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Texas Democratic Party Chair Candidate Forum – Recap and Commentary

Texas Democratic Party Chair Candidate Forum – Recap and Commentary

The three Party Chair candidates duked it out this last weekend, and not everyone walked away unscathed.

Over the weekend, in conjunction with UNT, Denton Together hosted a forum with the Democratic Party Chair candidates and the candidates for Texas Attorney General. I was most excited to see the Chair candidates all on stage simultaneously. The AG forum was also interesting, but Living Blue in Texas has already endorsed Joe Jaworski for A.G.

Here is the full video below. Let’s jump into it.

The first question was to Gilberto Hinojosa, the Chair, for ten years, yet, Democrats have failed to win any state races during that time (or since the 1990s). So why should Democratic delegates re-elect him this summer?

Hinojosa said that for Democrats to win a statewide office in Texas, they have to have the political infrastructure. He said that the political infrastructure was not there when he was elected. But, during his time in office, that has all changed.

But has it?

The Democratic vote has grown. Texas is now a purple state, or blue if you factor in the non-voters. Has that been because of Hinojosa’s diligent work, or is that a natural occurrence because of the changing demographics? Between 2010 – 2020, 95% of the population growth in Texas was people of color and all major racial and ethnic voters except for white lean Democratic.

Where’s our infrastructure when the GOP is pouring millions of dollars into South Texas? Yet, the only Democratic activity we’ve seen in the RGV is Beto’s campaign efforts.

Some counties in the South don’t even have County Democratic Party Chairs, so some County Party Chairs have taken on organizing for multiple counties, a feat impossible to be efficient at. And County Party Chairs and candidates alike all tell me the same thing, they don’t get help from the State Party, nor do they ever talk to them.

The next question was to Kim Olsen. She has been campaigning to do something that no one has done in 27-years, which is to get a Democrat into statewide office. She didn’t get elected when she ran for statewide office, so how would she get someone else elected to statewide office?

Olsen said she is proud of the races she has won and lost, and she’s proud of all of the candidates who put themselves out there.

Then she said there are three things Democrats need to win elections across this state.

  1. We need a leader to unify the Party around a shared vision and a common message.
  2. We need regional strategies to work across the areas of different states.
  3. And we need to convince funders that Texas is worth the investment.

I think these are all great ideas, and Olsen speaks a little about them on her website. However, I would like to see or hear the plan in full detail. How, what, when, and where.

The next question went to Carroll Robinson, who I was most interested in hearing from. While Kim Olsen has been campaigning for this position since last summer, in December, Robinson just jumped in out of nowhere. I haven’t been able to find a website for him, nor have I ever heard him speak. Robinson is from Houston, and I think it’s fair to say he’s relatively unknown around other parts of the state.

He is credited with re-building the Coalition of Black Democrats which is what was it that made him decide to run for Texas Democratic Party Chair.

Robinson said he’d like a Democrat to win a statewide race, he’d like to win the State House, he’d like to have a Democratic Lt. Governor, and he’d like to win a majority of the Senate. (Wouldn’t we all?) But, he continued, right now, the State Party doesn’t have that strategy. We have 9,000 precincts in this state, and we don’t have precinct chairs in each one of them.

This is true. The one thing I will give the Texas GOP credit for is their precinct chair strategy. The Texas GOP puts a lot of emphasis on precinct chairs, in-depth training, and support, recruiting, and they get treated like royalty in many counties with lavish parties and awards. As a result, in every county the GOP is beating us in, they have more precinct chairs. It’s something to think about.

Robinson also said there needs to be a county chair in all 254 counties. However, as I mentioned earlier, that isn’t the case.

Robinson mentioned a magic number of 7.5 million votes to win the 2022 elections. I’m so glad he said that because I’ve been wondering about that number for a long time.

Finally, Robinson mentioned data.

We have to fix our database. The VAN system is terrible. VAN is the database supplied to candidates and County Parties from the State Party with voter data. And it is awful. Candidates have told me, on multiple occasions, they rely on data from third-party vendors, which is more accurate and reliable than VAN.

The moderator gave Hinojosa a chance to respond.

