Battleground Texas’ Goal of 2020 May Be Too Late

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Robert Draper’s dissection of Battleground Texas in this magazine interested me on two cutting issues. One, the Battleground leadership never thought Wendy Davis could win the governor’s race last year, and, two, their goal remains to turn Texas blue by 2020. That’s a presidential election year, and while winning that election might be important for the Democratic National Committee, it probably is too late for Texas Democrats. If winning statewide is delayed until 2020, Texas Democrats likely are looking at another decade of Republican control of the state.

Why, you ask?

Because the governor who can sign or veto any state or congressional redistricting plan for the next decade will have been elected in 2018. The cycle also will elect every member of the Legislative Redistricting Board, or LRB. The board is tasked with drawing the state’s legislative districts if the Legislature fails to do so in 2021 after the next Census. All redistricting plans ultimately are decided in the federal courts, but whichever side can go into court with a legally adopted plan has the advantage.

The Legislature’s current party alignment is in no small part due to Democratic losses in the statewide races of 1998. The LRB consists of the attorney general, the House speaker, the lieutenant governor, the comptroller and the land commissioner. Democratic candidates came close in the elections to two of those offices, but didn’t win. Because of that, House Speaker Pete Laney was the only Democrat on the panel in 2001 when it created what essentially became the map of legislative districts for the remainder of the decade. The maps, especially for the state House, were drawn to minimize how many districts minorities and urban legislators could win, while marginalizing rural white Democrats. In a single election under the new map, control of the House flipped from Democrat to Republican. The Republican advantage was so great that elected members from those districts are the ones who drew the redistricting maps in 2011, retaining a Republican majority for this decade.

Battleground’s task of winning the LRB is even more difficult than just getting into a position to win statewide, because this time it will require knocking off incumbents who were elected last year. Even if the Democrats elect a governor who vetoes a Republican legislative redistricting plan, the map would then go to the LRB to be re-drawn. So for the Democrats, regaining control of Texas can’t be a one trick pony.

Partisan control of the Legislature has a ripple effect. Sheriffs, county commissioners and even supposedly non-partisan mayors find they are more effective if they are dealing with legislators of their own party when seeking laws and state spending benefitting their communities.

The crucial election may be coming far faster than the leaders of Battleground Texas think. Republican victories in 2018 likely will seal another decade of their control of state government. For a Democratic Party that already has been out of power for 20 years, that fate reminds me of an tombstone epitaph I once read: “But forever is such a damn long time.”  

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  • Texas Publius

    Battleground Texas’s fatal flaw is that it thinks political tactics alone will turn Texas blue, rather than promoting issues that a sustainable majority of Texans agree with.

    • R.G. Ratcliffe

      Any suggestions on what those would be?

      • Indiana Pearl

        White Texans don’t give a rat’s ass about “the little brown ones” whose labor supports their state.

    • José

      “promoting issues that a sustainable majority of Texans agree with” strikes me as leading from behind, sort of one step removed from government by referendum. I would prefer a political party that succeeds by convincing the electorate to support their polices. It’s nutty how many people vote against the interests of themselves as individuals and for society as a whole. Look at how the changes to tax policy over the past few decades has done little more than make the rich richer while stagnating the middle class and accumulating a huge debt for their children.

      The republican ideal is to elect smart, hardworking folks who can identify problems, propose solutions, and manage the public affairs competently. We should demand representatives who are better informed than us on important matters of government. It’s not easy for any party to make that model work. Unfortunately the winning strategy has been to preach fear, hate, and suspicion. Witness the current Republican delegations in Congress, who are good at finding blame and obstructing others when they should be accomplishing something worthwhile.

  • John Bernard Books

    No one ever said democrats were the smartest kids in the room, well yeah they did but I was speaking about the grownups.

  • Max Powers

    Texas is conservative. No changing that. How conservative? A fertilizer factory blew up and killed 13, injured hundreds, and nothing has happened to prevent something like that from happening again.

    • John Bernard Books

      No true you could move to Kalifornia, see you can do something about it.

  • prsteve11

    Battleground Texas has thus far been a breathtaking failure with Wendy Davis failing even to secure a full 39% of the vote statewide, the worst showing any Democratic gubernatorial nominee in a 2-way race since the George W. Bush landslide of 1998. If the Dems were truly making inroads with demographic changes, Davis should have at least gotten 45% of the vote, let alone 40%. The problem with Battleground Texas is the fundamental misunderstanding of Latino voters, particularly in Texas. Latinos are not a monolithic voting force like blacks are. Latinos are a wildcard, not just due to their voting turnout unpredictability but also that they are influenced by white voting trends, particularly in Texas. Like their white counterparts, many Texas Latinos vote Republican and I believe will continue to do so because they have more in common with white Texans than some would have you to believe. That is why a state like Georgia appears to be headed for more competition than Texas is. I don’t think Texas will be voting Democratic by 2020. Old habits die hard.