Boy, I wish Molly Ivins had lived to see this.
Back in 2000, with co-author Lou Dubose, Ivins wrote a book called, Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush. The premise of the book was stated in its introduction:
"Youthful political reporters are always told there are three ways to judge a politician. The first is to look at the record. The second is to look at the record. And third, look at the record."
Of course, nobody wanted to look at the record, since Dubya was just such a fun guy to have a beer with.
A few years later, she and Dubose wrote, Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush's America, in which she decried his "crony capitalism" and the resulting disaster of his presidency.
But again, America and especially Texas, ignored Molly, to their own peril, and put Shrub right back in the White House because hey, he just hadn't done enough damage the first four years to suit us.
You can't just blame the right-wingers who flooded to take over the state in the wake of Bush's gubernatorial hurricane. At the same time, Texan Democrats refused to leave their creaky old party houses in spite of numerous storm warnings, and seemed surprised when they lost not just the governorship, but the state House and Senate too, while the Wicked Wizard of the West, Tom DeLay, worked his dark magic to jerrymander the entire state to Republican hell.
After that, Democrats everywhere seemed to give up on Texas. It's so reliably red on all the polling maps that I'm surprised they even bother including it anymore.
Back in 2004, I tried in vain to find a state headquarters office for the John Kerry campaign. When that didn't work, I drove a hundred miles to attend a John Kerry meet-up.
Six people showed up.
Next, I drove a hundred miles in the opposite direction to find a local Democratic party field office. There was one in that city. I know because I called 'em on the phone. Then I drove up and down, up and down the street where it was supposed to be located, finally driving back home in disgust when I couldn't get an answer to my increasingly frustrated phone calls for help.
Later, I learned that the Democratic field office had been located in a spare room at the rear of a local government office. I guess you had to know a secret password to get in because there wasn't even so much as a blue bumper sticker in the window informing you that this was the Democratic Party field office for that city.
It's like they were embarrassed to be there or something.
So yeah, Bush took the state with something like a thousand points.
But it's different now, and if Molly could see what's going on in Texas these days, she'd let out a hoo-rah and a big laugh.
Texas politics are on the move, and for the first time in years, it's exciting to be a Democrat in this very red state. I'd like to tip my hat (as you can see in the photo, I actually have one), not just to Molly's memory, but to Sen. Barack Obama for making it happen.
I have already blogged here about how Texas is changing colors.
In that post I mentioned that in 2006, Dallas county turned completely blue--with every elected office going to the Democratic candidate, from judge to dog-catcher. Now, Harris County, home to Houston, is working hard to follow in Big D's footsteps. The idea, according to the Texas Observer (Molly's old stomping grounds):
"Harris County, which encompasses the city and its suburbs, is home to 3.9 million people, outnumbering the populations of 23 states, and is roughly the same population as Oregon. Now consider that Harris County--in theory, at least--is already Democratic. Surveys and polls repeatedly show that more of its eligible voters identify with Democrats. It's just that many of those people don't vote. Moreover, the area is growing. Subdivisions are sprouting at the city's edge like weeds. The people moving in are mostly Democrats. Harris County is undergoing a demographic shift that will soon put Anglos in the minority.
"Practically speaking, a Democrat can't win a statewide race in Texas without carrying Harris County. If the party can increase its turnout just enough in this presidential year to turn Harris County blue, Democrats will control five of the state's largest counties and could become competitive again in races for governor, lieutenant governor, and U.S. Senate. Democrats are feeling the urgency to capture a statewide race and at least one chamber of the Texas Legislature by 2010 to gain a say in the next round of legislative and congressional redistricting.
"But Houston's size and shifting demographics have local Democrats dreaming well beyond the Governor's Mansion. They talk of a day when Houston could be for Texas what Philadelphia has been for Pennsylvania--a metro area that votes so overwhelmingly Democratic it provides a large enough advantage to deliver the state almost by itself. (In the 2004 election, Philadelphia handed Democrats a 400,000-vote edge in the state's largest population center--a margin Republican areas of Pennsylvania couldn't surmount.)"