Hinojosa said there is a program within the Party to fulfill these needs, and they have come very close to it, and whenever there is a vacancy, they have worked hard to fix it. Then, Hinojosa pivoted to talk about what Harris County looked like in 2010, when he took over, Democrats mainly controlled Harris County. He again highlighted how much margins have changed since he was elected.

What would Hinojosa do if re-elected?

Hinojosa said he believed they needed to continue to build the infrastructure. We need to make sure that every County Party is provided with the data and the training they need. The Party has developed regional political managers that they’re sending out all over the state to work with the counties in the rural areas to enhance their infrastructure.

They do? There is nothing on the State Party website to indicate that other than a job ad for a regional political manager in West Texas and RGV.

Then Hinojosa said at the end of the day that we wouldn’t achieve Democratic statewide victories until we get the Democratic National Committee helping us financially.

However, the National Party has long since abandoned us.

One consensus among Democrats in Texas, no matter the region or how far to the left or center, is that the National Party hasn’t done us any favors. I’ve said it before, and I’ve repeated it. Not only has the DNC abandoned us, but they also use our Texas donors for other states and have used Texas as campaign slogans. (I.E., “Don’t Texas my Virginia.”)

Hinojosa bragged about being the only Texas Democrat in the DNC Executive Committee. But where was he when Terry McAuliffe was insulting all of Texas organizers? Why wasn’t he making a fuss about that then?

Texas has been on its own for a long time, and our Democrats are different than Democrats in other states. But, unfortunately, only people in Texas understand that.

We should have had Julian Castro as Senator or as a candidate for Lt. Governor. He could have won in either case. But he never ran because the National Party talked him out of it, both times.

The moderator switched gears to talk about the DNC more.

The DNC doesn’t take Texas seriously. And it hasn’t.

Robinson’s next question was: What would you do to help the DNC see that Texas might have a chance?

Robinson said he’s not going to start with the DNC, and that’s part of the problem. He said, no disrespect to the Chair, he’s a friend, but ten years is enough. Here is how Robinson would prioritize; if you look at the data across 254 counties, past performance, registered voters, unregistered voters, you can see in the state where we need to go to improve our margins.

Robinson said he was opposed to a regional strategy and would focus on county parties instead.

Next, the moderator asked Olsen, the party seems to be moving in the right direction, although slowly. Do you think it is?

Olsen said that the clear and present danger “isn’t the gentlemen who are having a food fight on the stage, but the Republicans and their draconian legislation. Women’s healthcare is under attack. They don’t give a rat’s ass about our planet, they’re gutting the school systems, and we’re worried about what color we’re going to wear at a debate. We as Democrats need bold leadership and a sharp course correction if we’re going to change how this Party is being run. This isn’t 12-years ago. Democracy, in reality, is under attack, and it is beginning to disintegrate right before our very eyes.”

I don’t know about y’all, but I love brutal honesty.

And she is right. Many of us are worried about whether or not Democratic leadership has been taking the rise of Republican fascism seriously enough. Because it’s happening, and there is so much at stake.

Olsen went on to talk about her combat experience in the military and how she has witnessed countries come apart at the seam, and right now, America is in Chapter One. She stressed that we don’t have another decade, and we only have three to four years to get it right.

The moderator started the next round of questions with Olsen. The biggest problem Democrats around the country has is messaging. Give us some examples of how you would counter Republican rhetoric.

Olsen said that she believed there are two wings of the Democratic Party, the Progressives, and the Moderates. She said you need both wings to be solid and level to remain airborne. We have to convince voters that Democrats have their backs and share their values. But, she went on, we’re so busy sometimes reacting to what the Republicans are doing to us that we don’t articulate a strategic message. We get burned by the Nationals because they don’t understand Texas.

Olsen disagreed with Robinson and said that the State Party did need a regional strategy because regional strategies work when there is regional messaging.

As the moderator shifted back to Hinojosa, he poked fun at Texas Comptroller Glenn Hager, who is running on securing the border. Then he asked, why do Democrats have such trouble identifying a message?

Hinojosa said Republicans lie, take credit for the good things that Democrats do, and blame Democrats for the bad things they do.

