Some Friendly, Post-Defeat Advice for What's Left of the Texas Democratic Party
What happened in Texas on Tuesday won't stay in Texas. The dominant Republican Party didn't just win. It didn't just win big. The Republicans won HUGE. The Democrats here suffered a dinosaur-killing meteor strike, the closest thing to an extinction-level event any of us are likely to see in politics, and it will take them a very long time to recover from it. After Tuesday, the Texas Democratic Party's headquarters looks a bit like this:
Starting from the top of the ticket, Gov. Rick Perry led the way, coasting to a 13-point win over Democrat Bill White. That was expected, as were the victories that all of the other statewide elected Republicans enjoyed. The Democrats at that level just never became competitive, and they also woke up to another grim reality: Thanks to a statewide candidate's performance by the lefty Green Party, that party will automatically appear on Texas ballots for years to come. So the already reeling Texas Democrats will face a left flank.
They also lost three seats in the U.S. House, and going into a redistricting year, they'll probably be on their heels for years to come.
The real shock occurred in the Texas House, where Republicans won a whopping 99 seats out of 150. The previous record was 88 seats, and the Republicans had actually lost seats over the previous two cycles. No one expected the GOP to get back to 88, much less pass it. But 2010 not only reversed the trend, it crushed it into a fine powder: There are now almost two Republicans for every Democrat in the state House. What all of this adds up to is conservative governance unleashed. And the timing couldn't be better: Texas faces a two-year budget hole of about $21 to $25 billion thanks to the national recession. With Republicans in control, spending cuts and efficiencies, not tax hikes, will lead the list of remedies.
As for the Texas Democrats, they have a huge hole of their own to dig out of. The voters sent them a very loud and clear message that Texas doesn't like the "progressive" politics that the Texas Democrats have been peddling. The Texas Democrats don't seem likely to get that message, though. Several years of defeat don't seem to have taught them much, other than to become more strident and shift farther to the left.
When I arrived in Texas in April 2009, I'd been out of the state for most of the previous 16 years. I'd spent four years in the Air Force overseas, then close to a dozen in deep blue Maryland. As conservative as the day I left Texas, 16 years later I returned to a state that was more conservative than I'd remembered, and, unlike the sclerotic Maryland I'd left, new. Texas seemed energetic, young and on the move with gleaming new highways adorned with the iconic Lone Star everywhere. Businesses seemed to be flourishing everywhere despite the recession, and the cities, especially the state's mid-size cities like Austin, seemed to have quadrupled or more in size.
Baltimore, by contrast, lived up to the description attributed to Mencken, that it appeared to be the "ruins of a once great city." Even with its newish Inner Harbor, it just felt old.
Having only come back home for holiday visits during those years away, I'd lost a bit of what it was like to live in a state that has a real image of itself, and revels in that image, of being the place where rugged individual can still reach for their dreams. It was good to be home, and better even than I'd expected. The abundance of great Mexican food and the best steak anywhere were just the proverbial icing on the cake.
So when I returned, I came back to a Texas in the grip of conservatives up and down the state. And relative to the other large states, Texas was on the move. When I ran across the occasional gripe that Gov. Perry wasn't conservative enough or whatnot, I just about wanted to take the griper by the lapels and shake some sense into them. You have no idea how good you have it here. Don't screw it up.
Oddly enough, I also found a Democratic Party that wasn't responding well to its life in the wilderness. The Democrats were a party in disarray, without any real leadership, dispirited from a decade of defeat, and completely out of ideas of its own. On paper they looked formidable, with twice the staff of the state GOP and with the Austin media in their back pocket and a thriving blogosphere to back them up, and with Obama's personal army on the march for them all over the state. But all of that hid the reality that under state party chairman Boyd Richie, the Texas Democrats had become little more than a "progressive" corpse, animated from afar by the Democratic National Committee, Organizing for America, and Matt Angle's Shadow Party operation, otherwise known as the Lone Star Project. It was only in the latter that the Democrats here had any real energy, and even that energy was put to foul purposes. Angle's operation isn't a policy shop or idea factory, it's just a Democrat ex machina, a means by which Democrats try to attain power by killing the careers of Republicans by whatever means are at hand. Its only function is destructive. It stands for and does nothing positive.