Statewide, Democrats are poised to make a number of legislative gains, says the Austin American Statesman:
"There are too many close races to predict which party will end up with a majority, but old Bush allies and GOP newcomers alike now find themselves in surprisingly tight House and Senate races, giving Democrats their best chance in a decade to make big gains and perhaps even reclaim the gavel from powerful House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland.
"'The only question here is how bad Republicans are going to hurt,' said Democratic strategist Harold Cook. 'George Bush has fouled the entire nest and the voters are really starting to notice -- even in Texas.'"
Molly would have loved that part about Bush fouling the nest.
The article goes into detail on how many formerly-secure Republican seats are in jeopardy now, which I won't go into here, but one important point it makes is that Texans are, by and large, accustomed to voting a split-ticket. In other words, they may pull the lever for John McCain, but then vote for a Democratic house or senate member.
And it all adds up, baby.
Enter the brilliant young senator from Illinois with his bright ideas about a 50-state strategy.
You guys may not remember this, but when Obama first talked about that strategy, he was roundly criticized by many Democratic party bosses, who grumbled about the idea that fund-raising might go to frontier outposts like, oh I dunno...Texas? When they wanted all the money for their usual loser Kerry-state strategy. Obama persisted, and he had to fight against his own party in many cases to prove that there was indeed a method to his madness.
Fortunately, Howard Dean had the same idea, but he, too, had been criticized LOUDLY by such party bigwigs as Rahm Emanuel, who felt that precious funds needed to go to closely contested races and not wasted out in red state boonies like, I dunno...Texas?
But Obama knew that if he could energize not just the party base (which took some doing, since so many of them were Hillary supporters), but also lots of new people who hadn't paid much attention to politics before, he could start a movement that could become an avalanche. It would not only put supposedly solid-red states in play that had not been so in 40 years, but it would help those down-ballot candidates in places like, I dunno...Texas? to run against entrenched Republican seats that now appeared suddenly very shaky.
One of Obama's biggest new energized segments of the population is students. I keep hearing pundits mouth about how apathetic they were in the past, how notoriously lazy about turning out blah blah blah. That's fine. Let 'em talk. The kids are working too hard on the Obama campaign to pay any attention.
According to the Austin American Statesman:
"After the youth vote remained the same in 1996 and 2000 -- 36 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted -- it jumped to 47 percent in 2004, the biggest four-year increase of any age group, according to the institute. And this year's primaries attracted twice the number of voters in that age bracket as the 2000 primaries in states where data were available for both primaries, according to a study by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.
"Some political analysts say politics have become more important to young voters since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and politicians have become better at reaching those voters through the Internet. Austin-area students say Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama first drew in thousands of young voters through well-organized grass roots efforts.
"But regardless of whom they plan to vote for, a number of area students agreed that they want to see a change from the policies that led to the war in Iraq and the country's economic crisis.
"Students are realizing the financial crisis doesn't just affect those on Wall Street; it also affects tuition rates and employment opportunities, said 20-year-old Andy Jones, public relations director for the University Democrats at the University of Texas at Austin. He said they are also realizing "that the war in Iraq is not just some distant conflict. It's real and tangible. Our brothers, our sisters, our friends in ROTC are going there."
I don't mean to imply that there aren't any young people supporting McCain, of course there are. But Obama was so tech-savvy from the get-go, so attuned to the tech-world inhabited by the young, and his message so energetic, youthful, and optimistic, that he has managed to captivate a much larger segment of the young demographic.
Here in Texas, there are numerous websites that follow Democratic politics in our state, and one of the most popular is a site begun by college kids in 2003 called Burnt Orange Report: Our Eyes Are Upon Texas Politics that has since become a serious voice in Texas politics.
In the meantime, through Obama's interactive website, blogs for each state are running strong, no matter how red they are, as you can see on the Texas blog.
