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Democratic Convention: Hanging with the – Small People

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Seeking out genuine Texas accents and serious underdogs, I spent the morning in the “non-urban caucus”—so called, apparently, because “rural” doesn’t quite cut it—and the East Texas Democrats’ caucus.

This involved traipsing quite some distance to the very farthest corner of the convention hall—not the best symbolic location for a bunch of folks who already feel left out of the urbanized Democratic Party. Walking in, a good ol’ guy was joking: “I’m going to the rural caucus. They’re calling it non-urban. I guess we ought to call this the non-Republican convention.  I think it’s going to be in a closet; probably not expecting too many people.”

But the small room was mostly full for both sessions, with about 70 folks who listened to a parade of candidates and party leaders including Lt. Gov. hopeful Linda Chavez-Thompson and talked, in the few spaces in between, about the unique challenges of being Democrats in the wide open Republican spaces of “non-urban” Texas. “You and I are what the chairman of British Petroleum calls small people,” said Ted Ankram, who’s challenging Republican Congressman Michael McCaul in the 10th District.

“The average age here is something north of 30 years old,” joked David Henderson, chair in Smith County, part of what he called “the most reactionary Senate district in Texas.” And it was true: these caucuses were all too representative of the rural-Democratic demographic in Texas—of a certain age, you might say.

Asked about other challenges unique to rural Dems, one woman piped up immediately: “We have a problem with our Democratic elected officials turning Republican.”

“Political transvestites! “ another woman quipped out loud in a good deep drawl.

The not-very-satisfying answers: Don’t let those turncoats run unopposed . Make them suffer if possible for their heresy. And use the right-wing platform the Republicans adopted at their convention to pain them as out of the mainstream. “Point out to their constituents that they went from a very middle-of-the-road belief system to a very radical belief system,” said caucus chair Dennis Veal of Livingston.

“We really have to understand what that Republican Party platform says. If you haven’t, don’t read it at night. It’s a frightening document. Each and every candidate of that Republican Party must support each and every plank of that platform. You can take the planks of that radical document and hang it around their neck and beat them with it like a club.”

It’s not easy, Veal admits. “We talk in sentences; they talk in soundbites. You have to just repeat it and repeat it and repeat it.”

At the East Texas caucus, The Tyler County chair pointed up the complex situation faced by many rural Democrats. “We do not have a real newspaper. We have no radio station, no TV. In the primary, White got two votes for every vote Perry got. But Obama got 27 percent of the vote.”

One man asks “How do we in counties that have virtually no newspaper coverage; we have no communications systems in our counties except for right-wing preachers who call us left-wing baby killers—how do we get the message out?” There’s the rub, and nobody had a particularly satisfying answer. One man, perhaps reflecting the desperation of the situation, stands up to recommend that everybody subscribe to the Observer to get the hard truth about Rick Perry and spread it around.

Delegate Mark Bauer had another practical suggestion for rural Dems: Edit your bumper stickers. “I hate to do it, but I’m peeling off my Obama sticker and putting on a Bill White. If people see the Obama sticker, they’ll think there goes another crazy Democrat. Right after the election, that Obama sticker is going back on my car.”