All true. Show me a Republican, and I’ll show you a liar.

Hinojosa went on, and they’re shameless in the messaging they have. For example, Republicans have been messaging how it’s alright to put little kids in cages and separate families. He then posed the question, “how do we message on something like that? We show that Democrats are trying to do something good and help immigrants; otherwise, their children will starve and be murdered. How do you message on that?”

He said “you can’t, we can’t say that they’re right, we just have to say we’re better than that in America.”

But, actually you can message on that. As I gave plenty examples in our articled titled “Abbott Fabricated a Border Crisis, MSM Ignored, Now the ACLU is Suing.”

Talk about what the Republicans are doing. Abbott has lied and lied. Republicans all across America have repeated Abbott’s lies. What’s happened to the asylum seekers during the Remain in Mexico policy? It’s really awful, but hardly anyone talks about it.

Hinojosa claimed that we have more people in our base than the Republican Party does and our issue is Hinojosa claimed that we have more people in our base than the Republican Party does, and our issue is not the persuasion of our base. Our issue is to get our base out and vote. He said we could not message like Republicans, and we cannot lie, we cannot take credit for what we don’t do, we can only tell our folks you and your family will do better if you elect Democrats.

Here is what Hinojosa has wrong:

We can and should message like Republicans, and we can and should do it without lying.

Republican policy in these last few years has been terrible and hurt a lot of people. Our message can highlight that, and it would be the truth. Our message can highlight what will happen if Democrats lose, and that will be the truth.

Voters don’t need lies. They need the brutal truth. Democrats have been failing on messaging with brutal honesty.

The moderator then went to Robinson with the same question about messaging, why is it that Democrats cannot center on a message to get Democrats out to vote?

Robinson said he’s a Texas Democrat, so he’s trying to develop a message for Texas. He mentioned the Texas winter storm of 2021, and he would have thought that every Texas Democrat would be running ads, reminding Texans that Abbott killed Texans in the power grid failure and his handling of Covid. But, instead, Robinson said we don’t have to lie. We have to tell the truth.

He went on, saying that he doesn’t know why Democrats aren’t pushing for a special session to lower sales taxes on groceries and medicine in response to inflation.

Then, Robinson directly addressed Hinojosa, “Chairman, I’m not talking about 2020. I was talking about the current 2022 cycle. You should talk to the House Candidates across this state, and you should talk to the County Chairs about their need for help and more funding.”

He’s right. Yet, time and time again, candidates and County Chairs tell me they get no support from the State Party.

Hinojosa had to respond. He said, “we don’t have nominees for the State House right now.”

I’m sorry, what?

I’m assuming that Hinojosa meant that we don’t have nominees for the State House yet because we are still in the primary season. But what about all of the Democrats running unopposed in the primary. They WILL be the nominees, regardless of what happens on March 1. House candidates like Cody Grace in HD6, Dennis Sherrard in HD94, or Chuck Crews in HD128.

We have nominees for the State House who are unopposed in their primaries and have never heard a peep from the State Party.

The moderator changed the topic to the Rio Grande Valley and asked Olsen, how do we keep the RGV from falling into Republican hands?

Olsen said the RGV used to be a Democratic stronghold, and right now, 15 counties are beginning to track to the red. Why? She said we didn’t message in the RGV and Trump won over young Latino voters, who turned out in record numbers. We also don’t message about the economy, which is critical to RGV voters. We get run over by nationals who come down and stand on the border for photo-ops.

Olsen then said, from a military perspective, we have open borders.

She concluded by saying that if we don’t learn to work down in RGV and stop the hemorrhaging of Latino voters going to the other side, we will be in big trouble.

The moderator moved back to Hinojosa; how do Democrats save the RGV?

Hinojosa said he is from RGV, and he knows what’s going on down there. He said Trump did so well because the economy in the RGV is dependent on fossil fuels. So when Biden made the statement that he was going to eliminate fossil fuels, he turned off a lot of Democrats that depend on oil for an income.

He went on to say that the other thing that hurt was the messaging over “defund the police” because the people who aren’t working in the oil fields are working for law enforcement, and a lot of people freaked out about that.

