What does the future of the Texas Democratic Party look like?
At their state convention in Dallas this summer, Democrats will decide who should lead the party, one that has struggled with organization and with messaging and has not elected anyone to a statewide office in 28 years. That’s one of the reasons the race for Texas Democratic Party Chair is being closely watched.
Three candidates want the top job: Carroll Robinson, Colonel Kim Olson, and the incumbent Gilberto Hinojosa.
Inside Texas Politics spoke to all three candidates. Hinojosa is first because his name is first alphabetically.
Gilberto Hinojosa says turning Texas blue is not an event – it’s a process. He’s been chair of the Texas Democratic Party for nearly a decade, and no Democrats have won statewide office during his tenure. But he said his success as chair can be measured in other ways.
Kim Olson says the Texas Democratic Party needs a course correction after the party failed to score wins as it had hoped. The blue wave has yet to materialize, and Col. Kim Olson – a U.S. Air Force veteran – says she can fix it because she's run for statewide office before.
This summer, Texas Democrats will consider one more person to lead their party: Carroll Robinson. Right now, he chairs the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, and has served on the Houston City Council.
He said he’s running because he believes he has a better solution. And Robinson describes his approach as rebuilding the party from the bottom up.
Push to unseat fellow Democrats
Two Democratic state lawmakers face their own fights from inside the party. A group called the Texans for Better Democrats Coalition is trying to unseat state Rep. Harold Dutton from Houston and state Rep. Art Fierro of El Paso.
The Texas Organizing Project, Communications Workers of America, and the Working Families Party make up the coalition. Why don't progressives like Harold Dutton and Art Fierro? Patrick Svitek from the Texas Tribune in Austin said there are unique reasons.
Dutton, he said, is a more of an independent on certain issues, especially when it comes to education. Dutton, Svitek said, supports expanding charter schools, which is not a view typically embraced by Democrats. He also upset some within the party when, as the chairman of the House education committee, he helped revive restrictions on transgender student athletes.
Fierro, meanwhile, was one of the first to break with Democrats and return to the Texas Legislature while the party was in Washington, D.C. to block the Republican election bill, which later passed.
2022 Texas Primary election
Early voting begins Monday, Feb. 14. Many of these races have been quiet. Are voters fired up to go to the polls? What is turnout expected to look like?
Svitek said although there is not a presidential primary like there was two years ago, he wouldn't discount the potential for high turnout.
"You do have a lot of competitive Democratic and Republican primaries down ballot, partly the result of redistricting, which caused members to retire, creating a bunch of open seats and crowded fields for those primaries, so I would be on alert," he predicted.
Candidates dodge questions
Some leading candidates are avoiding interviews – and tough questions. Why is that? Is it part of their strategy? What's the most important way to reach voters this year?
Svitek said the better question to ask would be, is it the right strategy for Democracy and voters, or the right strategy for the candidate?
"If you're the candidate and you're ahead and have a good chance of winning, you don't want to expose yourself to any opportunity to elevate your opponents or where you could make a mistake of your own," he said. "Whether it's good for Democracy and the voters is a totally separate question, and the answer there is no, it's not good."
Bud Kennedy with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram agreed, adding that now that candidates are also dealing with a paper shortage impacting the number of mailers that can be sent, some candidates are having to recalibrate their strategy.
"Originally some of the candidates said, 'well, we don't want the endorsements of the "liberal media,"' but some of those candidates have come back to us now that there is a paper shortage, they can't get their mailers out ... so they're looking for another way to get their face and name out."
Watch the full episode of Inside Texas Politics below: