Texas is in a state of crisis.
Texas mothers are dying at an alarming rate—the state’s maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the developed world. Texas children are faring no better in the state’s child welfare system, where child abuse related deaths have only become more common. Rising college costs have driven more students into food insecurity, increasing the need and presence of food banks for a population that is not usually considered to need food banks in the first place. Texans find themselves victim to predatory landlords and ecological disaster from fracking. The state ranks dead last in proving health insurance to those below the poverty line.
As the working and middle class in the state find their position becoming more perilous, big business is only doing better. Toyota—which began moving their North American headquarters to the state—stands to make 40 million dollars from state funds alone. This is to say nothing of the tax breaks that they will benefit from once the move is complete. Even as an engine of job creation, the move is lacking. In a state with an estimated 4.2 million people living in poverty the creation of 4 thousand largely administrative jobs is not making even 1% of a dent in that number.
Or consider Nebraska Furniture Mart, a company owned by one of the richest men in the entire world—Warren Buffett, which made 750 million dollars in sales in 2016 at their brand new Texas location. Nebraska Furniture Mart employs just under 1,800 people in Texas, less than half of what Toyota is bringing to the state. Not only does the company stand to make continued millions in sales, but even larger profits by developing and leasing the 400 acres around the property. The jobs created by this development are largely retail and restaurant service. In a state with lagging union membership and a lack of living wage, this means those benefiting from these economic miracles brought on by multi-billion dollar companies coming to the state are not ordinary Texans.
The leadership in Austin has failed the people of Texas. It is unconscionable that a company owned by one of the richest men in the entire world can make nearly one billion dollars in sales while students who require special education in public schools are denied an education so the state government can save some money. Clearly, there is a need for serious change.
Unfortunately, creating a state government that is both for the people and by the people is not as easy as just electing Democrats. Although “Turn Texas Blue” has been a popular slogan among the state’s dispersed liberals, Democrats and occasional socialists. It is, in present form, not a movement that could bring about the kind of bold change that is needed in Texas. Addressing the problems that face Texas requires more than just rearranging the chairs in Austin—it demands a bold and genuinely democratic vision of the future.
The question of what the Texas Democratic party stands for is worth asking. At the moment, the party embodies a kind of mild centrism that reflects a fear among Texas progressives of alienating voters. But in the widely publicized 2014 gubernatorial race, only 25% of adults of voting age participated in the race. It is clear that the majority of would-be Texas voters have already been alienated by both parties. By limiting the ideas of their politics to a narrowly defined realm of what could be possible, the Democrats are left fighting over a small slice of all potential voters that they will never win. Not only is it a guarantee of continued political irrelevance, but it means that the millions outside of the small percentage of blue counties are stuck in what is functionally a one-party Republican state.
Another justification for the centrism embraced by Texas Democrats is that it best represents the interests of the people. This not always true, though. Returning to the 2014 governors race, Wendy Davis came out for a modified 20 week abortion ban—ostensibly the issue that she gained fame for opposing. While a small portion of all abortions, it is primarily poor and working class women that seek abortions after the 20 week mark. For these women, though one choice was marginally better than the other, neither option promised to represent the full needs or realities of their lives. When Democrats split the difference on even their core issues, it’s not hard to understand why so many Texans become disengaged from the political process entirely.
Further, without a coherent plan to address much of the underlying economic causes of many of Texas’ woes, the current movement to turn Texas blue will change little. Is the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF), which has given millions to corporations with no guarantee of creating employment, the best use of Texas’ money? Especially when the state unemployment rate essentially mirrors the national average? Where are Democrats proposing the legislation of full employment ala the Humphrey-Hawkins Act, using the TEF to help fund it? Or restructuring the program into a basic income program, which would could help everyone in the state from the 3.7 million on SNAP to those barely above the poverty line. The current lack of vision beyond a more humane version of the Republican’s capital-friendly policies is not a long-term solution.
The last time Texas had a Democratic governor was in 1994—the last time Democrats had a majority in the state House was 2002. There is now an entire generation who have known nothing but Republican rule in Texas. The Democratic party is not merely marginal for this generation, it does not exist. If Texas Democrats cannot attempt to build, reaching out to and working with that 75% that didn’t vote in the last governors race, a new kind of politics they will cosign themselves to a deserved and permanent irrelevance.