2016 Texas Democratic Convention Liveblog: Decisions, Disarray and (Super) Delegates
Dispatches from in and around San Antonio’s Alamodome.
We have adjournment!
And suddenly, a platform descended into chaos!
And suddenly, a platform was born!
Is it possible #TDP16’s plan to let seemingly every elected Dem in Texas take the stage for remarks is part of a stealth takeover by the Texas GOP? We get the feeling even the most jazzed Dems didn’t know this many D’s held office in Texas — and maybe wish so many of them didn’t.
Dems of names big and small are still stumping. The platform fight is yet to come.
What do Dems want? A platform! When do they want it? Yesterday:
Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, an out lesbian Latina, is a big hit:
The general sesh parade-o-electeds is in full swing:
Naveena’s been working really fracking hard this morning covering oil and gas language in the 2016 platform. What could have been a mere call for a moratorium on new fracking operations in Texas in the 2016 TDP platform has become a demand for an outright ban, thanks to the canny work of petitioners.
Platform advisory committee members voted to remove language in the 2016 platform calling on the state to establish a moratorium on new fracking operations. The issue was hotly debated Saturday by committee delegates who were concerned that language opposing fracking did a disservice to the oil and gas industry, a critical part of Texas economy.
But their vote to discard the fracking moratorium language might not be of much consequence — because fracking opponents had a back-up plan.
Friday, Jere Locke, co-founder of the Texas Drought Project, collected signatures from more than 50 percent of the delegates at the convention on a petition to include a ban on fracking. That ensures that the language his group was seeking will almost certainly be included in the platform.
“I knew [the platform committee] would gut my language” on the moratorium, Locke said.
Locke’s approach was twofold. He was selected through the Bernie campaign to serve on the temporary platform advisory committee, where he introduced a plank on a fracking moratorium. He was right: that language would later be removed by the platform committee.
Meanwhile, he employed an army of volunteers to collect more than 2700 signatures on a petition calling for a fracking ban, as well as other climate-related measures.
“I even compromised,” Locke said of his platform committee plan. “I chose a moratorium on fracking over a ban on fracking, because I knew a ban would be a hard sell, and they still gutted it.”
The upshot: Because more than 50 percent of delegates signed on to the fracking ban, Texas Democratic Party will have to approve the plank, unless platform chair Celia Israel gives it the deep-six.
David Brockman sat in on the Texas Freedom Network’s morning standing-room-only workshop on battling religious extremism in Texas. (Also standing-room-only? The #TDP16 Secular Caucus. One senses a trend.) Writes David:
“How disgusting that religion is now synonymous with discrimination” in Texas political culture.
So said Kathy Miller, president of the non-profit Texas Freedom Network (TFN). Miller took a few minutes to chat with me after holding a workshop here at #TDP16 on battling religious extremism in Texas. Sponsored by TFN, the workshop focused on how far-right politicians like Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton have hijacked religion and “religious freedom” for political purposes. Judging from the enthusiastic response from the standing-room-only audience, it’s a message Texas Democrats are ready to hear.
“For most people,” Miller told me, “religion is something that provides comfort; religion is something that brings us together; faith is something about doing unto others.” However, far-right politicians use religion “as a weapon, to discriminate against people, or as a sword, to divide people against each and pit them against each other,” she said.
What should progressives do to counter this “weaponizing” of religion? Miller had two recommendations.
First, she said, progressives need to “reclaim the narrative or the conversation about religious freedom.” And that means that progressives need to stop running away from conversations about faith. Progressives, she said, “need to talk about how the far right has turned a 200-year tradition of religious freedom, foundational for the United States, into a talking point — merely a talking point — for political gain.”
Her second suggestion was mainly for progressive people of faith, in which Miller includes herself. “We need to say that religion should never be used as a weapon to divide our community,” and that “government should never promote one religious faith over all others.” Most Americans and most Texans believe in these things, she said, “but because progressives run away from the conversation, they never get included in the conversation.”
