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TCDCC

On playing small ball

Campos reacts to Mayor Parker’s future statewide plans.

SmallBall

And here again is my small ball take from a few weeks ago:

It is time for small ball instead of the big inning.

In baseball, small ball is a strategy where you manufacture runs by utilizing the bunt, stealing bases, the hit and run, walks, hitting behind the runner, and contact hitting. You have to use this strategy if your offense is short of bashers. The big inning is a strategy where you rely heavily on the extra base hit, the walks, dingers, and have the capability of scoring a lot of runs in an inning. You need to have a lineup that includes a few power hitters and fence swingers.

Moving forward, Dems in the Lone Star State should consider utilizing the small ball strategy. We need to look at where we can pick up a run here and there. Let’s look at the map and see here we have a shot at a legislative seat, a county commissioner, county judgeship, district judgeship, county clerk, JP, constable – you get the picture. In a state with 254 counties, don’t tell me there are not any opportunities.

We are not ready for big inning play and I am not talking about a lack of quality statewide candidates. We had a good slate this past go-around. We just didn’t have the weapons to swing for the fences – a solid, organized, and energetic base. We build the base by playing small ball and picking up a run here and there. That’s how you manufacture some Ws.

Maybe the Mayor is thinking the statewide political environment will dramatically be altered in two or four years. Maybe she thinks the GOP in charge of our state government will run our state into the ground and the voters will be ready for the Mayor’s leadership. Of course, the GOP has been running the state for ten years now and they have only gotten more votes. Or maybe she has the confidence she can put together a big inning style campaign. I don’t know about that. Maybe she just wants to make sure that her name stays out there in the mix along with all the other politicos that have gotten previous statewide potential mention.

All I can say is get on out to places like Lufkin, Brownwood, Raymondville, Sherman, and Odessa and see if folks are interested.

Three thoughts:

1. I agree that there needs to be an increased focus on local elections, and have said so previously. I would simply note that there’s no need to wait until 2016 for this. There are plenty of elections this year that need attention, and anything we can do to get our people into a habit of voting outside of Presidential years will be a good thing. The May elections in Pasadena and Plano, where I’m sure some Council members will need defending, will require involvement. It would also be nice to see a worthy successor elected to fill Diego Bernal’s Council seat in San Antonio. Here in Houston, CM Richard Nguyen in District F made a courageous vote in favor of the HERO last year, and will be running for re-election having come out as a Democrat in a district that hasn’t elected anyone of the Democratic persuasion in my memory. He deserves our support, and if we’re not rallying to his side then there’s something wrong with us. The two open At Large seats – three if CM Christie decides to run for Mayor – are opportunities to elect strong progressive voices. If we want to act locally, there’s no time like the present.

2. As far as 2016 goes, if we are interested in trying to gain some ground at the county level, I would note that that is what the Texas County Democratic Campaign Committee (TCDCC) was created to do. I don’t know where things stand with that now – I suspect they got lost in the shuffle last year – but the point is that some work in identifying potential downballot targets has already been done. If there’s nothing left of the TCDCC to speak of, then frankly this is a place where Battleground Texas could step in and do some good. Crunch the numbers, identify some opportunities, share the information, and work with the locals to find and support good candidates. And if not the TCDCC or BGTX, then I don’t know who else. It’s easy to talk about this stuff. Actually doing it is a lot harder.

Here in Harris County, there are a few elections of interest for 2016. Winning back HD144, hopefully with a plan to not fumble it away again in 2018, is a priority. I still believe there is ground to be gained in HDs 132 and 135, perhaps more as a long-term investment. Countywide, we’ll have Ogg v. Anderson 2.0 for DA, someone to run for Tax Assessor, and depending on what Adrian Garcia decides to do, possibly a Sheriff’s office to win back or hold. If we want to think big – and I see no reason why playing small ball means thinking small – there’s Steve Radack’s seat on Commissioners Court. Precinct 4 was about 60-40 red in 2012, but if we’re serious about growing the vote here, that’s where a lot of untapped voters are going to be. We can wait around until he decides to retire, whenever that may be, or we can take a shot at it. You tell me what you would prefer.

