Op-Ed: The Harris County Democratic Party And The Future

by | Mar 6, 2023 | Opinion

Accountability and transparency. Inspiration and mobilization. These are things we need as a party going forward. 

As one of the most visible leaders in the local party, I have had many years to watch what works and what does not. I believe we are at a crossroads: between winning the state finally and falling into even darker times as authoritarianism takes hold. We cannot continue as is. The votes we need out of Harris County must surpass what we had in 2018 or 2020. In 2022 we barely carried the county and lost four judgeships. What is to be done? 

First let’s fix the culture. The county activists have become too balkanized. It’s time to literally break bread and find ways to work together. People must be treated with dignity, especially since most are volunteers. Too little care is given by too many. No new chair will survive beyond 6 months without working with all talents in the party. Abusive conduct must not be tolerated. Strong leadership can in part relieve this ongoing crisis.  

We must raise the money for a year-round working party. The age of depending on volunteers for everything ended with Covid and the brutal cycles under Trump. Funds must be raised beyond anything done before to cover paying professionals to run the party, having working offices in each section of county, and tapping key community organizers to press the conversations needed door to door. A donor culture is needed here, something exciting for people to be part of and saluted. 

The structure model I was taught by the best, Sissy Farenthold, was to organize the precincts by house district. We need real support for precinct chairs – wrap around help re: funds, canvassers, VAN access and turf cut with assistance if needed. Training by great talents should be given at no cost to our precinct chairs and candidates for office. Precinct chairs should be honored regularly. In addition, nearly 150 precincts need chairs. If we could inspire and reach out to enough Democrats to fill these it would go a long way to getting us to deep blue status.  

The clubs have been neglected for a long time by the party. Most clubs are left to raise funds for themselves while their leadership is often unsupported with moral or institutional support to survive. I was part of the construction of HCDP Clubs and Orgs in 2014 – it is the only way to have all club leaders under one roof for dialogue with the party chair and to assist each other. It has not functioned properly for years.  

All funding raised by the party should be used to hire those qualified and turn the vote out. Clubs need to be able to be seeded with funds for their get out the vote plans. I spoke to Michigan legislator Mallory McMorrow recently. She said the simple seeding of $5,000 to local orgs and some candidates was very key in their success. I think the same applies to Harris County. 

One cannot expect to win without a message. Telling voters to vote blue know matter who is nonsense and does not work. Here in the Meyerland area we used a sharp campaign based on basic rights under threat. We hammered on January 6th and the call to having normal centered leadership in power. It was highly effective. HD 134 was the highest turnout precinct in Texas this past cycle.  

One cannot expect the overturn of Roe to turn our base out. Again, people need to be talked to and yes, our base needs those targeted pushes to come out to the polls. Democracy is on the line in 2024. And we must message like it and act like it because it is in grave danger of failing.  

We are the only party in America that adheres to the values of a free and fair society. Should we not behave as so within? We elected waves of Democrats here, but they should also be accountable to those who sacrificed to put them into office. If our activists and leaders need help with their organization or just a kind word, officials must provide it. Having a care towards each other builds a better party and society. Transparency? You cannot have trust without it. It should never be a mystery in terms of what funding the party has truly left or how those certain decisions are made. 

It’s also time to tap the youth. Without Gen Z we would not survive. They understand the threats better than anyone and it’s time to trust them much greater. Hire the best talents they offer and be attentive to those in all levels of education.  

Finally: end being party chair as a pure volunteer role. A stipend should be provided to the chair to travel the county, pay for gas and Lyft rides as needed. Let’s also have a vice chair of the party to assist in duties. And lastly, hire a team: especially an executive director that knows the activists and leaders and is mobile around the county.  

Art Pronin is currently President of Meyerland Area Democrats

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