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Hullabaloo


Saturday, March 17, 2018

 

Focus, focus

by Tom Sullivan

A reader from San Francisco wrote this week and said she was "wising up [and] watching local races more."

That echoes the thoughts of Christopher Hooks. He writes in the Texas Observer that he believes local races matter. He has grown weary of the perennial chatter about Texas Turning Blue as if "we were monitoring a patient suffering from hypothermia." The problem with "TTB" is it views Texas politics through the eyes of the quadrennial national race for president.

TTB is an all-or-nothing proposition that works for the standard horse-race narrative of media professionals with no stake in the balance of power in state legislatures or county government. Even the media buzz over the recent Texas primary presents a false picture of how things really change. The excitement was over the high Democratic turnout in the 15 most-populous counties that trend Democrat anyway. The Democratic turnout this year was certainly eye-opening:

But on election night, the statewide results, from across all 254 counties, were quite different — because of course they were. In the end, there were still more Republican ballots, 1.54 million, than Democratic ballots, 1.04 million.
Hooks wants to see TTB retired:
The thing is, the way the state goes on the electoral college map doesn’t mean very much at all for the way Texas is governed. And while it’s possible that the party jumps back to life with the shock of winning one or two statewide elections — that there will be a proof of concept, and then everyone suddenly gets serious — it’s more likely that things change slowly, over an extended period of time, and that small gains and positive signs feed bigger gambits. What’s most important in the long run is the overall composition and strength of the Texas Democratic Party at the local and state level.
Which is why I suppose a county chair from Alabama wrote this week to ask if "For The Win" 2018 is ready. (It's not, but will be by the end of the month.) It is why a woman from Virginia, an activist as of November 9, 2016, wrote that she now finds herself a Democratic county chair looking for help to change the political trajectory of her county and state.

Republicans took over Texas slowly, Hooks writes. They had plenty of setbacks. That's what is wrong with the all-or-nothing narratives of the national media. It was four decades between Republican John Tower winning his Senate seat in 1962 and Republicans winning the Texas House in 2003. The horse race elides those decades.
The idea of Texas Turning Blue embraces both kinds of that sloppy majoritarianism — that demographic groups will “flip” the state, and the state will become something other than what it is. We live in a majoritarian system, of course. But politics is about margins and incremental advantage. When possible, we ought to use language that reflects that, and shun that which doesn’t.
Choosing the right language is fine. But it was more than language that turned Texas red. And yes, conservative billionaires backed the conservative movement and conservative media for years. But it wasn't just their money that won them ground. It was the years. Those in control got there by being relentless, something for which many progressives are just now developing the patience. As I wrote about the last Republican president:
I used to describe George W. Bush as a Jack Russell terrier playing tug of war with a knotted rope. Once he sank his teeth into something, he simply would not let go. You could lift him bodily off the ground and watch his butt cut circles in the air as he wrestled with his end of it. But in the end you would tire of the game first, let go, and he'd retire triumphantly to his doggy bed with his prize. I was never sure myself whether I meant that as a cut or a compliment.

This how the right wins and we lose. The thing is, conservatives often beat the left, not simply with money, but with sheer relentlessness. They play tortoise. Liberals choose hare.
The tortoise makes a better avatar.

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Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer at tom.bluecentury at gmail.