Is he right about the fossil fuel rhetoric? Maybe, but fossil fuels will have to go away if we want our children and grandchildren to live. We are in the midst of a global climate catastrophe directly caused by the fossil fuel industry. Eventually, those jobs will go away.

Now, if the leadership in the party, in Texas, and America had any sense at all, they would be working to bring good paying jobs to oil-dependent places, like the RGV, which would give an economic cushion in these places, so that saving the Earth didn’t have to be at the sacrifice of people’s income stream.

And the entire “defund the police” thing was Republican messaging. There wasn’t one Texas Democrat that advocated for defunding the police. Democrats just failed at combatting the rhetoric.

Hinojosa claimed that McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos was a Democrat, not a Republican, as the moderator claimed. I don’t know anything about that, but he’s celebrating Black History Month on the first post on Villalobos’ Facebook page. And as we all know, Republicans call that “Critical Race Theory.” So, I think that indicates he is not a Republican.

The moderator asked the same question to Robinson.

Robinson said we need to speak to all Texans about the American experience, which he can relate to since he was a naturalized citizen born in Jamaica. But, he went on, we have to have a message that describes the reality of what’s happening in the energy space. For example, oil and gas companies are now the most prominent renewables investors. Still, we don’t talk like that as Democrats because we decided it’s bad to be ok with energy instead of seeing them as the folks leading that transition.

I must have missed that memo because I talk about energy plenty here at Living Blue in Texas. Although, it’s primarily focused on climate justice, cancer clusters, and global warming.

While I’m aware that oil and gas companies are investing in renewable energy, I wouldn’t classify them as transition leaders since most of them are under government pressure and to gain subsidies. And while some oil and gas companies are investing in renewables, I question whether it’s enough to offset the thousands of people they’ve killed with pollution and water contamination.

Each candidate was then given two minutes to wrap up.

Here’s a synopsis of their wrap up:

Robinson, “The easiest way I can say it is I’m not in a food fight, I’m in a fight for the future. Not just for this Party, but the future of our state and the future of our country.”

Hinojosa, “No one can say Texas Democrats are not moving in the right direction. Just look at the last three elections.”

Olsen, “We all share a common goal of electing Democrats up and down the ballot; where we differ is how we get there.”

Conclusion.

It would be unfair to say that Gilberto Hinojosa hasn’t done a lot for Texas and the Texas Democratic Party because he has, but Living Blue in Texas is of the firm opinion that what worked for him ten years ago will not work in 2022.

Hinojosa has put too much faith and reliance on the National Party when there is a broad consensus that the National Party has abandoned us and hurt us more than they’ve helped. Maybe we need the National Party, perhaps we need their money, but we’ve been working for it and begging for it for so long, and all they have given us is, “Don’t Texas or Virginia.”

Secondly, we should have flipped this state in 2020. Yet, we were 600,000 voters short. Why? Because the State Party put all of their eggs in one basket, nine seats. Only did none of those nine seats, which each brought in millions, not flip, but dozens of other candidates all around the state were entirely ignored by the State Party because they weren’t in one of those nine seats.

The definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing and expect different results. Yet, all we’ve heard from Hinojosa is that we are inching forward, so let’s continue the same path.

We can’t wait anymore. If we lose Texas in 2022, we will wind up worse than most third-world countries. Unfortunately, Hinojosa doesn’t seem to express any awareness of the urgency or risks we face.

For those reasons, it’s time for new leadership in Texas.

Robinson or Olsen?

Delegates elect the Democratic Party State Chair at the State Convention in July. Both have great ideas and will seemingly move our state forward.

It concerns me that I haven’t seen or heard much from Carroll Robinson, but perhaps his opinion is not having a website or social media presence because this election is not for the general public.

Kim Olsen, however, has personally reached out to me more than once. She knows that Living Blue in Texas readers is Texas voters and that we have relationships with candidates and county parties all over the state. That means something.

Regardless, the Party Chair plays a vital role in moving this state forward. And we need to move forward. We needed to move forward yesterday.

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