Finally, Miller predicted that “religious freedom” issues will be “the major political battle” in the 2017 Texas Legislature. Republican lawmakers, she said, will use the “religious freedom” rubric to justify discrimination — “against women wanting to use contraception, against women who want to exercise their constitutional right to have an abortion, against LGBTs.”
I have a feeling that Miller’s prediction may well turn out to be true. Watch this space.
Our repro health reporter, Alexa, chatted with some pro-life Democrats (attendance at their caucus was about half that of the pro-choice meetup):
Pro-life Democrats have been organizing at the state party’s convention since the 1990s, fighting for the party to “open the big tent” and listen to this small faction of Texas Democrats on the one issue that they see as inconsistent with the party’s main philosophy: giving voice to the voiceless.
I caught up with the Texas leader of Democrats for Life of America, Lois Kerschen, at her group’s booth to better understand how she squares anti-abortion politics with progressivism, when for most Americans, the two seem to go hand-in-hand.
“The Democratic Party has always been the champion of the weak, of the defenseless, the underprivileged, the disenfranchised, and the unborn child fits all those categories,” Kerschen said. “So it would be more natural for the Democratic Party to defend the preborn.”
Kerschen said and her fellow pro-life Democrats are “true feminists” who believe women can do anything “without denying their femininity and motherhood, and without turning into a Brave New World [character] who just pops her pills every night.”
But I wondered: What about the pregnant person in the equation? Isn’t that who is the Democratic Party is fighting for, given that her voice is being drowned out, or outright ignored, by conservative lawmakers imposing laws that restrict access to abortion?
“We don’t see a conflict because we are for the woman, we are for the child,” she said. “We love them both and want them to live to their fullest potential. We want women to know that they have all the choices. Choices — it’s plural.”
For Kerschen, it’s not about religion, but about equally emphasizing all options to pregnant people — abortion, carrying a pregnancy to term, adoption.
To me, that sounds a lot like being pro-choice, and I said so. But in Kerschen’s view, the Democratic Party is pushing only abortion as an option.
“Pro-choice is a misnomer,” Kerschen said. “It really means pro-abortion … If [abortion] is still her decision after she’s looked at all the possibilities, it’s legal and there it is.”
But is it? What about the impact of laws like House Bill 2, the Texas anti-abortion law currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, which Kerschen supports? She argued that she wants all options equally available to women.
How, then, does supporting restrictions that have shuttered half of the abortion clinics in Texas accomplish that goal?
“There is still enough availability, from our stage,” she said. “We haven’t seen that it’s really restricting choices.”
In fact, researchers at the Texas Policy Evaluation Project have found that HB 2 has had some concrete, and negative, effects on abortion access — not just clinic closures, but increasing wait times at clinics and pushing many people to get abortions later in pregnancy.
Finally, I asked Kerschen how she interprets the stances of organizations like the American Medical Association and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which have called restrictions like those in HB 2 medically unnecessary, and warned that they could “jeopardize” women’s health.
Kerschen said that doesn’t square with what she sees, and what her fellow pro-life Dems see, when they volunteer at crisis pregnancy centers. (Crisis pregnancy centers are billed as “resource centers,” but many do not provide medical care, are virtually unregulated by the state and often offer inaccurate information designed to dissuade women from having an abortion.)
But the doctors at the American Medical Association, and obstetricians and gynecologists who oppose these onerous restrictions — they went to medical school, I said.
“You seem to be blinded by a title,” she replied.
By a title, maybe not. But by science? Maybe so.
Donald Trump piñata, anyone? Pro-Life Dems bumper sticker? No? Bueller?
Observer editor Forrest Wilder pulled this little nugget out of our 2012 Dem Convention coverage:
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Castro’s keynote address was how few delegates remained in the convention hall to hear it. Castro didn’t take the stage till 8:59 p.m.—after a short intro by his twin brother (and congressional candidate himself) Joaquin. A late-starting keynote speech has been a frequent problem at past Democratic conventions.
