To the Democratic presidential candidates debating in Houston this week, welcome to Texas. Or, for many of you, welcome back. Some of you have been spending quite a bit of time here over the last year. Of course, we Texas Democrats are used to presidential candidates swinging through here to pick up some money on their way to the White House. But this cycle, we all know that Texas is more than just an ATM. We are the biggest battleground state in the nation, and your path to the White House depends on earning our votes.
You’ll take to the debate stage Thursday night in the most diverse city in America, the proud hometown of Barbara Jordan, the Johnson Space Center, buckyballs, and Beyonce. As a state, we have the tenth-largest economy in the world. With over $250 billion in annual exports, our export economy is larger than that of New York and California combined. By GDP, our economy is larger than Russia’s. We have more people than Australia and more land area than France. We want to know that you will fight for the inclusion of every Texan in our world-class economy — not just the rich and powerful.
You’ll be making your case to an incredibly diverse and fast-growing pool of voters. We have the largest African-American population of any state. Our Asian population is our fastest growing demographic group, and our Hispanic population is on track to be larger than our white population by 2022. We have more LGBT residents than any state except California. And we are growing by a thousand Texans every single day. We want to know that you will protect the rights and uphold the dignity of Texans from all communities.
You’ll be proving your progressive bona fides in a state with a proud history of progressive action. We are the birthplace of President Lyndon B. Johnson, father of the Voting Rights Act and the war on poverty. We are the birthplace of the original DREAM Act, which allowed our young undocumented residents the same access to our higher education system as their classmates and provided the moral foundation for a national movement. We want to know that you are as committed to progressive values as we are — and always have been.
You’ll be appealing to Texans in the throes of a Democratic surge. We are the only state with two native sons — Julian Castro and Beto O’Rourke — representing us in Thursday’s debate. In 2016, Hillary Clinton cut President Barack Obama’s 2012 statewide vote gap in half here. In 2018, Beto O’Rourke cut that gap in half yet again as a candidate for U.S. Senate, and Texans elected Democrats Sylvia Garcia and Veronica Escobar as the first two Latinas ever to represent us in Congress.
We flipped twelve seats from red to blue in the Texas House of Representatives; eight of those new representatives are women. Harris County, of which Houston is the county seat, elected a historic county-wide slate of nineteen black women judges and saw Lina Hidalgo, a Democratic millennial immigrant in her twenties, oust a twelve-year Republican incumbent for the highest executive position in the region. Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez made history in 2018 as the first LGBTQ and first Latina nominee for governor – and more Texans voted for her than voted for President Obama in 2008 or 2012. The freshman class of legislators elected to the Texas House in 2018 had more Democratic women than Republican men. We want to know how committed you are to the kind of diverse Democratic leadership we are building here in Texas — and we expect the makeup of your campaigns to reflect that commitment.
This Democratic surge is no fluke or accident. It is the hard-earned result of years of dedicated work and community building by Texans seeking real solutions to some of our longest-standing problems. Gun violence is one: four of the ten deadliest mass shootings in the history of our country have happened here, including the horrific shooting in El Paso early last month, followed by a devastating shooting spree in Midland and Odessa only three weeks later. Do you have a plan to keep our communities safe? Health care access is another: We lead the country in the number of uninsured residents, and our failed Republican leadership has refused to expand Medicaid to provide care to those who need it most. Do you have a plan to ensure that we have the care we need? Abortion access is yet another: cities throughout Texas are actively attempting to outlaw abortion. Do you have a plan to safeguard the rights and health of Texas women?
The group I lead, Annie’s List, has been recruiting, training, and helping to elect progressive women across Texas for more than fifteen years. We are proud to support the growing community of women who are fighting for what really matters to Texans. Annie’s List’s Champions — the dozens of women we’ve helped to elect who currently hold office across the state — are leading the fight for communities that are safe from gun violence, for expanded access to healthcare, for reproductive justice and abortion access, and more. And next year, Annie’s List Champions will be leading a Democratic majority in the Texas House.
So, welcome to Texas, where President Trump’s net approval rating has plunged by sixteen points since he took office. We crave leadership that actually embodies the values of our communities, and we are excited to hear during the debate how you will support our fight to build a better Texas. And if you have time, stick around afterwards for a frozen margarita – we invented them.
Royce Brooks is executive director of Austin-based Annie’s List.
Photo: Casey Chapman