3. As a reminder, there are no statewide elections in 2016 other than one Railroad Commissioner spot and the judicial races. As was the case last year, there won’t be much action in the legislative races, even with more attention on HD144. District Attorney, maybe Sheriff, and at a lower level Tax Assessor are the only countywide races that will draw interest, though perhaps if someone steps up to run against Steve Radack that will make a bit of noise. Obviously, there’s the Presidential race, and it is always the main driver of turnout, but what I’m saying is that as things stand right now, that will be even more the case in 2016. Barring anything unexpected, that means Team Hillary, which in turn means Battleground Texas, since the two are so closely intertwined. I don’t know what is going to happen to BGTX, and I don’t know how people are going to feel about them in another 18 or 20 months. What I do know is that we will have a better outcome, here and elsewhere in the state, if we – all of us, everyone – can find some way to work together rather than work at cross purposes. I personally don’t care who’s in charge, or who gets the credit when there is credit to be had. As Benjamin Franklin once said, if we do not hang together we will surely hang separately. It’s up to us what path we take.

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 info@TexasCDCC.com 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 http://www.texascdcc.com/tcdcc-contribute.html.

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 info@texascdcc.com 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.

Not just Austin, dammit

What Flavia Isabel says:

The single purpose of this post is to eradicate the phrase “Oh yeah, Austin is a blue dot in a sea of red” from the vocabulary of anybody who cares about turning Texas blue.

I am so incredibly sick and tired of hearing this refrain. It’s part of the Austin mythology. And it needs to die and get buried six feet under because it is not helpful. Every time someone says “Austin is a blue dot in a sea of red”, a voter in a swing district registers as a Republican.

Battleground Texas just set up shop and they have the incredible, sisyphean task of convincing people that Texas can go blue. We all have that incredible task. In fact, I had that task last week, when trying to convince my partner, a native Texan, that we can go blue. I made him listen to me rant while cooking, which involved a lot of banging of pots and pans. This is a dangerous activity. I almost picked up a hot pan with my hands. No ranting while cooking. Also, this blog post is to spare him more ranting. Tangent over.

Anyways, perpetuating the myth that Austin is a blue dot in a sea of red is not helpful because it isn’t true.

More than one blue spot

More than one blue spot

Flavia goes on to cite a bunch of evidence in support of her thesis, and you should go read what she has to say. I’m right there with her on this, and spewed a rant of my own in the comments of this dKos post where that tired old trope was trotted out in the first paragraph. To me, belief in that shibboleth is de facto evidence that you don’t understand Texas politics – if you believe this, you probably also believe that the office of Ag Commissioner is more powerful than the Governor, since someone told you that once.

I don’t want to reiterate Flavia’s arguments, but as a numbers guy I can’t help but pile on a little. The city of Houston voted over 60% for President Obama in 2008 and in 2012. In terms of margin of victory, no county was more Democratic than Dallas County, which Obama carried by 110,000 votes; he carried Travis County by 93,000. More votes were cast for Obama in Harris County – which he carried twice – in 2012 than there were total votes cast in Travis County (587K Obama votes in Harris, 387K total votes in Travis). And Travis County represents about 7% of the Texas total Democratic vote, so 93% of Obama voters lived elsewhere. Throw in the counties from the greater Austin metro area – Hays, Bastrop, and Williamson, at least – and you get to about 10% of the statewide total, leaving 90% of the Obama vote from everywhere else. Convinced yet?

More broadly, there were more votes cast for President Obama in Texas in 2012 than there were votes cast for him in every other state except California, New York, and Florida. Let me repeat that: More Texans voted for President Obama last year than residents of every other state except California, New York, and Florida. There were more Texas votes for Obama than there were Illinois votes for Obama. Go look it up for yourself.

