Blue Texas? Democrats have long dreamt of winning Texas’s 38 electoral votes in the presidential election. That may still be a long shot, but a recent “Texodus” from Congress has given new talk to a political transformation across the Lone Star State that could have massive ramifications down the ballot and for decades to come.
Four of the state’s GOP members of Congress have announced their retirements in recent weeks, an unusual torrent of departures signaling that a storm is coming. And evidence shows that it’s not just hitting Texas’s federal delegation. It’s coming to Austin, too.
For the first time in two decades, the state’s House of Representatives could flip control.
As recently as 2011, Republicans held a 101-49 supermajority in that body. But that advantage has been cut significantly in recent elections. Today, the legislature is split 83-67. That’s right: Republicans have lost 18 house seats this decade.
Six Texas state house seats flipped blue in 2016, even as Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton. Another dozen followed in 2018, as the suburbs of Dallas, Houston and Austin grew more diverse and college-educated women turned decisively against the GOP.
Democrats now need only 9 more seats to win the majority. And make no mistake, they have a path to get there.
In addition to winning those 12 seats in 2018, Democrats came within single digits in another 17 districts. Beto O’Rourke actually carried nine of those districts in his U.S. Senate battle against Ted Cruz. All of them mirror the suburban seats where Democrats saw such success in 2018.
What else do these districts all have in common? Republican legislative candidates had a significant fundraising advantage in each district over their Democratic challengers, sometimes even by 20 to 1.
Imagine if Democrats in those districts had competed on a more level playing field. While we can’t go back in time, it’s not too late for 2020.
Flipping the state house would have huge implications not only for Texas; it would transform the national electoral landscape. Under solid Republican control for two decades, the state has become a hotbed of partisan and racial gerrymandering, as well as a laboratory for unjust voter suppression tactics.
The GOP has shown it will stop at nothing to cement their grip on power. Republican legislators crafted a photo ID law, which among other restrictions, allowed handgun licenses but not student ID cards as acceptable identification at the polls; a federal judge later ruled the legislature’s actions were discriminatory.
The former Republican secretary of state attempted to purge nearly 100,000 voters from the rolls. A GOP judge sentenced an African American grandmother to five years in prison because she cast a provisional ballot while on parole. (She did not know she was ineligible to vote, and her provisional ballot was never counted.)
A Democratic victory here would help stop further Republican efforts to suppress the vote, and it would give the party a seat at the table when the next congressional and legislative maps are drawn — ones that will likely persist through 2032.
Republicans are already exploring ways to rig the mapmaking process in their favor, including by rewriting the rules to exclude minors and non-citizens when calculating district sizes — a move one high profile strategist called “advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites” in a newly discovered memo.
That makes it even more critical for Democrats to have a seat at the table and ensure a fair redistricting process, and end the GOP’s extreme gerrymandering. Split legislative control would force both sides to compromise on fair maps — or risk sending the congressional map into the courts.
Texas’ 36-member congressional delegation is the second largest in the nation, and is predicted to grow by another three seats after the next census.
Just how extreme has the GOP mapmaking been? Travis County, home to Austin, voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by nearly 39 points (66.3 to 27.4 percent), yet has been carved into six separate congressional districts — represented in Congress by five Republicans and one Democrat.
In 2018, Democrats won 47 percent of congressional votes in Texas, but hold a mere 13 of the 36 seats.
So it’s now or never. Win these nine seats in the state legislature, and win fair representation in the nation’s second-largest state. Lose, and it could be another 20 or 30 years before Democrats have this chance again.
Democrats are understandably excited — and anxious — about the prospects of winning back the White House. But our democracy is going to be won or lost in 2020 at the state legislative level, in local races like these handful of suburban districts in Texas.
Republicans have understood this for decades. It’s time for Democrats to fight back.
David Daley, a former editor of Salon, is the author of the national bestseller “Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count” and the forthcoming “Unrigged: How Americans Fought Back, Slayed the Gerrymander and Reinvented Democracy.”
‘Disqualifying’: Pete Buttigieg faces backlash for praising right-wing Tea Party movement in resurfaced 2010 video
"I believe we might find that we have a lot in common," Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said during an event hosted by Citizens for Common Sense.
South Bend, Indiana Mayor and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is facing backlash over a resurfaced video from 2010 in which he offered words of praise for the right-wing Tea Party movement and expressed a desire to find common ground.
During an October 2010 forum in Indiana hosted by the Tea Party-affiliated group Citizens for Common Sense, Buttigieg—then a candidate for Indiana state treasurer—told the audience that "there's some, especially in my party, who think the Tea Party's a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party."
Sanders becomes fastest presidential candidate in history to reach 4 million individual donations
"This is damn impressive," said progressive strategist Rebecca Katz.
Sen. Bernie Sanders' 2020 presidential campaign announced Tuesday morning that it reached four million individual contributions faster than any presidential candidate in history, a milestone the campaign touted as evidence that the Vermont senator is surging with less than 80 days to go before the Iowa caucuses.
"This is what momentum looks like," Faiz Shakir, Sanders' campaign manager, said in a statement.
Optimistic Democrats are lining up to run for Texas’ high courts in 2020
The depth of the bench for non-marquee statewide races, like the state’s two high courts and the Railroad Commission, is a measure of how high Democratic hopes have soared ahead of the 2020 election.
For Brandon Birmingham, a state district judge in Dallas, the 2020 race for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals started on election night 2018.
As he watched Beto O’Rourke win more votes than any Texas Democrat ever had in a statewide race, Birmingham — who won reelection that night with 100% of the vote in his countywide district — began to mull his own chances at winning Texas. Within weeks, he’d reached out to the state Democratic Party. By December, he’d sat down with party officials over breakfast in Dallas to discuss a possible run.