They say something about doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for different results, don’t they?
Alexa’s been chatting with Bernie delegates who aren’t loving the reception they’ve gotten at #TDP16 so far. She says:
As various committees met to iron out delegate counts, nominating rules and platform planks, I caught up with Danielle Pellet, a Bernie Sanders delegate from Senate District 8 in the Plano area. She and Sanders delegates have been circulating a petition this weekend that would “balance” the power of superdelegates at the nominating convention. Specifically, Pellett and her team want to see their superdelegates’ voting power reduced from 15 to 10 percent, and to ban corporate lobbyists from serving in that role at all. To get a general floor vote on a resolution, petitioners have to get at least 30 percent of signatures from convention delegates. Pellett’s petition got 1,777, more than 30 percent of the estimated 4,600 delegates here this weekend.
Pellett said her resolution stirred up tension yesterday between Sanders and Hillary Clinton folks — she has heard from several Sanders delegates that Clinton people are discouraging their delegates from signing anything from a Sanders supporter; signatures dropped off at around lunchtime, Pellett said. The party rules require that her petition get a floor vote at the general session this afternoon, but Pellett predicts it’ll get pushed to the end of the day, when folks are leaving.
“This is the kind of thing we expect,” she told me. “I get the general feeling that [Clinton supporters] feel we won’t be here much longer and that we’re a nuisance.”
David’s been untangling some religious threads for us over the last day or so, and found something just absolutely shocking: Texas Republicans aren’t the only people of faith in the Lone Star state! Lay down, grab some smelling salts, put on some Enya, because you’re not going to believe this:
Here at the 2016 Texas Democratic Convention in San Antonio, it’s fairly easy to run into expressions of religious faith — and yes, even the word of God, although maybe not always the one the Governor has in mind. What you won’t find here is the God-Blessed-Texas, America-Is-A-Christian-Nation, Holier-than-Thou brand of religion that was on offer in Dallas at the Texas GOP convention in May.
The GOP convention approach to religion — well, Christianity — had all the subtlety of a street-corner evangelist waving a copy of the Bible in the air and hollering. By contrast, the delegates and electeds at the Texas Democratic Convention make the place feel more like an Episcopal parish or a Reform Jewish synagogue — it’s a faith that is quiet, congenial, neighborly, and tolerant.
Dems are meeting this morning to hammer out their 2016 party platform:
And coming up from our team on the ground today: a dispatch on religion at #TDP16 from resident theologian David Brockman, an interview on energy policy with Houston congressional hopeful James Cargas from Naveena Sadasivam, and a look at how pro-life Democrats are navigating a very pro-choice convention from Alexa Garcia-Ditta.
And, of course, probably a lot more Donald Trump shade.
We’re back! Looks like the Dems had no trouble letting off some of that Castro-ain’t-VP steam last night:
^^^^^ Saturday, June 18, 2016 ^^^^^
Castro concludes by circling back to his Hillary Clinton endorsement, emphasizing the historic nature of her candidacy:
(And he’s still not her VP.)
That’s gonna do it for the Observer team tonight, y’all. We’ll be back tomorrow morning with more from #TDP16.
Castro’s killing it with jokes about the hard, behind-the-scenes work of being a pavement-pounding Dem — getting blocked on Twitter for being “too political,” knowing folks are home but not answering when block-walkers knock on their doors, Instagramming campaign office food.
“The only person Donald Trump really cares about is Donald Trump,” says Castro, who runs through a litany of Trump’s worst comments, emphasizing his self-aggrandizing response to the Orlando LGBTQ nightclub attack.
Castro’s going hard on a left-leaning vision for the American dream:
Heeeeeeeeeeere’s Julián …
Looks like the schedule got juggled around, with Davis introducing the man of the (many, long) hours: Julián Castro.
Whoever was in charge of the evening’s program appears to have greatly misjudged #TDP16 attendees’ patience for waiting around for Julián Castro.
Now, they’re nearly three hours into the schedule, but here comes Wendy Davis in to liven things up:
Even though Julián Castro told press earlier today that he’s not in the running for Clinton’s VP, Texas Dems seem to be dying for it to happen:
Y’all aren’t going to believe this, but Donald Trump is not very popular at this here 2016 Texas Democratic Convention.
“Saucy” isn’t a word often used to describe Texas Dems, but this just about fits the bill:
Tonight’s main event includes a who’s-who of Texas Dems, including San Antonio state Representative Diego Bernal, who introduced keynoter Joaquin Castro and started off with a little comic book geekery:
And on to Castro, who called Bernie Sanders “a good thing” for Dems … but:
Congressman Joaquin and HUD Secretary Julián Castro told reporters that Texas will be ‘competitive’ in the presidential election this November, not least because, well, people don’t seem to like Donald Trump very much (anyone sensing a theme?), and Texans do seem to like Clinton:
“Texans don’t seem to like Donald Trump very much,” San Antonio’s congressman told reporters ahead of the brothers’ keynote speeches tonight. “Donald Trump is the Texas Republican Party. Texas Republicans laid the groundwork for Trump.”
Julián Castro, rumored to be a potential vice presidential pick, said he is currently not being vetted by the Hillary Clinton campaign. However, his name is on a preliminary shortlist leaked this week. He also refused to speculate on who would make a good pick for VP.
Read the rest of Alexa, Naveena and David’s dispatch from the presser.
Donald Trump’s no more coherent than he was when he declared his candidacy last year (here’s Chris Hooks with more on that), and Texas Dems are taking advantage of the presumptive GOP nominee’s unpopularity.
Alexa has a dispatch from an anti-Trump presser this afternoon:
U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro, flanked by a dozen Democratic state legislators and local leaders, didn’t mince words at a press conference mid-convention Friday.
Donald Trump “is a man who is divisive, tearing people apart, stoking people’s fears, dividing Americans,” he said, opening the media gathering. Trump, he said, is “a man who is dangerous.”
Castro and his Democratic colleagues rallied to show their full support of presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Calling the Texas Democratic Party a “united” front going into the November presidential election, Castro blamed conservative Texas leaders like Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick for Trump’s rise to power.
“They made his rise possible,” he said. “Their rhetoric help him succeed and win the Republican nomination.”
Texas Dems haven’t been afraid to tell us what they really think of Trump. Just last week, U.S. Congressman Filemon Vela told Trump to shove his border wall “up [his] ass.” Today, State Senator Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, added more colorful metaphors to the mix.
“Donald Trump, as we know now, is weak-kneed bully,” he said. “The Republican Party has embraced Trump and needs to be held accountable … he’s their monster and now we need to hang him around their neck like an albatross.”
State Representative Donna Howard, D-Austin, put it more simply:
“The choice in this election could not be more clear: It’s a choice between a person who will divide Americans and a person who will bring Americans together and that person is Hillary Clinton,” she said.
Castro called on Republicans, other conservatives and independents to cast their votes for Clinton in November and denounce Trump as a racist.
“Turn away from someone who is so divisive,” Castro said.
Our resident theologian is really having quite the time at the secular caucus. Here’s David, again:
Levin’s point about politicians not feeling safe about being openly secular points up a common theme that Larry Decker and David Smalley also stressed: what Smalley called “the fear of coming out secular.” Decker said that he wants his fellow secular Americans “to know that to come out and be openly secular is okay, and it’s their exercise as a free person in this country.”
Levin drew parallels with religious minorities: “When it comes to religious discrimination,” she said, “atheists and agnostics and secular Americans are right there with minority faiths — Muslims, Buddhists, Wiccans. Minority faiths are really left out of the conversation when our opposition” — meaning the religious right — “talks about religious freedom.”
