Who’s up for a virtual convention? Texas Democrat Party goes first

The Texas Democrat Party is holding a virtual convention this week, the first such large event held by any of the Democrat Party’s state conventions. Is it the wave of the future or will this go by the wayside once the coronavirus is no longer such a pressing concern?

Time will tell but the Texas Democrats are breaking new ground this week. It kicked off Monday and runs through Saturday. Joe Biden will address the convention Saturday. Democrats in Minnesota planned to hold a virtual convention this week, too, but it has been postponed because of what has happened the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. A traditional convention in Texas was scrapped due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Texas Democrats think they have a shot at turning Texas blue in November and taking back power. In 2018, the party saw some strong gains, though not at statewide offices. The Texas House of Representatives is a favored target by the likes of Beto O’Rourke and other Democrats hoping to flip it to Democrat control. The 2018 election put the Democrats within nine seats of flipping it. I’ve written about the hopes of Texas Democrats winning statewide elections and taking back the State House and Senate since Battleground Texas was formed in 2013. Slowly the state party has made some progress and 2018 was proof that with a strong blue wave election, the party can take control of city and county government offices. They just haven’t cracked statewide offices yet. The question this cycle is will there be enough enthusiasm for Joe Biden to bring out Democrat voters like the candidacy of Beto O’Rourke did in 2018? I’m not convinced of that.

There hasn’t been much coverage of the convention, given the events of the week. Between the pandemic and the protest marches and riots of the past week, there isn’t much room in news coverage for something like a virtual state party convention. It looks like the final day, Saturday will be the day if any news comes from it. Besides Joe Biden’s scheduled speech, a debate is scheduled between Air Force veteran M.J. Hegar and state Sen. Royce West. They are the two Democrats in a July primary runoff to challenge Republican Sen. John Cornyn.

Today, on Day Four, according to the website, panel discussions will be aired beginning at noon. The panel discussions include Young Voters and the Future of Democratic Politics, People with Disabilities and the Fight for Equal Access, A Conversation with the 2020 Statewide Democratic Judicial Slate, Saving Texas: The Movement to End Gun Violence, and our Featured Session: Texas Democrats and Our Growing Movement. It looks like boilerplate Democrat topics, right? I’ll note that the website page is paid for by ActBlue – an independent fundraising arm of the national party.

Biden, O’Rourke, and Julian Castro will speak to the convention on Saturday. On Friday, vice-presidential hopefuls Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, plus Nancy Pelosi will speak. The state party thinks this is their time, their moment in November to flip Texas to a battleground state.

“We know this is our moment,” Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said to start the convention. “Republicans are scared. We are on the cusp of victory it is within our reach. Texas is the biggest battleground state in America.”

A Democratic presidential candidate has not carried Texas since 1976 when Jimmy Carter won the state over Gerald Ford. But Democrats point out that Hillary Clinton came within 9 points of President Donald Trump in 2016 — the closest a Democrat has come to winning Texas in over 20 years. They also point to 2018, when O’Rourke came within 3 percentage points of upsetting U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

State Republicans have been slow to take Democrats seriously over the last few years. Complacency has set in after the victories of 1994 ushered in George W. Bush as governor and Republican success in taking statewide races, as well as state senate seats. No Democrat has won a statewide election since 1998. Frankly, the 2018 election cycle ended a lot of that complacency. Do I think Texas is ready to move to be a blue state? No, not this year. I can tell you that I’ve lived in Houston since 1998 (plus two years in Dallas in the 1980s) and the political landscape has changed over time. Texas has been a beacon for job creation and economic entrepreneurship that has drawn new residents from high tax, lower opportunity states like California. Texas is still a red state in presidential elections but Democrats run the big cities. Democrats even took control of Harris County (Houston) in 2018, which was a political earthquake.

The national Democrat Party is ready to lay the blame of the pandemic and massive unemployment at the feet of President Trump – not China where it belongs. And the state party is grooming some local officeholders for elections. This includes Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the authoritarian socialist in charge of the state’s largest county. You know, the one who wanted to slap a fine of $1,000 on people for not wearing a face mask in public until the police department said, um, no, they weren’t going to enforce that toothless order.

“Now more than ever we need a change in leadership to get our country back on the right track.” Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez told Texas party members via a pre-recorded video. “This pandemic has laid bare the utter incompetence, inexperience, ineffectiveness, lack of empathy and compassion of Donald Trump. This failure to prepare for this crisis and listen to health experts has cost people their jobs, their savings and even their lives.”

During a conference call with other county leaders from Dallas, Austin and Brownsville, Hidalgo said she’s moved quickly to protect as many lives as possible even as some have tried to go after her politically. As she has stated before, Hidalgo said she has no problem debating Republicans or whomever to defend her policy decisions, but now is not the time as the county continues to see more COVID-19 cases. She said when it comes time for the next elections, she’ll be more than willing to defend her decisions.

“This is not a political game right now,” Hidalgo said. “We can play that game when it comes time to run for office.”

She may not call it a game but the politics of the pandemic have been clear from the beginning. Democrats were quick to make every death Trump’s fault and continue to divide the country as they spout Communist talking points coming from China.

The Republican Party of Texas plans to hold its convention in mid-July in Houston.

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