Life of the Party

Just when you thought that the Republicans had a lock on Texas, a gubernatorial debate and a mayoral election indicate that the Democrats are very much alive.

POLITICS IS SO DELICIOUSLY unpredictable. Texas Republicans entered 2002 anticipating their second straight sweep of every statewide office and judgeship plus the election of substantial majorities in the state House and Senate. All of this may yet come to pass. But two occurrences in Dallas during the last days of winter suggest that the Democrats are far from dead. One was the historic debates, in English and in Spanish, between Democratic gubernatorial candidates Tony Sanchez and Dan Morales; the other was the election of populist Laura Miller as mayor of Dallas in a nonpartisan race. The events were significant in their own right, but equally significant was the hoopla that surrounded them.

I was a questioner for the English-language debate between Sanchez and Morales, and I had spent a placid morning at the studios of KERA-TV, the PBS station that was hosting the debates, going over the procedures for the telecast with other panelists. When I returned in the late afternoon, the place had been transformed into a media circus. More than one hundred reporters, many from South Texas and Mexico, had descended on the studios to report on a debate that they were going to have to watch on TV monitors, no provision having been made for a live audience. Reporters stood outside in a misty rain broadcasting live reports, some of them in Spanish. After the English-language debate, first Morales and then Sanchez found their way to the pressroom blocked by hordes of reporters. Still others had climbed up a stairway that made right-angle turns and were leaning far over the railing, shouting questions in two languages. The wild scene resembled a trading pit at a commodities exchange.

The challenge facing the Democrats this fall is whether they will be able to turn out their vote on Election Day. Everyone in Texas politics knows that the Hispanic vote is a sleeping giant, but historically it has been more sleeping than giant. Can that change? The atmosphere at KERA suggests that it can. Here is your

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