Every two years at the state convention, the Texas Democratic Party adopts a new platform that articulates the core ideas and beliefs that govern the party. Planks in the platform — from healthcare to education to criminal justice reform — form the foundation of what Texas Democrats aspire to achieve for society, often through formal legislation introduced by the party’s elected officials. This year, the Texas Democratic Party passed a sweeping platform that rivals the most progressive states in the nation.
Although Sen. Bernie Sanders did not win Texas in the 2020 presidential primary, his imprint on the newly adopted Texas Democratic Party platform is more profound than that of any other candidate. Because Sanders narrowly lost to Vice President Joe Biden by less than 5 points, Sanders’ delegates had significant influence in shaping the party platform at this year’s Texas Democratic Convention — something that was not possible in 2016 when Sanders trailed Clinton by 32 points in the state.
Now enshrined in the Texas Democratic Party platform — which passed with 94 percent of the vote of all state delegates — are a slate of Sanders’ most transformative policies, including Medicare for All; a Green New Deal; abolishing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, or ICE; eliminating student debt; providing free college tuition for low-income students; funding Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions; starting teachers’ salaries at $60,000; internet for all; reparations for the descendants of slaves; and decriminalizing border crossings. The passage of the state’s most progressive party platform in history is nothing short of a momentous victory for a political movement founded in delivering social, racial, economic, and environmental justice for working-class people, students and young people, immigrants, and communities of color.
“People have got to have a reason to think we’re different from the party of Trump. They’re going to be motivated by this,” said Glen Maxey, the Primary Director and Legislative Director of the Texas Democratic Party, a Democratic National Committee member, and a former Texas state representative, about the progressive planks of the party platform. “Trust the grassroots. They’re not going to steer us wrong.”
Maxey, who has participated in 28 Texas state conventions and soon to be 12 national conventions over the past 50 years, spoke of the convention’s changes since attending his first in 1972 when the Democratic party platform was largely determined by a predominantly white business lobby. The platform trended more progressive in the 1990s as the party grew with more young people, LGBTQ people, and people of color. However, it was not until 2012, with the election of the current chair, Gilberto Hinojosa, that the platform truly adopted its more modern, progressive iteration. “We should just go to base values that will turn out and motivate people,” Maxey said of the platform’s emphasis on values, rather than statements supporting specific pieces of legislation as was traditional in platforms of the past.
The leftward lurch in beliefs from the previous Texas Democratic Party platform is directly attributable to Sanders and his supporters. During the Democratic state convention, a 31-member elected Platform Committee composed of 16 Sanders delegates, 14 Biden delegates, and two delegates with no presidential preference, engaged in a heated 13 hour and 18 minute meeting to finalize all amendments to the party platform, but the Sanders delegate majority crafted most of the platform’s new provisions.
“It was very transformative. It was about not only honoring Bernie and all of the things he fought for, but also trying to move others more left,” said Savion Wright, an educator from Jasper who served on the Platform Committee as a Sanders delegate. Wright noted that all the Committee members — regardless of presidential preference — worked amicably together for the most part, and took input from teachers and other people impacted from issues addressed in the platform in order to help craft it.
“I know the platform is not policy, it’s not a law. But, it sets a precedent,” Wright said about the significance of the newly enacted platform. He traced his desire for deep change to the 2013 mysterious disappearance and death of his brother, Alfred Wright, which sparked protests and allegations of foul play of law enforcement in Jasper, a city marked with deep racial tensions after the 1988 killing of James Byrd Jr. “It [was] time to put in everything that I’ve gone through for the last 7 years since I lost my brother. I needed to put all of that into this platform because we have too many problems that keep getting left in the sand.”
Notable in both Sanders’ absence on the issue, and its appearance in the party platform are calls to defund the police. In short of total abolition of the police, the idea of defunding the police through reallocation of police budget funds to social services and community infrastructure has swept across the nation, serving as a frequent rallying cry at protests against police brutality and police murders of Black people. Texas is no stranger to these killings in recent times, including, but certainly not limited to, Jordan Edwards, Pamela Turner, Botham Jean, Atiatana Jefferson, Mike Ramos, and Javier Ambler. In line with demands to divest funds from the police, the Texas Democratic Party platform now states support for “reallocating funds from police budgets to emergency medical services, mental health services, homeless solutions offices, and housing and neighborhood revitalization.”
“Of course the language of defunding makes people scared, but that’s what needs to happen, and that money needs to be reallocated,” said Tarah Taylor, a Houston community organizer activist who served on the Platform Committee as a Sanders delegate, about the platform’s plank to divest from police funding. “We wanted it in the platform because it means something important, and we’re going to try to hold people to it. It’s the right next step, if not for full disbandment of the police department, starting over, and voiding the [police] union contract.”
In the past, Texas Democrats have successfully used the Republican party platform against Republican candidates by getting them to disavow more extreme planks in their party platform. Maxey of the Texas Democratic Party, however, was not worried that the Democratic platform would be used against more moderate candidates. “No [candidate], so far, is proposing that we close down the police departments,” Maxey said about Texas Democrats. He indicated that candidates are nuanced enough to define their own issues, and pointed to Republicans’ repeated attempts to paint Democrats as too extreme no matter what their platform is.
“[Democrats] have a goal about the economy, jobs, livable wages, Medicare for All — let’s just say it,” Maxey said about the Texas Democratic Party’s platform. “The more young people we get to vote because of planks like the Green New Deal is probably a net positive in the bottom line of votes.”
The most progressive Texas Democratic Party platform in history may be able to help mobilize Sanders voters, who may be otherwise uninspired by the current perception of the Democratic party, for years to come. “I have a really good feeling that we’re going to have a pretty good next 5 to 10 years of trying to push progressive values in Texas,” said Wright of the Platform Committee.
Photos: Gage Skidmore/Texas Democratic Party/Wikimedia Commons
Chris covers Texas politics and government. He is a Policy Advisor for Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and a graduate student at Harvard University. Previously, Chris served as Texas State Director and National Barnstorm Director for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, and as a Political Advisor for Beto O’Rourke. Born in Houston, Texas to immigrants from Hong Kong and Mexico, he is committed to building political power for working people and communities of color. Chris is a Fulbright Scholar and a graduate of Rice University.