ago, when there were half as many registered voters and a poll tax. As you can imagine, the trendiest parlor game in Austin these days is “What if. . . ?” It goes like this: What if State Sen. Carlos Truan of Corpus Christi, Sen. Lloyd Doggett of Austin and U.S. Rep. Mickey Leland of Houston had been seriously challenged by Republican opponents? That would have increased the Democratic vote in three key progressive-voting areas and put Hill over, goes this line of thinking. What if La Raza Unida and Socialist Workers candidates had not been on the ballot? They got nearly 23,000 votes between them in the gubernatorial contest, and the assumption is that those were Hill votes. What if the teachers hadn’t already been counting their Hill-promised pay raises? The undocumentable argument here is that these key Hill supporters assumed he was a shoo-in and that at least 20,000 of them failed to get out of the house on election day. The game is being played by all political types, but the most eager participants are such arch-conservative Democrats as railroad commissioner Mack Wallace, former LBJ and Briscoe aide George Christian, former lieutenant governor duck Dolph Briscoe, each of whom cites the election results as proof that Hill should have stuck with the tried-and-true path, running as the conservative voice of the state’s moneyed Establishment. Instead, he strayed, and they say that’s why 20,000 or more votes went thataway. But these people are quibbling, missing the central point altogether: this election never should have come down to so few ballots. The problem facing Democrats is not to scrounge up another 20,000 votes, but to generate the kind of excitement that will draw 2 million more. This is not far-fetched at all. There are 8.4 million eligible voters, but only 28 polls this time. To me, the loudest noise of the election year was not made by the 1.8 million of those who elected Clements, but by the 3.3 million registered voters who failed to show, backed by a silent chorus of 2.7 million more Texans who were eligible but did not even bother to register. That adds up to 6 million potential voters-72 percent of uswho are unmoved by the candidates of either party. Okay, okay, I know that we couldn’t lure all voters to the polls, even with an offer of free beer. But I’m not suggesting anything like that. Just a 50 percent showing, rather than this year’s 28 percent, would produce the 2 million additional voters mentioned above. I contend that this is the pool of voters Democrats should be fishing in, rather than trying to bait some conservatives in Clements’s backwater. The fork in the road Behind the scenes in official Austin, plots are already being hatched to move the Democratic Party to the right. Within hours after Hill conceded on November 8, Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby had convened a meeting that included Mack Wallace, George Christian and Secretary of State Steve Oaks, and the talk there was that the energies of the party must be focused on recapturing the conservative Democrats who bolted to Clements this time and on wooing the white, suburban voters who are moving to Texas as executive employees of Northeastern and Midwestern corporations. Hobby, now laying the groundwork for his own gubernatorial campaign in 1982, is trying to become the titular head of the partyhe put out feelers on a plan to replace state party chairman Billy Goldberg \(Hill’s nominee for the post at Steve Oaks, but he has been temporarily dissuaded from attempting this. Nonetheless, Hobby is going to get more involved in intra-party affairs and will try to become the official Democratic spokesmanwatch for him to use his perch at the head of the State Senate for this purpose next year. Hobby’s grab for the helm will not go unchallenged. Hill has said that he’s still very much in things. State Comptroller Bob Bullock has been holding meetings of his own, and this maverick officeholder could become a:very important force in shaping the tone and content of the party’s message during the next four years. Land Commissioner Bob Armstrong professes no gubernatorial ambitions of his own, but is probably the only man in office who speaks to all sides, and he’s playing a major role in these interminable political discussions. On the Democratic right, plenty of others are putting themselves forward Speaker Billy Clayton, new Attorney General Mark White and even Dolph are among them. From the scouting around that I’ve done, everyone except Bullock, Armstrong and Hill is talking nonsense. Actually, it’s worse than thatthe kneejerk plan to plunge down the rightward path is a disastrous course for the Democratic Party, a blueprint to hold down the turnout and elect Republicans. The only way for Democrats to reassert their dominance is to stand up and run as full-fledged, unapologetic Democrats, and run flat-out. Those who are talking about running to the right are running scared, so scared of 14 percent of the electorate that they are prepared to act like Republicans, abandoning the party’s long-term constituency. Democrats are never going to produce a strong vote by trying to out-right Republicans, nor can they sneak by anymore merely by being inoffensive, as Hill, Bob Krueger and Price Daniel Jr. demonstrated this year. Republicans are not afraid to stand up for what they believe in and for the interests they represent, and Democrats will do better if they are willing to stand as tall. Plain speaking The truth is, those pushing the party to the right are afraid of the people, afraid to say anything controversial. They fail to see that the mainstream of their party is now progressive. I am not saying that rank-and-file Democrats have suddenly become liberal, pro-government freespenders or any of the other fearmongering labels that right-wingers try to attach to anyone more moderate than Dolph Briscoe, but I am saying that average Texans are progressive-minded, common-sense human beings who would respond enthusiastically to candidates willing to speak the truth, especially on pocketbook ,issues. Quick, name any burning issue developed by a statewide Democratic candidate this year. Ten years of Dolph? Tower’s absentee record? What? It’s true that these are fine points that will score with those inclined to vote anyway, but they are not exactly rallying cries for the masses. The issue most talked-about by several Democratic candidates was this winner: “Yankees are not paying as much as Texans for natural gas, which is not fair, so therefore Yankees should be made to pay more.” Democrats can do better than this. Huey Long was from another state and time, but he had a political passion and courage that Democrats in Texas might consider adopting as their ownhere is the way a former opponent of Long’s described it in T. Harry Williams’s biography of the Louisiana populist: “He would go into a community that was strange to him. He went to Hammond where my father [J. Y. Sanders] lived, and he knew that my father wasn’t supporting him. He would get up on the stump and attack Sanders. He would go to the hotel and those who didn’t like Sanders would come around and talk to him. That was the nucleus of his organization right there. He did that all over the state and attacked the biggest figures opposed to him. He went to Alexandria and jumped on George Bolton, a big financial fellow. It was blasphemy to attack Bolton in Alexandria. Well, he knew that Bolton wasn’t ever going to support him. He wanted to get the antiBolton vote. It’s “the anti-Bolton vote” that is not turning out today in Texas, and it won’t until some Democrats get blasphemous. That’s where the future of the party lies; the people of Texas are way ahead of most politicians, and there’s a huge pool of voters waiting for candidates who will come speak sense to them. –J H THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17
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