CORPUS CHRISTI, TEXAS - Approximately 5,000 Texans attended the Democratic Party State Convention June 25-26 in this beautiful beach town. Just outside the clear waters lurked millions of gallons of sludge from the BP oil disaster and of course politically, the Democrats were surrounded by incumbent Republicans in all state offices. However, neither the oil nor the Republicans seemed to dim the delegate's optimism for November. The highly diverse, young/old, black/brown/white, male/female, straight/gay activist crowd kept smiling while they built their "big tent" all-inclusive approach to Texas politics.
Probably the largest caucus was that of labor. AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller presided while statewide candidates lined the wall for an opportunity to ask the big labor delegation for help. Former AFL-CIO leader Linda Chavez-Thompson stole the show, as she does everywhere politicians gather, but others were also outstanding as well. Jeff Weems, Democratic candidate for Railroad Commissioner, pointed out that the mis-named agency actually regulates the state's oil and gas industry. He blasted the Republicans for failing to regulate the oil companies. He said, "I am running against a potted plant!"
Barbara Radnofsky, candidate for Attorney General, urged the crowd to back her call for a Texas lawsuit against Wall Street for ruining the economy. She said that such a suit would bring billions of deserved dollars back into the Texas economy. Her web site is www.suewallstreet.com!
One of the most popular topics for the Democrats was the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE). The first workshop scheduled on the topic overfilled its designated room and had to be moved. The second one, conducted by the Texas Freedom Network, filled 220 seats and left three rows of people standing in the back and jammed into the doorway. State Senator Wendy Davis, the principal speaker, could hardly put together a complete sentence without being interrupted by wild applause. The organization's president, Kathy Miller, hardly spoke at all, but just showed actual videos of the reactionary incumbent board members' statements against union leader Dolores Huerta, martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero, and U.S. President Thomas Jefferson. The board's ignorance and political bias has become, Miller said, "a national laughing stock." "INTERNATIONAL!" the crowd yelled back in chorus.
Another topic that came up often during the convention was the Green Party of Texas. Just before the Corpus Christi meeting, the state's newspapers revealed that one of the party's former officers had testified that the former Chief of Staff for Governor Rick Perry had been heavily involved in the Republican effort to fund the Greens and make sure they were on the ballot in 2010. Texas is a difficult state for ballot status, so Republicans operatives had come up with $532,000 to pay for the professional petitioning program.
The Democrats sued, of course, charging that the only possible reason that the Republicans would finance the environmentalist Greens, with whom they bitterly disagree, was to draw votes away from Democrats. Republicans supplied powerful attorneys on behalf of the Greens, but the judge ruled, just before the convention, that the giant campaign "gift" conflicted with a Texas law against accepting political donations from corporations.
The lavish lifestyle of incumbent Republican Governor Rick Perry was a popular topic. The Texas AFL-CIO pulled their trailer house to the convention to repeat their offer to let Governor Perry live in it, practically rent-free, instead of the expensive mansion in the Austin hills that the taxpayers are affording him.
Almost the only discordant note at the Democrats' convention, had to do with the way that primary elections select the party's candidates. A minor percentage of the votes come from delegated precinct meetings rather than directly from the popular vote in a process laughingly called the "Texas Two-Step." Party officials say the process tends to energize activists and build their volunteer base. Opponents argued the basic democracy of adhering to popular vote, but observers say that the fuss was really just an echo of hurt feelings because Hillary Clinton won the 2008 popular vote but lost the Texas nomination to the more numerous and enthusiastic Barack Obama activists. In a lop-sided vote, the convention decided to keep on two-stepping.
After putting together a 38-page progressive platform, the conventioneers returned to their home districts with determined optimism for November, 2010.
Photo: Jim Lane