FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Texas Democrats Set a Standard for the Whole Party

by ROBERT JENSEN

Republicans dominate Texas politics, but the national Democrats could learn a simple lesson from the state: Before you can become the party in power, you have to be a real opposition party.

When 51 Democratic members of the Texas House of Representatives left for Oklahoma earlier this month to derail a Republican redistricting plan, they did something that – for Democrats these days – seems radical: They stood up for themselves and for the democratic process.

The national Democrats have caved in to the Bush administration on every front – most notably an obscene tax cut that benefits the wealthiest and a war based on lies about terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. The Democrats’ status-quo politics has allowed the ideologically fanatical Republican leadership to push the status quo ever further to the right.

In Texas, it’s been an ugly year for centrist, let alone progressive, politics. With majorities of 88-62 in the state House and 19-12 in the state Senate, Republicans have been gutting health and human-services programs, undermining environmental regulation and pushing bogus tort-reform measures – all of which will reward the rich and punish the poor.

Texas Democrats were getting nowhere in attempts to slow down this right-wing juggernaut. The Republican House speaker, Tom Craddick of Midland, played Bush’s game: Talk bipartisanship but wield power harshly. Some of the reactionary right’s agenda was advanced under the cover of a projected $10-billion shortfall for the next two fiscal years, but much of the legislative agenda was independent of the budget crisis.

Enter U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and his plan to redistrict the Texas congressional delegation. If his gerrymandering had succeeded, the current balance of 17 Democrats to 15 Republicans could have shifted to 22 Republicans and 10 Democrats.

Three federal judges drew the current boundaries when the legislature failed to do so after the 2000 census. There’s no principled or legal reason the districts need to be redrawn before 2010; at least DeLay was honest about that. “I’m the majority leader and we want more seats,” he said.

That’s what Texas Democrats faced when they boarded a bus for the Holiday Inn in Ardmore, Okla. Their absence denied the state House a quorum, and they didn’t return until after the May 15 deadline for passage of House bills, guaranteeing that the redistricting plan was dead.

They’ve been called cowards for leaving, but their action took real political courage. Yes, they were trying to protect the last remnant of Democratic political power in a state with a Republican executive and legislature, and two Republican U.S. senators. But there also was a question of fair play.

Lon Burnam, one of the Democratic refugees, said the walkout was born partly of outrage at GOP tactics: “For three months the Republicans refused to deal with fundamental issues – the deficit, funding for public schools, a homeowners’ insurance crisis … And then they wanted to let Tom DeLay define the state’s agenda during the last week that House bills could be considered. It was absolutely unnecessary and would have seriously undermined the Voting Rights Act in Texas.”

Will the Democrats’ gambit pay off politically? The next election will provide the answer, but as one letter-writer in Austin put it, “I was ecstatic to see that Texas Democrats still have guts.”

And Erin Rogers, who handles organizing and lobbies the legislature for the Texas chapter of the Sierra Club, said: “Democrats across the state were cheering, not only because redistricting failed but because the party found its spine.”

Although the current two-party system is killing real democracy, the Democrats should heed this: If you want to be something more than Karl Rove’s doormat, keep more of an eye on Texas in the coming months than on the polls. Taking risks might prove to be politically effective. And even if it doesn’t win votes in the short term, it will win back some self-respect.

ROBERT JENSEN is a founding member of the Nowar Collective (www.nowarcollective.com), a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and author of “Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream.” He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.

 

 

Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of several books, including the forthcoming Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully (Counterpoint/Soft Skull, fall 2015). http://www.amazon.com/Plain-Radical-Living-Learning-Gracefully/dp/1593766181 Robert Jensen can be reached at rjensen@austin.utexas.edu and his articles can be found online at http://robertwjensen.org/. To join an email list to receive articles by Jensen, go to http://www.thirdcoastactivist.org/jensenupdates-info.html. Twitter: @jensenrobertw. Notes. [1] Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, 3rd ed. (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996), p. 106. [2] Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986). [3] Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, edited and with a revised translation by Susan McReynolds Oddo (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2011), p. 55.

