A Democratic House member told me that the surviving D’s caucused on the day of Edmund Kuempel’s funeral. A common theme in the discussion was anger over what some members regarded as racism in the campaign. “Oliveira was the grownup,” the House member told me. “He said, ‘We don’t need to be talking about racism. We need to be talking about the budget.”
With Dunnam gone, the Democrats don’t have an obvious leader. He leaves a large void because he knew the rules backwards and forwards and could employ them effectively in debate. And he loved the game. There is no obvious successor. The veterans are Eiland, Gallego, Coleman, and Oliveira, but all four are nearer the end of their careers than the beginning. The first decision the Democrats are going to have to make is whether they want a bomb thrower (Martinez-Fischer, Raymond) or a policy wonk, such as Joaquin Castro or Michael Villareal. Villareal definitely wants the job. I think he’d be pretty good at it, but one of the requirements is an ability to raise money, and it’s not clear whether he (or anyone else) can do that. What is clear is that the future of the party lies with Hispanics and the younger members.
What can the Democrats do with their 51 votes? They’re going to lose every vote on the floor, but they have to hold Republicans accountable for the budget cuts that are coming. They need to concentrate their efforts at the committee level: get their best people on the key committees. Partisanship is less intense at the committee level, and members who are knowledgeable and work well with others have the opportunity to shape policy. Because they like government, Democrats know the issues better than Republicans do. They ran rings around Republicans last session. But their numbers are so small that their opportunities are going to be very limited. They aren’t going to be a factor for a long time.