next schedule site visits to the four cities on the list of finalists, with a visit to Austin anticipated the week of June 3-7. ESPN will announce the new host city for the summer version of the X Games later this summer. Fans and community members can do their part to help Austin land the ESPN X Games by visiting the dedicated Facebook fan site,, clicking “Like” and sharing messages of support that will be read by ESPN officials and X Games fans worldwide. There is also a dedicated Twitter account,, for supporters that want to keep tabs on progress and participate in the discussion.

Best of luck, Austin.

So long, Skylane Apartments

This is happening in my neighborhood, and it’s already generated a lot of interest from the locals.

Elan Heights, from Swamplot

The aging Skylane Central apartments, perched near the entrance of the Woodland Heights neighborhood, are headed for demolition as a developer makes plans to replace the building with an upscale rental complex.

Charleston, S.C.-based Greystar is under contract to purchase the property, a low-rise complex built in 1960. Less than two acres, the site is just north of Interstate 10, off the Taylor Street bridge and across from White Oak Bayou.

The sale is expected to close in September, said Trent Conner, managing director of Greystar in Houston.

The project is the latest example of the rapid redevelopment of old apartment sites in highly desirable areas close to downtown.

The Greystar project, called Elan Heights, is still in the planning stages, but one of the scenarios being considered is an eight-story building with around 250 apartments and attached parking. The building would have a contemporary design encompassing an array of materials, including wood, metal panels, glass and stucco. Houston-based architecture firm Meeks & Partners is designing it.

“We’re hoping to improve the site and improve the curb appeal as you enter the Woodland Heights,” Conner said.

The new property will be an upgrade from what’s there now.

The existing apartments at 2222 White Oak have 76 units.

“I think there are some in the community that look forward to a change with the property the Skylane apartments are on,” said David Jordan, president of the Woodland Heights Civic Association.

Swamplot has the rendering you see above. The reactions I’ve seen to this in various places basically boils down to the following:

1. Happiness to see the Skylane disappear. As one Swamplot commenter notes, this also almost certainly also means the demise of the Little Buddy convenience store and the Mango Beach nightclub. Though I haven’t seen any mention of this elsewhere, I doubt the neighborhood will be sorry at that news, either.

2. Concern about the size of the proposed new building. Eight stories is pretty tall. Other than the townhomes on Usener, who as another commenter noted will likely lose their unobstructed view of downtown, there aren’t any other residences abutting this property. As such, I doubt this concern will mutate into opposition to the project.

3. Amazement that the developer could get a permit, considering that the Skylane flooded like crazy during TS Allison. I’m sure the first two or three stories of the new structure will be parking, so it’s only cars that will be at risk. I hope the future residents of this know what they’re getting into, and that their insurance is up to the task.