Weekend Edition
May 06, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Dave Wagner
When Liberals Run Out of Patience: the Impolite Exile of Seymour Hersh
John Stauber
Strange Bedfellows: the Bizarre Coalition of Kochs, Neocons and Democrats Allied Against Trump and His #FUvoters
Rob Urie
Hillary Clinton and the End of the Democratic Party
Joshua Frank
Afghanistan: Bombing the Land of the Snow Leopard
Bill Martin
Fear of Trump: Annals of Parliamentary Cretinism
Doug Johnson Hatlem
NYC Board of Elections Suspends 2nd Official, Delays Hillary Clinton v. Bernie Sanders Results Certification
Carol Miller
Pretending the Democratic Party Platform Matters
Paul Street
Hey, Bernie, Leave Them Kids Alone
Tamara Pearson
Mexico Already Has a Giant Wall, and a Mining Company Helped to Build It
Paul Craig Roberts
Somnolent Europe, Russia, and China
Dave Lindorff
Bringing the Sanders ‘Revolution’ to Philly’s Streets
Margaret Kimberley
Obama’s Last Gasp Imperialism
Carmelo Ruiz
The New Wave of Repression in Puerto Rico
Jack Denton
Prison Labor Strike in Alabama: “We Will No Longer Contribute to Our Own Oppression”
Jeffrey St. Clair
David Bowie’s 100 Favorite Books, the CounterPunch Connection
David Rosen
Poverty in America: the Deepening Crisis
Pepe Escobar
NATO on Trade, in Europe and Asia, is Doomed
Pete Dolack
Another Goodbye to Democracy if Transatlantic Partnership is Passed
Carla Blank
Prince: Pain and Dance
Gabriel Rockhill
Media Blackout on Nuit Debout
Barry Lando
Welcome to the Machine World: the Perfect Technological Storm
Hilary Goodfriend
The Wall Street Journal is Playing Dirty in El Salvador, Again
Frank Stricker
Ready for the Coming Assault on Social Security? Five Things Paul Ryan and Friends Don’t Want You to Think About
Robert Gordon
Beyond the Wall: an In-Depth Look at U.S. Immigration Policy
Roger Annis
City at the Heart of the Alberta Tar Sands Burning to the Ground
Simon Jones
RISE: New Politics for a Tired Scotland
Rob Hager
After Indiana: Sanders Wins another Purple State, But Remains Lost in a Haze of Bad Strategy and Rigged Delegate Math
Howard Lisnoff
Father Daniel Berrigan, Anti-war Hero With a Huge Blindspot
Adam Bartley
Australia-China Relations and the Politics of Canberra’s Submarine Deal
Nyla Ali Khan
The Complexity of the Kashmir Issue: “Conflict Can and Should be Handled Constructively
Josh Hoxie
American Tax Havens: Elites Don’t Have to go to Panama to Hide Their Money–They’ve Got Delaware
Ramzy Baroud
The Spirit of Nelson Mandela in Palestine: Is His Real Legacy Being Upheld?
Alli McCracken - Raed Jarrar
#IsraelSaudi: A Match Made in Hell
George Wuerthner
Working Wilderness and Other Code Words
Robert Koehler
Cowardice and Exoneration in Kunduz
Ron Jacobs
Psychedelic Rangers Extraordinaire
Missy Comley Beattie
It’s a Shit Show!
David Macaray
Our Best Weapon Is Being Systematically Eliminated
Colin Todhunter
Future Options: From Militarism and Monsanto to Gandhi and Bhaskar Save
Binoy Kampmark
The Trump Train Chugs Along
John Laforge
Dan Berrigan, 1921 – 2016: “We Haven’t Lost, Because We Haven’t Given Up.”
Tadeu Bijos
The Wants of Others
Norman Trabulsy Jr
John Denver and My 40th High School Reunion
Charles R. Larson
Being Gay in China, Circa 1987
David Yearsley
Skepticism, Irony, and Doubt: Williams on Bach
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail