2016 was supposed to be the year that my home state of Texas was possibly going to turn into a swing state during this presidential election cycle. I had hoped that on election night, John King from CNN would have his magic map on Texas as he zoomed in and out of cities like my hometown of Houston, along with Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio to project the voter turnout.
The reason for this optimism started back in 2008, when then-Senator Obama received 44% of the vote in Texas against Senator McCain in the presidential election that year. Even though he didn’t win the state, a lot of political analysts and pundits felt that if the Democratic Party could spend more time and money in registering folks to vote, that Texas could move from a solid red state to a purple one in a couple of years.
Unfortunately, after Bill White and Wendy Davis were routed in two straight governor’s races in 2010 and 2014 respectively, the Democratic Party finds itself in the same position it was in 2008. So the question is where do they go from here?
In all due respect, we need to look at the root cause of the problem. I feel that too many political insiders have been seduced by the demographics of the state which is 38% Latino and 12% Black that they don’t really analyze the numbers inside the number. They need to be looking at the No.48. That is where Texas is ranked nationally in terms of the political engagement/education of their citizens.
The solution in how we change that number is not as easy. For far too long, the Democratic Party establishment has had a one size fits all approach in how it deals with the issues that affects its various constituencies. The group that has been left out in the cold for the most part has been millennials. The effects of this disengagement towards this group have been felt very strongly in the almost complete lack of interest in voting in city and statewide elections, which usually are more impactful on the lives of individuals than presidential elections, which usually have higher voter turnout rates.
The real question is what can be done to try and reverse this dismal trend. In my opinion, the first step has to begin with the political engagement of students during their senior year of high school, especially in predominately lower-income minority schools. This initiative could be in concert with each student’s government class. The Democrats should work with organizations like the National Urban League, LULAC, and others to have forums at schools with the students to discuss the various social and political issues affecting the communities that they live in.
The effort of political engagement also needs to be extended to the college and university levels, as well. There also has to be a genuine outreach from community and political leaders to the various student organizations on college campuses. It isn’t enough to just come speak with people just to get their vote and then never speak with them until the next election cycle.
But the elephant in the room is the lack of Latinos and blacks who actually work as advisers, strategists, and policy analysts on political campaigns. An article written in the Washington Post back in 2014 reports that the DNC paid out over $500 million dollars to political consulting firms during the 2010 and 2012 election cycles, but only 2% of that money went to non-white firms.
The Democratic Party in Texas also hasn’t done a great job in recruiting and investing resources on up-and-coming candidates in particular minorities who are running for political office either. While everybody points to Julian Castro, who was the former mayor of San Antonio and is now the current HUD Secretary as a star in the making, the bench in terms of political talent is pretty thin after that.
The real question is how does the Democratic Party in Texas and the party as a whole address the post Obama era. The idea of just being diverse isn’t enough anymore for most Latinos and black people. We want an equity seat at the table in helping to shape the future of the party.