Decker, Levin, and Smalley also agreed that religion should be kept completely separate from politics.
“Donald Trump talks about building a wall between us and Mexico,” Decker said. “I’d much rather he talk about building a wall between the church and the state.”
Smalley put it this way: “I don’t believe religion has a role to play in political discourse. I think religion has a role to play in your home, if that’s what you believe. And I think religion has a role to play in your personal life. But public policy is just that: it’s for the public, and you cannot dictate religious beliefs or legislate religious behavior based on your interpretation of ancient doctrine. You just can’t.” Levin agreed: “I think we should recognize people of all faiths and no faiths as having a say. But when it comes to religious institutions or religious beliefs influencing policy, there should be no influence whatsoever.”
But doesn’t that amount to discrimination against religion? Not at all, Levin contends. Using arguments that would have been familiar to Jefferson or Madison, she contends that when religion influences policy, “inevitably it will be a very specific set of beliefs to the exclusion of others.” That’s why, she argues, “religious neutrality — which keeps religion out of policy making — is the only way to guarantee that people of all faiths and people of no faith are represented by their government.” And Smalley had a message to people of faith: “We’re not here to take anything away from you. We embrace your rights, we embrace your liberties, but we just want to hold on to our rights to live without your religion if we so choose. You shouldn’t be afraid of us, you should work with us. Because at the end of the day, what we’re fighting for protects you, too.”
It was standing room only this morning at what organizers are calling the first Secular Caucus meeting at a state-level political convention. I had a chance to talk with three of the Secular Caucus speakers: Larry Decker and Sarah Levin, both of the Washington, DC-based Secular Coalition for America, and David Smalley, a syndicated radio talk show host who lives in Garland.
Levin told me that this Secular Caucus meeting was particularly important because “the religiously unaffiliated is the fastest growing demographic in the country….And a huge amount of that growth is among young people.” (By the way, a recent Pew poll indicates that the religiously unaffiliated now constitutes around one-fifth of Americans.)
“We are a political constituency, we are a voting bloc,” Levin told me. “And due to our numbers, we need to be recognized as a political constituency by the Democratic Party, by the Republican Party, by every political party.”
She also said that the Secular Caucus wants to see greater representation: “We’re incredibly underrepresented in Congress and the state legislatures. And a big part of that is because most politicians don’t feel safe about being open about being non-theist, and we would like to change that.”
Stephen Brown, who ran for a seat on the Railroad Commission in 2014, is proposing a resolution on environmental justice. The issue is especially important to him, he said, because investigations have found a leaky oil well in Chasewood, a majority African American subdivision in Houston, that may be contaminating the water supply. Brown is from Houston, and he said, “We don’t know yet, but it could be the site of a cancer cluster.”
Here’s the resolution:
Alexa chatted with Jenifer Rene Pool, the first out trans woman to win a Texas primary. She’s aiming to unseat a 28-year incumbent for a Harris County commissioner seat:
“We have to continue the fight,” she said. “Losing that election empowered the conservatives to go to various states and legislatures to try, using the bathroom issue, which was always a lie, to perpetuate their legislative agenda to put down the LGBT community by using [transgender people] to do so. Ten years ago it was all about being gay. Now it’s about being trans.”
Read the rest of Alexa’s interview with Pool, where she talks about the need to have a tough “armadillo hide” and the rise of LGBTQ representation in the Texas Democratic Party.
Did y’all know there’s an anti-abortion arm of the Texas Democratic Party? (I mean, one that includes more than just Brownsville Democratic state Senator Eddie Lucio Jr., who voted for Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law back in 2013.) Alexa’s at the pro-life Dem caucus:
Follow Alexa on Twitter for more updates.
