I am tempted to use the worn-out image of the canary in the coal mine, but this is more like a vulture pecking at roadkill. The Democrats now find themselves looking up at a 72-78 deficit in the House. The retirement of David Farabee and the party switch by Chuck Hopson have wiped out, without an election, two of the three seats the Democrats gained in November 2008. And the Democrats have a lot of vulnerable seats to defend: Maldanado, Thibaut, Miklos, Heflin for starters. Heflin’s district is a blue island in a red sea; he has to contemplate whether life would be easier as a Republican. Indeed, I wonder if this current spate of party switching hasn’t been orchestrated to build momentum: first the Hardin County officials, then Hopson, then … Heflin? Homer?
Hopson probably didn’t want to switch. He now finds himself on the same side of the aisle as Debbie Riddle, who, upon happening to walk by his desk on one occasion and seeing Hopson and his deskmate poring over an open Bible, said, “Oh, I didn’t know Democrats read the Bible.”
Democrats have been leaking rural seats for some time now. It’s irreversible. Dan Ellis, gone. Robbie Cook, gone. Juan Garcia, gone. Pete Laney, gone. Heflin held Laney’s seat for the D’s on the strength of the last box to come in, against a uninspiring Republican opponent. Who is left? Frost in Texarkana, McReynolds in Lufkin, Homer in Paris. All are popular in their communities, but they have to run in a midterm election with a Democrat in the White House who brings the race issue into play in East Texas. The battle for rural Texas is over, and Republicans have won. The WD-40s are a vanishing breed.
The biggest problem for Democrats – and perhaps this is true for the Republicans as well – is that they do best when the opposition is in power. Their brief renaissance was fueled by the failures of the Bush Administration nationally and the overreaching of the Perry-Dewhurst-Craddick leadership at home. Now that their own party is in power, there is no check on the liberal policies that their leaders want to enact. And that is anathema here. The way things are going, Democrats are going to get their heads handed to them in Texas in 2010. They have no credible statewide candidates. They have a congressional leadership who put their ideological wish list – cap-and-trade and health care – ahead of the economy during a recession. They have a president who has fumbled the Democrats’ hard-earned recognition as more fiscally responsible than the Republicans. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Democratic strength in the Texas House back in the sixties a year from now. Anybody want the over?