On Saturday at the Texas College Democrats Convention, tensions escalated quickly in the Texas Democratic Party Chair debate after incumbent Gilberto Hinojosa, candidate Ret. Colonel Kim Olson, and candidate Texas Southern University professor Carroll G. Robinson discussed the direction of the party, leadership strategies and messaging.
The moderator, Rio Grande Valley University graduate student Ivan Duran Puente asked each candidate questions directly and in general about issues facing the Texas Democratic Party.
Throughout the debate, Hinojosa defended his eight years as chairman, citing Democratic leadership in urban cities and communities and flipped seats throughout the state house of representatives.
But opposing candidates Robinson and Olson pushed back and said how rural Texans need to be highlighted more to increase Democratic participation.
“We can’t wait,” Olson said. “We can’t wait another ten years. We need to start a bold plan. The reason voters don’t come out is, I disagree severely with the chairman, our message isn’t consistent, it isn’t disciplined, and it doesn’t speak to everyday working families, and that’s what we’ve got to work on.”
In response, Hinojosa said he also supports rural Texans, but to flip Texas blue, the area of concentration is in larger counties and regions.
“When you’re talking about increasing performance and making a difference overall, the fight is in the big, suburban counties,” Hinojosa said. “Everybody talks about rural Texas, and we love rural Texas, but let’s not forget in the last election cycle and the one before that, the total percentage of votes coming out was less than seven percent.”
Robinson said the Democratic Party needs to focus on opportunity, prosperity, and progress in terms of messaging for the public.
“Look, I live here in Houston; I’m in urban Texas. The problem for Democrats in urban Texas is that Republicans are growing the vote in urban Texas too,” Robinson said. “So we can’t bet our life on urban Texas we have got to go pick up our fair share in rural Texas. And we do a multi-racial coalition by reaching out to everybody and letting them know they are an important part of the coalition.”
Then, what seemed like out of left field, Hinojosa said Robinson, President of the Texas Black Coalition, lacked attendees at their latest meeting. Numerous audience members reacted with oooos and ahhhhs after an obvious amount of shade had been thrown.
“Carroll. My friend. I love him. He’s a great guy, but he’s been the chairman of the Coalition of Black Democrats for a number of years. The last meeting, they had 12 members show up,” Hinojosa said. “There are more African-Americans in Texas than any other state in the country, and that doesn’t show the performance they claim they are going to achieve once they become chair.”
In response to Hinojosa, Robinson defended his time as president and cited an increase in Black voter turnout.
Next, Puente asked candidates how they planned to incorporate young minority voices into the convention/delegation process.
Hinojosa’s answer referred interested parties to look at the party website for instruction, while Olsen suggested connecting with young voters on social media platforms. On the other hand, Robinson said in the past he suggested a rule change to allow every precinct chair in the state become an automatic delegate. A proposal the State’s Democratic Executive Committee eventually denied, according to Hinojosa.
Robinson and Hinjosa both defended their stance on the delegation proposal in a fiery exchange. But the crowd responded with a stream of applauses after Robinson said the TDP committee can do more.
“So imagine this we are allegedly building this party on precinct chairs, the people who are the backbone of the party we want to knock doors, turnout voters who understand the most about what’s going on in their community and the Texas Democratic Party Executive Committee said they didn’t care enough to hear from the people who they want to go work,” Robinson said. “Do you understand where our party is? My God. That’s why I’m running for chair. We’ve got to exercise some leadership and move this party in a direction where it is inclusive of the people we ask to work for it to help us win elections.”
Olsen yielded her time after the exchange but not before calling out the two candidates for engaging in a political tennis match. Next, Puente asked candidates how they planned to elect more young, LGBTQ+, multi-racial, and diverse political candidates across the state.
Again, Hinojosa said the TDP has training academies to encourage young people to run and cited Project Lift, a TDP program that recognizes down-ballot candidates according to the website.
“I think the party’s got no business training candidates,” Olson said. “I think they ought to be done with people who do that, and that is their core mission. I sit on the board of Annies List; we do training. The hundreds of candidates that I have mentored, funded, and helped support didn’t get much help at all [from the TDP].”
And last but certainly not least, an audience member heckled Hinojosa for repeating the talking point on significant Democratic representation in urban communities. More specifically, Abbott’s most recent attack on transgender children in Texas.
“You keep saying the same thing over and over, but there’s no action,” the audience member said.