It’s time to go big or go home in the Texas House

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Since its launch a couple of months ago, the Texas Signal has trumpeted a new era in politics in the Lone Star State, an era of actual competitiveness. Beto O’Rourke gave Ted Cruz a much closer than expected shave in 2018, Democrats won two congressional seats and 14 legislative seats, came close in a bunch of others, and swept Republicans in urban and some suburban counties. It was the best election for Democrats in Texas in recent memory.

While some on the red team have claimed the midterm was a fluke, poll after poll since has shown both Donald Trump and senior U.S. Senator John Cornyn in big political trouble in Texas headed into the 2020 election cycle. Far from a fluke, the data points to a sea change in the state’s politics.

In-migration of suburban professionals and a rising young, multicultural electorate in Texas spell big trouble for a Republican Party now overwhelmingly reliant on older, white voters. As Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Manny Garcia recently told the Houston Chronicle, “It’s becoming very clear that Texas is the biggest battleground state in the country.”   

Indeed, national Democrats have identified at least six Republican-held congressional districts in Texas as key targets for pickups in 2020, and there is increasing focus on both Trump and Cornyn’s potential vulnerability in the state next year. Then there is the Texas House.

After the 2008 election, Democrats were tantalizingly close to taking power in the House, holding 74 of the chamber’s 150 seats. But the 2010 Tea Party midterm election wipeout banished House Democrats to the political wilderness for most of this decade. A 12-seat gain in 2018, however, brought the blue team within nine seats of a majority. Further, the midterm offered a roadmap for Dems of 20 or more House seats where Beto O’Rourke either won or came close, to pursue a majority next year.

And gaining a House majority in 2020 would be hugely important for many reasons, none bigger than redistricting.

Legislative and congressional districts will be redrawn by the Legislature in 2021. Texas is a dynamic and growing state, likely to add two to three new congressional seats and require big changes to legislative districts. If Democrats control one of the chambers in the Lege next session, they might exert some real influence over the process. A recent Texas Tribune piece from Patrick Svitek made the stakes clear.

Organizations like Annie’s List, which supports Texas Democratic women running for office, as well as national groups including the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, Forward Majority and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee have signaled their early interest and intent to play big in Texas next year.

Recent comments from some Democratic members of the Texas House, however, suggest a less than aggressive attitude headed into 2020. Rep. Cesar Blanco of El Paso, chair of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, which is ostensibly tasked with increasing his party’s numbers in the Texas House, told the Tribune his priority “is to make sure that our 67 incumbents are reelected” rather than seek additional gains.

Rep. Blanco, that’s just not gonna cut it.

The 2020 election is for all the marbles, both nationally and here in Texas. We all know the stakes with Trump. But the damage done in Austin over this decade on key issues like public education and healthcare, coupled with the targeting of marginalized and vulnerable communities in this state is simply unacceptable. Another GOP gerrymander in 2021 will set Texas back even further. Hence the imperative of taking the best shot possible to win the House next year.

Democrats here have the wind at their backs for the first time in a long time. Trump on the ballot will endanger Republicans on the ballot from top to bottom. Protecting recent gains simply isn’t good enough. The moment demands more. It’s time to go big or go home.

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