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:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail