Despite Republican chaos in Texas, a progressive Democratic momentum is brewing
Even with all this chaos in the Lone Star State, Texas' rapid population growth in major urban and suburban areas across the state points to a trend to more progressive and inclusive politics
All eyes were on Texas this past week as conservative activists from around the nation gathered in Dallas for the Conservative Political Action Conference. Almost every Republican thinking about running for their party’s 2024 presidential nomination was in attendance and spoke. They shared a vision for America that fed a crowd who still believes that the 2020 election was stolen and the Jan. 6 insurrection was a made-up event created by the media.
At the very same time as this political gathering of ridiculous opinions and lies was happening in Dallas, the new special session of the Texas Legislature was taking place in Austin. On Saturday, the Texas House of Representatives had their committee hearing on House Bill 3 that would put in place new restrictions on voting.
During the hearing, Republicans admitted that they had no proof of large acts of voting fraud but continued with their efforts to disenfranchise Texans, especially communities of color. One particular attack on voting rights is to outlaw 24-hour and drive-through voting that had been used by Harris County in 2020.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott expressed that he saw drive-through voting having a “coercive effect” on voting integrity while at the same time being quiet on the language in the bill that would allow partisan poll-watchers to have “free movement” at polling places. After a nearly 24-hour hearing where people from all over Texas waited in line to testify against the bill, the legislation passed and will continue to move forward toward becoming law.
Now, Texas Democrats in the State House of Representatives have taken the necessary action to leave Texas to stop this act of voter disenfranchisement by Governor Abbott and Republicans from moving forward.
In the middle of all this, on Sunday, Texas Republicans elected a new state party chair that clearly captures who they have become as a party. Former Texas State Representative Matt Rinaldi was elected to replace Allen West as chair of the Texas GOP. During the 2017 Texas legislative session, he called immigration authorities to the Texas State Capitol when protestors demonstrated over legislation on sanctuary cities laws. Mr. Rinaldi is a former State Representative because Dallas area voters rejected his racist actions and record in the 2018 election.
Texas is seemingly determined to be the frontline of the battles that will shape our nation for generations to come. Instead of focusing on important issues such as the integrity of our electrical grid or ending discrimination against students for wearing their hair naturally, Governor Abbott and his fellow Republicans are doubling down on embracing the Trump wing of their party.
Even with all this chaos, there are growing reasons to further engage in Texas during the upcoming 2022 and 2024 elections. As Texas continues its rapid population growth, major urban and suburban areas across the state continue their trend to more progressive and inclusive politics. In the 2021 municipal elections that recently took place, we saw a swing up in voter participation and the election of a new wave of local officials. In the suburbs of Dallas, the City of Little Elm made history when they elected Curtis Cornelious their first African American Mayor. Mayor Cornelious’ election comes in a city that strongly supported President Trump in 2020.
In the key Texas battleground of Tarrant County, voters in Fort Worth sent a clear message for change when they elected Dr. Jared Williams to the Fort Worth City Council in the June 5, 2021 runoff election. Dr. Williams’ election is significant because he ran as a progressive young African-American candidate with a message of inclusion against a 16-year Republican incumbent.
When Dr. Williams announced his candidacy in 2020, most political pundits in Texas, both Republican and Democrat, gave him little chance of winning. They saw a seat that was never drawn to be won by someone who looked like Dr. Williams and believed he had no chance of winning. While the established pundits wrote off his campaign, he embraced a grassroots-powered and neighborhood-focused movement that carried him to victory.
His campaign also received key support from community-based political empowerment organizations such as The Collective, Black Women’s PAC of Texas, and United Fort Worth. His grassroots campaign and support from community-focused political organizations created the necessary voter engagement to flip this seat and secure a new Democratic majority on the Fort Worth City Council.
These victories in local elections in 2021 demonstrate that deep in the heart of Texas there is significant change happening at the local neighborhood and grassroots level. Similar to what happened in Georgia with the leadership of Stacey Abrams and Black Voters Matter, local leaders and organizations across Texas are building the infrastructure that will be crucial to successfully combat voter suppression efforts by Republicans and engaging Texans to vote in 2022 and 2024.
A few weeks ago, the Texas Democratic Party announced a massive voter registration drive with the goal to register 2 million voters. The question for the Democratic Party, national organizations, and traditional donors is will they learn from Georgia and realize that success is tied to empowering local leaders and organizations to do this work in their communities.
Supporting local leaders and organizations in Texas with the necessary resources they will need for voter registration, voter ID, and get out the vote (GOTV) efforts in 2022 and 2024 will determine if there is success. Texas can be won, but it will take a commitment to support and fund the local leaders and organizations who are already doing the work and understand how to communicate with and engage their communities.
Haley Taylor Schlitz is in her third year of law school at SMU Dedman School of Law. In May of 2019, she graduated with honors with a Bachelor of Science degree from Texas Woman’s University College of Professional Education. She is also the youngest graduate in the history of Texas Woman’s University and is an elected delegate to the Texas Democratic Party and was elected and served as a Joe Biden Delegate from Texas to the Democratic National Convention.
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