Through e-mail and text messages, those of us who live in predominantly Republican areas like Texas are fully in tune with the Obama campaign. Even when McCain is running nine points ahead, as he is here in Texas, we can not only keep up with what the campaign is doing, but we are encouraged to volunteer and get involved.
In other words, the Obama campaign is treating us red-staters like our votes count, too.
You have no idea how good that feels.
We're given all sorts of options, depending upon our individual situations. We can call battleground states from home, or visit one of many Obama call centers in the state to work with other volunteers. We can participate in voter registration drives, or in voter canvassing, or in call-center phone banks. Or just donate to support a volunteer who has more time and energy to give than money.
The idea is that just because Texas has been reliably red in the past doesn't mean it has to stay that way. By dovetailing with the exciting developments on the state-office level, and taking advantage of growing demographics like the Hispanic vote, the Obama campaign and Texas Dems can begin to tilt the popular-vote balance...maybe, in time, all the way over to the blue side.
A few weeks ago, Obama supporters here in Texas were given the opportunity to attend training camps, which have been highly successful. Naturally, these camps were being held all over the country, but for Texans to get the opportunity to attend one even in a state as red as ours is a thrill.
It sure beats driving a hundred miles to search in vain for a blue bumper sticker in a window. Participants of all ages and abilities--even one blind lady who showed up with her dog and her fired-up attitude, have trained at the camps.
The most exciting new development here in the red state boonies this campaign, are the bus convoys provided that enable those of us who are adventurous enough and have the ability to take the time, to travel to battleground states and help to get out the vote for Obama.
The blog, Texans for Obama explains that the transportation and lodging are free. Coming up on this final weekend before the election, buses will be running::
*Austin to Springfield, MO
*Austin to Cincinnati, OH
*San Antonio/Austin to Albuquerque, NM
*Austin to Albuquerque, NM (weekend only)
*San Antonio/Austin to Albuquerque, NM
*Fort Worth/ Amarillo to Albuquerque, NM
*Dallas/Texarkana to St. Louis, MO (weekend only)
*Houston to FL
*Houston to Dayton, OH
"Texas is sending buses of volunteers to battleground states across America. All travel and lodging is provided. Volunteers will spend their days knocking on doors, turning out Obama supporters to vote. I took one of these trips to Denver last weekend, and it was amazing. The people are wonderful, and it feels so great to know we're making a real difference in the election.
"I'm not a big believer in the Electoral College as a system--living in New Jersey, New York, Illinois and Texas, I've never really "mattered" in the outcome of a Presidential election--but knocking on those doors in a battleground state felt like I was making a tangible difference in the election. "
You can sign up to get on the bus at the Texans for Obama link above, or at the Texas for Obama official website page.
My only regret about all this is that Molly Ivins isn't around anymore to crack wise about all the frightened little Republicans in the state house, clinging precariously to their seats while new hurricane warnings are posted.
For Texas Dems, revenge is sweet.
You should have heard them, those statehouse Reps, lording it all over their arrogant selves when their lord and master, Tom DeLay, was ramming through redistricting and Texas Dems of principle fled the state in order to prevent a vote from going forth. Those Dems held out for as long as they could, at their own personal expense and political cost, while DeLay ordered Homeland Security to chase after them and his little Republican lackeys in the Texas state house and his favorite altar boy, Governor Goodhair (as Molly called him) bowed and scraped.
His Dark Lord wizardry gained the U.S. Houst of Representatives five more Republican seats.
But that was then, baby, and this is now. DeLay's got his own problems, and anyway, there's a Dem in his old seat. The state party machine that backed him so completely is breaking up in the gathering blue winds. Even U.S. Senator John Cornyn hears the howls of the wind on his heels as Rick Noriega, an Aghanistan veteran and Texas representative who has fought hard for children's health insurance, closes that race to within six points.
However it all sorts itself out on November 4, Texas Democrats are on the bus for good. And I know Molly Ivins is up there somewhere, along with her old pal, Ann Richards, and they've got big ole grins on their faces.