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Swing Left 7

Two stories about grassroots GOTV efforts

Both from the Observer. First, Inside Beto’s Plan to Turn Out Black Voters in Houston:

With two days till early voting, Cameron Mayfield, a Beto O’Rourke field organizer, gets busy setting up a makeshift campaign office in a corner of a combination KFC/Taco Bell in Kashmere Gardens, a predominantly black neighborhood in northeast Houston. Mayfield lugs in a laptop and phone charger. Precinct maps and campaign literature are piled haphazardly on the table.

While other parts of the city are flush with Beto volunteers, the KFC/Taco Bell franchise owner was the only one in this neighborhood to offer up space to the campaign. The men’s bathroom is currently out of order, employees take orders from behind bulletproof glass and, of course, there’s no WiFi.

Kashmere Gardens is one of the poorest parts of the city — median household income hovers around $26,000 — and it was among the areas hardest hit by Harvey. Forty percent of neighborhood residents affected by the storm are still living in homes that need repair. It also has a large concentration of people who’ve been incarcerated, many of whom are unclear about their voting eligibility. Many are unaware that their voting rights are restored once they get off probation or parole.

Kyle Maronie, who grew up in Settegast, a neighborhood a few miles to the northeast, shows up for the noon shift — he’s the main volunteer Mayfield depends on. It’s not easy work. People are often hesitant to answer the door and don’t want to talk.

But Maronie brings enthusiasm to the job. “Block walking is the best way to not only understand the needs of the community, but also to get a visual understanding of situations people live in,” he told me. “They’ve been left out of the conversation for so long.”

If O’Rourke is to become the first Texas Democrat to win a statewide race in a quarter-century, one of the hundreds of things he needs to do is inspire huge levels of turnout from black voters. Anglos may be flooding into Beto campaign rallies by the thousands, and the party’s future may hinge on its ability to turn out Latino voters, but the backbone of the Texas Democratic Party base is black — and it has been for a long time.

At a block-walk event on Houston’s South Side earlier that day, Damien Jones, Beto’s political director for the Houston area, laid out the stakes. “Two years ago,” Jones pronounced in his red Chucks and a black-and-white “BETO” trucker hat, “many of us had many regrets about what happened — that we didn’t do enough. This is the time to leave it all on the field. We can’t have any regrets this time.”

[…]

Polls have consistently shown O’Rourke with overwhelming levels of support from African-American voters in Texas. The energy has activists cautiously optimistic about the chances for a big bump in turnout. Terrence Shanks, a Democratic activist in Senate District 13, which represents many of Houston’s black neighborhoods, predicts that turnout in Harris County will come close to presidential levels. “My spidey sense says that while turnout won’t be as high as 2008, it will be comparable,” Shanks said.

That story was published on the 29th, and as we know by now Shanks’ Spidey-sense was pretty accurate, perhaps even a bit understated.

Story two, The Suburban Resistance Built a Grassroots Powerhouse — and it Could Decide the Most Competitive Race in Texas:

Almost two years ago, Rebecca Weisz Shukla didn’t want to get out of bed on November 7. Or November 8. On the 9th, she made a trip to Costco and couldn’t help but wonder whether each person she encountered had voted for Donald Trump. “I shouldn’t have been surprised [that Trump won], but I was,” Shukla said. She was depressed, she was angry and she didn’t know what to do.

Shukla, a 50-year-old mother of two college-aged kids who lives in the affluent enclave of West University Place, is emblematic of the Trump backlash, which has been animated in part by a suburban swell of newly activated, (mostly) white, (mostly) well-off women. A few months after the election, she heard about Swing Left, one of many progressive groups that formed in the wake of Trump’s election. Swing Left was laser-focused on mobilizing volunteers to win the bounty of GOP-controlled congressional districts that voted for Clinton.

Little did she know, Shukla lived in the heart of a district that saw one of the most dramatic swings toward Clinton in the entire country. In 2012, Mitt Romney won the 7th Congressional District, in suburban west Houston by more than 20 percent. But in 2016, Clinton narrowly won the district.

Now, the race between incumbent Republican John Culberson and Democrat Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, a Houston corporate lawyer, has become one of the closest and most expensive House battles in the country.

Fletcher’s campaign has hewed closely to the traditional DCCC model: spend a ton of money on TV and mailers and run to the middle with an emphasis on flipping highly educated, moderate Republican and independent voters who live in the wealthier, high-turnout pockets of the district.

But glossy mailers and slick TV spots do not a blue wave make. If Fletcher is able to oust a nearly 20-year incumbent in a district that’s been Republican since George H.W. Bush held it in the 1960s, it will be in large part due to the work of volunteers behind Swing TX-7 Left. The group is fueled by tireless leaders like Shukla, Jane Lesnick, a 44-year-old full-time parent of two young kids, and Jay Taylor, a retired attorney who said he has found far more fulfillment through his new foray into political organizing than he ever did during his career in debt collection.

