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.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 09, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nasty As They Wanna Be
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Second Gilded Age: Overcoming the Rule of Billionaires and Militarists
Andrew Levine
Trump’s Chumps: Victims of the Old Bait and Switch
Chris Welzenbach
The Forgotten Sneak Attack
Lewis Lapham
Hostile Takeover
Joshua Frank
This Week at CounterPunch: More Hollow Smears and Baseless Accusations
Paul Street
The Democrats Do Their Job, Again
Vijay Prashad
The Cuban Revolution: Defying Imperialism From Its Backyard
Michael Hudson - Sharmini Peries
Orwellian Economics
Erin McCarley
American Nazis and the Fight for US History
Mark Ames
The Anonymous Blacklist Promoted by the Washington Post Has Apparent Ties to Ukrainian Fascism and CIA Spying
Yoav Litvin
Resist or Conform: Lessons in Fortitude and Weakness From the Israeli Left
Conn Hallinan
India & Pakistan: the Unthinkable
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Nativism on the Left – A Realer Smith
Joshua Sperber
Trump in the Age of Identity Politics
Brandy Baker
Jill Stein Sees Russia From Her House
Katheryne Schulz
Report from Santiago de Cuba: Celebrating Fidel’s Rebellious Life
Nelson Valdes
Fidel and the Good People
Norman Solomon
McCarthy’s Smiling Ghost: Democrats Point the Finger at Russia
Renee Parsons
The Snowflake Nation and Trump on Immigration
Margaret Kimberley
Black Fear of Trump
Michael J. Sainato
A Pruitt Running Through It: Trump Kills Nearly Useless EPA With Nomination of Oil Industry Hack
Ron Jacobs
Surviving Hate and Death—The AIDS Crisis in 1980s USA
David Swanson
Virginia’s Constitution Needs Improving
Louis Proyect
Narcos and the Story of Colombia’s Unhappiness
Paul Atwood
War Has Been, is, and Will be the American Way of Life…Unless?
John Wight
Syria and the Bodyguard of Lies
Richard Hardigan
Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Senate Bill Criminalizes Criticism of Israel
Kathy Kelly
See How We Live
David Macaray
Trump Picks his Secretary of Labor. Ho-Hum.
Howard Lisnoff
Interview with a Political Organizer
Yves Engler
BDS and Anti-Semitism
Adam Parsons
Home Truths About the Climate Emergency
Brian Cloughley
The Decline and Fall of Britain
Eamonn Fingleton
U.S. China Policy: Is Obama Schizoid?
Graham Peebles
Worldwide Air Pollution is Making us Ill
Joseph Natoli
Fake News is Subjective?
Andre Vltchek
Tough-Talking Philippine President Duterte
Binoy Kampmark
Total Surveillance: Snooping in the United Kingdom
Guillermo R. Gil
Vivirse la película: Willful Opposition to the Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico
Patrick Bond
South Africa’s Junk Credit Rating was Avoided, But at the Cost of Junk Analysis
Clancy Sigal
Investigate the Protesters! A Trial Balloon Filled With Poison Gas
Pierre Labossiere – Margaret Prescod
Human Rights and Alternative Media Delegation Report on Haiti’s Elections
Charles R. Larson
Review:  Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls: the Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
David Yearsley
Brahms and the Tears of Britain’s Oppressed
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail