I just want to state for the record up top that this is an opinion piece, and I’m speaking for myself.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my career in politics everything you have to give up to help people get elected to do big things for people, and I can recognize that in many respects my luck has been better than most, despite the fact that in 11 years of working in politics I have somehow only managed to win three campaigns.
My luck hasn’t been in the win column, necessarily, as you eagle-eyed readers have probably sussed out. And if you’re a regular reader you know that I can be prone to wax nostalgic about some of those memories. I’ve been lucky because of who those wins were with, the people that they are, and the work that they’ve been able to do.
The only campaigns that I’ve ever won have been for women. Their names are Kathy Hochul, soon to be sworn in as the Governor of New York and my last candidate before moving to Texas, Judge Jan Soifer of the fighting 345th Civil District Court of Travis County, and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.
Three very different women who all share some of the same qualities. First, you’re not going to outwork any of them, ever, so just embrace the fact that you will not keep pace. They also all care deeply about the people they represent and understand the importance of being prepared and present for their constituents. They are also three of the finest, most warm-hearted people I’ve ever met.
Those three women made it worth it for me to do this work, to sacrifice the things that I’ve sacrificed, to spend long hours late into the night in an office with someone else’s name on it because I truly could believe that who they were could make a difference.
I’m so lucky to have met those three women, and deeply freaked out that I know people who are responsible for running the third-largest state, the third-largest county, and one of the busiest courts in the country.
God bless them. But for the last few weeks, I’ve had a growing sense of existential dread as I watched Texas Democrats squander one of the most consequential moments they’ve ever found themselves at the doorstep of.
I don’t say that lightly. I’ve been down for the cause since I was 14 years old and I’ve always taken seriously my talent for being a hype man for our movement. I am, to use as few words as possible to describe the condition, a true believer.
And when I think of some of the things a handful of the Texas Democrats that broke quorum have done over the past couple of weeks, I can’t help but be reminded of a passage from “If” by Rudyard Kipling:
“If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, and stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools.”
We know that quote in our souls as Texas Democrats because we’ve spent decades speaking some of the hardest truths that we can to the people that need to hear it most and we have to watch as these knaves constantly twist everything, and push the biggest lies they can conceive.
In our great hour of resistance, when these brave souls fled the state and risked arrest and harmed their businesses and had to be without their families, we unified behind a clear purpose and message that our House Democrats carried all the way to Washington: that nothing was more important than fighting to pass federal voting rights legislation and that they would do whatever it took to protect our sacred right to vote.
And then there they were on the plane, smiling, maskless in a selfie, that fucking case of Miller Lite along for the ride.
And then they started catching COVID after walking around D.C. in large groups without masks.
And then one of our members, whose performance in the legislature this session was so gob-smacking and inspiring that Texas Monthly granted them an award comparing them to literal furniture decided to parlay this moment into launching a congressional campaign.
And then a state rep broke off from the quorum breakers and said he was sent home to negotiate.
He wasn’t, and he got nothing for his trouble. He returned to D.C.
And then, there it was, the cherry on top. At the same time folks like Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Congressman Al Green, both in their 70’s, were being handcuffed and arrested for protesting to protect that sacred right to vote, two of these bozos decided to go to Portugal.
The things I gave my life to, broken. And, as seems to be a recurring theme in the fight for voting rights, I had to watch it happen at the expense of the hard work of our Black elected officials.
Look, I get it. The last year and a half have been terrible in so many ways for so many people. Our ability to connect and relate and get away for a while or get closer to each other has been disrupted in ways we never could have imagined, and now as life began to regain some sense of balance, the Delta variant hit, and now it feels like we’re back to square one.
And I know how much it sucks to be in that building during a session and to work your ass off and watch these rubes lie about every good thing you try to accomplish. I constantly refer to legislative sessions as “a season in hell,” for a reason, and it’s because that’s how Republicans like to do business.
But for Julie Johnson and Jessica Gonzales to have such large voices at such an important time for our state and country, and to pick up to go on vacation with their staff left to wonder if they were going to be paid at the end of the month, is a fundamental betrayal to what we believe in, and what we were told they were doing for us in D.C.
I use that word for a reason, you see. After they had left for Europe (they did), a reporter contacted Representative Gonzales to ask if the rumors were true and the representative gave one of the most entitled and petulant answers I’ve ever read.
In the face of a legitimate question about a decision that she made, Rep. Gonzales said “I don’t respond to rumors,” and “no one has shown proof,” and then ended the text exchange with “End of story.”
And then word got back to some members of the caucus still in D.C. who I’ve spoken to that the two representatives felt betrayed because the caucus didn’t do more to protect them.
Those two folks should thank their lucky stars that our caucus is too useless to do anything to punish them, and that’s a comment I also don’t make lightly.
We don’t get to do that. We don’t get to hammer at Fled Cruz for leaving us when it mattered and then look the other way when our own people do it to us.
We don’t get to make a bad decision when it matters and then gaslight reporters asking honest questions.
We don’t get to fight the Big Lie and say that facts matter, and then essentially say “prove it,” when we can’t possibly prove something isn’t true.
We don’t get to make the young people that primarily make up these legislative staff sacrifice their lives and work long hours in often toxic situations, and then show up to work every day under the threat of not being paid, and then take a vacation on them.
And I swear to God, if anyone has anything to say to me about their nonrefundable airfare, you won’t like what I have to say back. I was raised by a woman who stitched canvas in a boat factory my entire life and managed to take one vacation to Universal Studios in Florida in her lifetime.
You told us nothing was more important than our right to vote and that you were going to fight for us. Then you checked in for a flight.
A real caucus would strip your committee assignments or at least admit what you’ve done. But instead, our leadership sits around a table and says things like “well, those are going to be tough seats to keep,” or they hem and haw and kick the can because they know other members want to go on vacation, too.
If we can’t hold it together at the most important moment, are these seats worth having in the first place? Why do you want it and what are you doing with it?
It hurts my heart to watch these folks blow it so badly because we do have a caucus that is full of talent and conviction and courage, but the same old folks playing the same old games just aren’t smart enough to let them take the reins.
Jasmine Crockett, the freshman state rep from Dallas, has shown more vision and courage during this session than some members of leadership have in their entire careers. Trey Martinez Fischer from San Antonio is a brilliant legal mind who understands what effective messaging is. John Bucy ran for office to make your schools better and to protect your right to vote. Gina Hinojosa is a stone-cold fighter who will go the distance for us every single time.
This brings me to another quote I keep coming back to, from David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which despite being an apt description is not about Texas Republican policy: “…talent is a sort of dark gift, that talent is its own expectation: it is there from the start and either lived up to or lost.”
Those folks are living up to their talent and they are meeting the moment. Others ran home to cut deals and their presence on the House floor this week was its own betrayal, and for some of them it may become the moment their talent was lost.
I’m thinking specifically about James Talarico, the young and passionate state rep from rapidly changing Williamson County, and how our state and nation so swooned for him when he went on a conservative television show and challenged the host to admit that Donald Trump lost the 2020 election.
Talarico was part of the group that returned home this week and walked onto the House floor, bringing the Texas House just five votes from making quorum and tearing our voting rights to shreds. Alongside him were Joe Moody, who lost his position as Speaker Pro Tempore when he joined the quorum breakers, and his fellow El Paso county Reps Mary Gonzales and Art Fiero.
That one hurt. Talarico is widely seen as a rising star in the caucus and everyone who knows him has always described him to me as a fellow true believer. As the real deal.
Why come back? Why show up on the floor? Word on the street, which has sadly proven true too many times for comfort in Texas politics for me, is that they wanted to be on the ground floor when it came time to cut deals. Moody wanted his place in the leadership, Gonzales wanted to keep some board seat, and with El Paso possibly losing a seat in redistricting, Fiero just wants to keep his job.
And Talarico? The rumor mill has him coming home either with an eye on redistricting or at least protecting himself from criticism that he’s been gone too long.
Again, these are rumors. But they still make me want to puke.
And so now more state reps are getting squishy. I’ve heard rumors that several want to come back and do what they can to kill as many bad bills on the call for the special session as possible, while also knowing that the Republicans will pass Jim Crow 2.0, and that any concessions or victories Democrats can claim will ultimately have been in service of helping them do it.
They’re not playing to win, they’re playing to lose by less and label that a victory.
Is that all your seat is worth?
Texas deserves better.
Photo: Edward Jackson / Wikimedia Commons
Joe brings over a decade of experience as a political operative and creative strategist to Texas Signal, where he serves as our Senior Advisor and does everything from writing a regular column, Musings, to mentoring our staff and freelancers. Joe was campaign manager for Lina Hidalgo's historic 2018 victory for Harris County Judge and is a passionate sneakerhead.