Here’s Naveena, who’s covering environment, energy and tech issues at the convention:
I spoke with Alyssa Burgin of the Texas Drought Project about what the group hopes to achieve today. Her organization is small, but is hoping to have an outsized influence on the environment platform at the convention. Burgin, much to her chagrin, is not at the convention (she has a rotator cuff injury), but told me that her group had signed up about 150 volunteers, some of whom are delegates. They’re hoping to gather 50 percent of delegate signatures for a petition calling on the Texas Democratic Party to recognize the following in its platform:
- Follow the advice of scientists and call for immediate cuts to greenhouse gases
- Call to leave 80 percent of fossil fuels in the ground and move to renewables
- Call for an end to fracking
- Call for a price on carbon
Of the four resolves that the group is pushing, Burgin said changing the platform language on fracking (the current platform says “new hydraulic fracturing technologies for extraction have opened up vast resources”) is their highest priority.
“Fracking has already done enough damage to public health and water sources and it needs to end,” she said. “Nobody ever heard of a solar panel killing people.”
TDP party rules mandate that if a group gathers 50 percent of the delegate vote, the changes must be incorporated into the platform. If they only manage to get 30 percent of the delegates to sign on, the issue will be brought up for a vote on the floor.
From David, who’s focusing on religion and faith issues at this year’s #TDP16:
Perhaps the sharpest contrast with last month’s GOP convention happened yesterday evening, well before #TDP16 officially kicked off. Muslims were conspicuously absent at the Republican convention in Dallas, which featured speeches celebrating America as a “Judeo-Christian nation” and participants warning of the dangers of “radical Islam.” But here in San Antonio Thursday evening, Democrats of all races and ethnicities gathered in La Villita’s Maury Maverick Plaza to help members of the Muslim Democratic Caucus celebrate the breaking of their Ramadan fast. As the attendees enjoyed heaping portions of spicy South Asian food, TDP Chair Gilberto Hinojosa voiced a message of inclusion and unity, a message very different from what was on offer in Dallas last month. “When Donald Trump talks about wanting to keep Muslims out of America, he’s insulting me,” Hinojosa declared. “He’s insulting me because the culture of the people from the different countries that practice Islam has made our nation richer, and our world richer.” And the Muslim Democratic Caucus’ banner for the event made their position crystal clear: “I am a Muslim. I am an American. I vote.”
From Alexa, who sat in on the women’s caucus this morning:
I started the day at the women’s caucus, which drew several hundred people sporting both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders garb. The gathering featured familiar faces of the Texas Democratic Party — Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte. The two kicked off the caucus by rallying support for all Democratic women in Texas public office, and called on the audience to register voters in their own communities.
As the speakers filed on and off the stage, a slideshow of prominent Texas women circulated beside them, including photos capturing the night of Davis’ 13-hour filibuster against the anti-abortion law House Bill 2. The images are especially poignant as we wait with bated breath for a U.S. Supreme Court decision on the law, which will define abortion access and reproductive rights for generations.
More from the caucus:
Hey, that gal looks familiar!
It’s worth noting that turnout for #TDP16 is expected to be a couple thousand attendees higher than May’s Republican convention, which had something of a damper put on it after Cruz lost the GOP nomination to that orange guy with the hair.
Good morning, Observer readers! For the next couple of days, staffers Naveena Sadasivam and Alexa Garcia-Ditta, along with our resident theologian David Brockman, will be filing dispatches from the 2016 Texas Democratic Convention at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
David also covered the Texas Republican Convention with us last month, and he’s already noted a decidedly different atmosphere when it comes to press relations. He says:
The 2016 #TDP Convention hasn’t even officially kicked off yet, and already the contrasts with last month’s Texas GOP Convention are pretty stark. For one thing, free coffee for the press! Here’s the designated server for the media filing room, Noe. Another contrast: Whereas the media filing room at the Texas GOP Convention was a fairly cramped space with too few electrical outlets, the Dems have furnished the media with a spacious and electrically prolific area. Hoping this bodes well for press relations this weekend.
^^^^^ Friday, June 17, 2016 ^^^^^