With little experience, these activists have built from scratch a grassroots powerhouse in a place that has never really had that before. Over the past 18 months, they’ve recruited dozens of volunteers, helped register thousands of voters, organized local precincts and hit tens of thousands of doors. In short order, they’ve made themselves the Democratic backbone of the district.

[…]

These days, it’s hard to find a flat surface in Shukla’s home that isn’t littered with lawn signs, fliers and mailers. It’s a makeshift volunteer headquarters. When I visit her home during the first week of early voting, a Swing Left organizer has taken over her living room table and is cold calling a list of potential volunteers.

The Swing TX-7 Left Facebook group has more than 700 members and has become a central tool for organizing block walks and talking strategy. Shukla now has more than 500 Facebook friends and has become a well-known and respected figure in the Harris County activism scene.

Swing Left’s embed into the Fletcher campaign is running more smoothly now. But that doesn’t mean they’ve sacrificed the soul of their original endeavor. She’s spent much of this week canvassing apartment complexes and is helping organize a massive block walk in a heavily Latino precinct with tons of apartments in Sharpstown this weekend.

Trump’s election has forever changed Shukla — and countless women like her. “No matter what happens, I want to be able to say I did what I could,” Shukla explained. “That mission is accomplished.”

And what if Fletcher doesn’t swing the 7th to the left? “I don’t know,” she said, pausing. “It depends on how they lose. … If it’s not close now, then it’s not happening here. Not anytime soon.”

If you’re even Democratic-adjacent in Harris County, you’ve probably seen a metric crap-ton of Swing Left activity on Facebook. There’s a long bit in this story about registering and turning out apartment dwellers, which should make Greg Wythe’s heart a little lighter. Read ’em both before you head out to the polls tomorrow or hit the phones today.

Shared fundraising

I like this.

Seven Democrats facing off in a single Texas congressional primary have an odd way of fighting it out.

On Tuesday, they plan to put aside their differences and fundraise, together. That’s because the money they raise will go to the primary winner – no matter who it is.

This “unity fundraiser” in Dallas is sponsored by a Texas chapter of the group “Swing Left,” an organization that raises money for swing district Democrats and promises to cut a check for the eventual primary winner.

“Everyone has committed to supporting the eventual nominee,” said former Obama administration official Ed Meier, one of seven Democratic primary opponents hoping to challenge Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, in the general election. “It’s in that spirit that the Swing Left fundraiser makes a ton of sense. We want to capitalize on that positive energy and spirit right now.”

[…]

The organization hopes to help candidates who emerge cash-poor from primaries with an early infusion to help them hire staff or buy ads. Local groups have raised money with everything from wine and cheese parties to one 10-hour “fund-rager” at a bar.

The “unity fundraiser” at a Dallas banquet room may be a new twist, and more than 80 people have registered to attend. Swing Left and allied groups have raised $135,821 to help the nominee in the general election.

According to the Swing Left TX07 Facebook page, from which I got this link, there has been a similar for-the-winner effort going on in CD07, with some $130K being available at this time. (The recent unpleasantness with the DCCC does not appear to have derailed this, thankfully.) It’s a good idea, not just for the resources but also because it invests voters in the race. The more of this we can do, the better.

TX-07 Progressive Candidate Policy Forum

An event of interest for folks who will have a tough decision to make in March.

TX-07 Progressive Candidate Policy Forum
Hosted by Indivisible to Flip Texas District 7

Saturday, December 2 at 2 PM – 4 PM
Cook Middle School
9111 Wheatland Dr, Houston, Texas 77064

The progressive candidates running for District 7 House of Representatives will attend this event to meet constituents and participate in a policy discussion.

Please fill out this opinion survey on your top policy issues: https://goo.gl/forms/MWI56Ncxu4DJRfOx2

Come make your voice heard. And learn how to get involved. Working together, indivisible, we can #FlipTX07.

RSVP and share this event with your friends: https://actionnetwork.org/events/tx-07-candidate-policy-forum

This is the third Town Hall Forum by Indivisible Texas Dist. 7 and Swing Left 7, two groups of progressive Houstonians who are working to unite the voters and residents to unseat U.S. Congressman John Culberson in the mid term election. The two previous Town Halls were held in May and July with a total of about 500 folks in attendance turn out combined. All six candidates are confirmed to attend: Joshua Butler, James Cargas, Lizzie Fletcher, Laura Moser, Alex Triantaphyllis and Jason Westin. Come see who you want to be your candidate in November.