The Dallas Morning News
A new hope
Democrats, moderate Republicans challenge monopoly of far right in Texas, says Richard Parker
T he rebellion is underway. And the Empire is under siege.
A long, long time ago, (late last year) an unusual pair of rebellions broke out in a galaxy far, far away, known as Texas. Democratic candidates for political office swarmed the state’s first-in-the nation primaries, exhibiting a courage unseen in Texas in many decades to restore the Republic. And even some Republicans fought the emperor and Darth Vader in a desperate attempt to wrest control of the Death Star.
For the first time in a quarter century, a fight is on in Texas to break the grip of a Republican Party steadily drifting to the far right, now under a conniving governor, Greg Abbott, and his warlord, Dan Patrick. On March 6, the ballot will be full of candidates to replace an old guard either desperately clinging to power or slinking into retirement. (Hat tip to R.G. Ratcliffe of Texas
Monthly who used the Empire Strikes Back metaphor first for this year’s primary.)
No candidate, however, has exhibited a political warrior’s spirit more than Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso Democrat running to unseat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, a sort of Luke Skywalker versus Darth Maul — the apprentice to the Dark Lord of the Sith — kind of struggle. O’Rourke spent last week in deep, red East Texas. In San Marcos, he gave a courageous answer to a family whose father had been taken away by immigration agents: He would try to help.
Most politicians would’ve sidestepped that hot potato and made any assurances privately — or made none at all. But O’Rourke exhibited his courage in public, however unpopular his response might be for some.
His policy positions are numerous but clear. He’s about as far left as a centrist Democrat (or a now-extinct moderate Republican) can be, which is not at all. He’s compiled a pro-business track record from his earliest days in city hall in El Paso; he even broke with President Barack Obama during his tenure. O’Rourke ran an uphill battle for the House and term-limited himself.
Now he’s running an uphill battle for the Senate and term-limiting himself again, should he win. But he’s also got game. O’Rourke outraised funds against Cruz in the last reporting period, even though he’s sworn off PAC money and relies on individual donations. Unlike Cruz, he is fluent in Spanish, having not arrived from Canada. And yes, he played in a punk band back when that was a thing.
For a long time, the Democratic Party has seemed absolutely dead in this state, or doing a fine job of imitating a cadaver. Election seasons rolled around and sacrificial lambs were led to the slaughter, almost like offerings to the occupying force. To win, the conditions have to be right. There must be a strong candidate and a resounding message.
The conditions are right. Texas is no longer deep red but competitive purple; Donald Trump won Texas by single digits in 2018, the narrowest Republican margin in modern history. A million new voters registered then. More than 1 million new voters have registered for this election, according to the secretary of state. Texas residents are less conservative and less Republican-leaning than just several years ago, according to new data from the Gallup Organization.
These candidates have guts. Mark White, for example, is the reluctant warrior in the governor’s race. But there is the other kind: San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro has cut and run, passing on the governor’s race to preen for a presidential run in 2020. Not exactly a profile in courage. Castro is as inexperienced as he is ambitious; but worse, when the call came to join the fight, he passed.
The 21st Congressional District, snaking from north San Antonio to west Austin, has attracted 18 Republican candidates and four Democrats to succeed retiring Republican right-winger and overall science-denier Lamar Smith. In that race and others, even some Republicans are distancing themselves from the Empire.
And Republican Jerry Patterson is among those Republicans aiding the rebellion; he reminds me of a character in a Star Wars bar scene, probably because the first time I met him was in a bar where he informed me he was carrying a gun. He is running for his old job as Texas Land Commissioner by criticizing a bumbling George P. Bush, who has botched the Harvey recovery effort and stumbled headlong into a controversy over, of all things, the Alamo.
Patterson is a little clever by half on the latest battle of the Alamo; it’s the primaries equivalent of clickbait. But the young Bush is running a largely invisible campaign — if he’s running one at all — and is as overly ambitious as he is inexperienced, too. Worse, he’s fallen in with the Trumps. None other than billionaire kid Donald Trump Jr. — of New York City — has tweeted his endorsement of Bush, in a Texas primary.
And the message of today’s rebellion? Breaking the grotesque monopoly of the far right, whether that’s as a Democrat or a thinking, normal Republican.
Republicans will have the tougher road after the primary, though, as their party is brittle from 25 years in power. Monopolies are unhealthy and every ruling party decays from the inside out. That’s just as true in Texas as nationally, where the Republican Party hosts Donald Trump, the elder, like a virus.
It is a happy coincidence that the Texas primaries, on March 6, fall just after Texas Independence Day. Spring is the perfect season for a rebellion. So, let your rebel flag fly and may the Force be with you.