Texas Democrats Can Win on Values
BY MARC VEASEY
hat is wrong with the Democratic Party?” “Why can’t Democrats win in Texas?” I hear those questions so often I wonder if some prefer asking them rather than working to find the correct answers. Democrats will win again when we build organizations to deliver a message that is seen and heard in our own communities. We have to speak a language that communicates value and belief instead of outlining long technical policy briefings. Let CNN do that. When we learn to embrace the values of our most loyal constituents, we’ll find that message can win over a majority of Texans. First, let’s stand up and be the true party of the people. Certainly, Democrats should employ the best research and brainpower, but these will be wasted unless our candidates and party leaders give it the “taste test” by getting out among the people, at barbeques and town meetings, block parties and community forums. Democrats have won when we put people first, in actions as well as words. A community-based message, delivered by real people echoing what’s real and in print, reaches more voters than the “divide and conquer” strategies that suppress our own vote potential and fail to impress “swing voters.” Many Democrats I know talk about base turnout, making our voters sound like mere numbers. Imagine yourself as an African American, raised with values grounded in church and community, watching a group of strangers move candidates through your community churches once or twice every two years at election time. Is that any way to build trust, reward loyalty, or turn out the vote? When we take the time to demonstrate a true interest in people, their communities, and their organizations, we will find people to stand with us on Election Day. We have to give our most loyal voters a reason to vote just as much as we have to reach out to those who are on the fence. Either way, it’s a form of persuasion. And it’s more cost-effective to invest time and form a relationship with those who share our values. When I ran for office, I defeated a nine-year incumbent in a Democratic primary. I took my message directly to the voters by walking and planning events block by block. That same kind of community-based approach is needed to win general elections, and it cannot wait until a few weeks before the election. Republicans will always have money to get out a message, and they’re spending more of it every year to suppress the vote and divide our core communities. Without a commitment to effective, year-round retail strategies, we cannot win the small victories that are crucial to winning again statewide. The buzz during the last two presidential cycles has been about the “center.” But what is a center without a core? Both are critical, as illustrated by the Republicans’ commitment to their own successful Get Out the Vote activities in 2004. Democrats must communicate our message and turn out voters in both core Democratic communities and that critical “center.” Sacrificing one for the other is a losing strategy, and campaigns that do so shortchange the potential of a Democratic Party that must unite diverse communities to build a winning majority. Many pundits say the 2004 presidential election was about values. At the risk of sounding unoriginal or “uncool,” I think Democrats should be able to win an election about values. Republicans want people to believe they have a monopoly on morality. Simplifying the teen pregnancy crisis by turning abortion and abstinence into litmus test issues and then turning their backs on the needs of our children is not what my late grandfather, a minister, would call values. We have a moral story to tell, but we have shied away from it and let others define righteousness. That has devastated our party and this country. I represent House District 95. We live in Fort Worth neighborhoods named Polytechnic Heights, Stop Six, Everman, Forest Hill, and Meadowbrook Handley. We are 51 percent African American, 20 percent Hispanic, and 26 percent Anglo. There are over 500 churches in our district. In 2002, we voted 78.9 percent for Ron Kirk and 77.4 percent for Tony Sanchez. Nationally, 53 percent of African Americans attend church weekly, a higher percentage than any other ethnic or racial group. Forty percent of Hispanics attend church weekly, and many Anglo Democrats do, too. We believe in a moral message that lifts up communities with hope and compassion instead of judgment. A party that believes in inclusion must have consistent values that allow us to disagree on issues. An organization built to communicate these values can persuade more of our Democratic base to turn out as well as persuade more “swing” voters to vote with us. When Texans know Democrats won’t compromise our beliefs, they will believe in our fight to provide opportunity for education, affordable health care, and good jobs. So, “what is wrong with the Democratic Party?” “Why can’t Democrats win in Texas?” Texas Democrats can win. Chet Edwards, Hubert Vo, and Mark Strama showed how to build winning organizations in their communities. They beat the odds with a winning message that defined our values so others could not define them instead. They turned out our base and talked to voters who hurt like us but don’t always vote like us. They worked hard to get the job done. Marc Veasey is the state representative for District 95 in Fort Worth.