Now obviously, a lot of this is due to our sheer size – Texas is the second most populous state in the country. And of course, there were a lot more votes cast for Mitt Romney in Texas than there were for President Obama; we wouldn’t be having this conversation otherwise. My point is simply that there are a lot of us Democrats in Texas, and we’re everywhere in the state. To imply otherwise is ignorant and insulting. Please don’t do that.

I do agree that if you look at a map of Texas’ electoral results, you will see a lot of red. Texas has a lot of counties – 254 of them – and a lot of them are truly Republican turf. Of course, a lot of those counties are lightly populated – by my count, there were 25 counties that cast fewer than 1000 votes in 2012 – and a lot of those sparsely populated areas tend to be heavily Republican. Still, the way to make the map look less red is to turn more counties blue. Democratic activist Robert Ryland, the Chair of the Bastrop County Democratic Party, has an idea for how to facilitate that, one that’s so clear and obvious in retrospect that the rest of us should all be slapping our foreheads and saying “Why didn’t I think of that?” Here’s the pitch from his email:

Please stop whatever you’re doing and make whatever contribution you can to The Texas County Democratic Campaign Committee (TCDCC) on ActBlue!

Some of you already know that against my better judgment (but with the encouragement of many others), I have started a PAC.

The Texas County Democratic Campaign Committee will focus on addressing one of our biggest weaknesses: recruiting & supporting county-level Democratic candidates outside of our current urban strongholds.

This organization is designed to bring Democratic county officials together under an umbrella of mutual interest, expand their numbers wherever possible, and support their efforts to serve their constituents effectively once they’re in office.

Working at the county level, TCDCC will be helping to rebuild the Democratic brand where our candidates can, in theory at least, shake hands with every voter who will cast a ballot in their election. We can build new coalitions through one-on-one contact with voters on a level that State Lege and Congressional candidates cannot, at what is frankly a bargain price tag. I don’t have to explain to y’all the positive ripple effects that can have for every Democrat in Texas down the road, and our work will feed into the efforts of groups like HDCC, DCCC, Annie’s List and others.

The long-term goal is about rebuilding our bench of candidates for higher office and rehabilitating the Democratic brand where we need it most. With Battleground TX and TDP ramping up efforts to register and engage more voters and rebuild organizational infrastructure, having quality candidates up and down the ballot will be critical to consolidating that work into actual electoral gains. It’s also about better local government, and electing folks who can cope sensibly with the burdens and baloney that our Republican-led legislature is passing on to them.

“So, what drove you to this, Rob?”
Glad you asked.

After working with candidates and running campaigns for the last three cycles in Bastrop County, I’ve come to understand how difficult it is for Democrats to run for local office out here and across much of Texas. With little support available from the state party and few resources of any kind to help them deliver a strong message and drive turnout on the margins, these brave souls often feel like they’re on an island, with a hostile political landscape to navigate. After talking with a number of Democratic commissioners and county judges, I’ve found a lot of them have felt this way for awhile. No organization has previously existed to help them, and – from what I can tell – this is the one piece of the grassroots puzzle we we’ve been missing – until now.

We have already begun to identify many commissioner and county judge seats across the state as possible Democratic pickups in 2014. The potential playing field is vast, but to ensure success in our first cycle we need to keep our challenges manageable while being disciplined about raising the funds needed to run a robust operation in 2014 and build for the long term. After the wipeouts of 2010 and redistricting, there’s actually plenty of low-hanging fruit to be found, but we need to bring a smart and coordinated effort to this fight or we could miss some great opportunities.

This is a fantastic idea. I’ve made a contribution to the TCDCC, whose website (TexasCDCC.com) will be operational shortly, and I strongly encourage you to do so, too. It’s going to take all of us to dispel those pernicious myths about Texas. This is a great place to help with that effort.