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Castros, Parker on the Future of Texas Democrats

Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune / Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

A charismatic personality isn't going to end the Texas Democratic Party long electoral drought, three prominent local officeholders said Friday. But bickering Republicans and a renewed effort to build their party and their bench of candidates will help bring Texas Democrats back into statewide office.

“You are never going to succeed as a party pinning your hopes on any one person or any few people,” San Antonio Mayor Julián Castrotold reporters at the party's convention in Houston. “What you need is the community at large to understand what you stand for and to get out and vote. That’s what’s been missing from the Democratic Party for the last 20 years.”

The mayor and his twin brother, state Rep. Joaquin Castro, met with reporters in advance of their appearances at the Texas Democratic Party convention. Rep. Castro will introduce his brother for the keynote speech Friday night.

Democrats haven’t won a statewide election since 1994, when the host city’s football team was still the Oilers and when its baseball team still called the Astrodome its home. Analysts have espoused several theories about why the party’s performance has been anemic, citing causes ranging from voter apathy to low fundraising to lack of name recognition for legitimate contenders.

But during a frank conversation Thursday, outgoing TDP chairman Boyd Richie said that, along with being vastly underfunded when compared to the state’s Republicans, Democrats have for too long hitched their hopes to one or a few candidates.

Mayor Castro lauded Fort Worth state Sen. Wendy Davis as a good bet to break the losing streak. And he said he has no plans to run for anything other than his current post.

“I am going to be in San Antonio through 2017,” he said. “[That is] if the voters will have me. I don’t want to assume that they will.”

His twin shrugged off the “rising star” label, too, and joked that his brother, who was born a minute ahead of him, was the real star.

Rep. Castro, the presumed frontrunner in the newly created CD-20 race, is likely headed to Washington next year not for a statewide run.

Despite demurring when asked about their own star-like status, the Castro twins expressed confidence that their party would eventually turn the tide. It can't get worse, the mayor said.

“People would laugh at it, and I would laugh at it, too," Mayor Castro said. "But it really is a silver lining. Republicans ought to enjoy this, because this is the best that it’s ever going to get for them.”

Unlike the San Antonio brothers, Houston Mayor Annise Parker opened the door for a run for statewide run. Although she said she'd like to remain right where she is, Parker is term limited, and said she would consider other options for public service when her current term ends.

Parker said Democrats can come back if they give voters a reason to support them and if Republicans continue down the path they're on. Asked what's ailing her party, the mayor had a ready list.

"We need to talk about what we're for... Business is not the enemy, she said. “Businesses create jobs. We need good jobs at fair wages. That's a Democratic value.”

She also slammed conservatives who demonize government. "Government is not somehow evil... Would you feel comfortable getting on a plane if there were no federal inspections, if there were no air traffic control system? That's government,” she said.

And like the brothers, Parker championed education as a value that should be embraced by all Texans.

"We need to talk about the fact that education is a fundamental right, that we expect education to be funded, that we can't expect our kids just to educate themselves," she aid.

She said the Republican Party is "riven" by the Tea Party and other factions, making it less attractive to some of its members. She predicted Democrats will return to statewide office in Texas within "the next two or three" election cycles and said it could happen faster if the Republicans stick with what they're doing now.

Parker discounted talk that the Democrats, despite their inability to win a statewide race since 1994, are out of the running now. 

"I've now been elected citywide eight times in the city of Houston and every time, I was 'doomed to failure.' If you don't run, you don't win," she said.

The Castros previewed themes from the speeches they plan to deliver Friday evening.

“In my introduction tonight I make an allusion to in many ways I think the Republican Party today is a sad answer to Langston Hughes’ question: ‘What happens to a dream deferred?’” Rep. Castro said. “A lot of dreams in Texas are drying up.”

Rep. Castro also weighed in on Republican House Speaker Joe Straus, a fellow San Antonio legislator, who is facing opposition in his own party.

“Joe, if it were up to him, I think would have a more moderate Texas,” he said. “But he’s presiding over a Republican Party that is very extreme today, and if he’s going to stay Speaker, he’s going to have to curry favor with them.”

Mayor Castro took a shot at U.S. Senate candidate and Tea Party darling Ted Cruz to illustrate his assertion that the GOP has become too extreme for Texans.

“Moderate is a four letter word,” he said. “To be moderate in the Republican Party is to be a pariah.”

Ross Ramsey is managing editor of The Texas Tribune and continues as editor of Texas Weekly, the premier newsletter on government and politics in the Lone Star State, a role he's had since September 1998. Texas Weekly was a print-only journal when he took the reins in 1998; he switched it to a subscription-based, internet-only journal by the end of 2004 without a significant loss in subscribers. As Texas Weekly's primary writer for 11 years, he turned out roughly 2 million words in more than 500 editions, added an online library of resources and documents and items of interest to insiders, and a daily news clipping service that links to stories from papers across Texas. Before joining Texas Weekly in September 1998, Ramsey was associate deputy comptroller for policy with the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, also working as the agency's director of communications. Prior to that 28-month stint in government, Ramsey spent 17 years in journalism, reporting for the Houston Chronicle from its Austin bureau and for the Dallas Times Herald, first on the business desk in Dallas and later as the paper's Austin bureau chief. Prior to that, as a Dallas-based freelance business writer, he wrote for regional and national magazines and newspapers. Ramsey got his start in journalism in broadcasting, working for almost seven years covering news for radio stations in Denton and Dallas.
Julian Aguilar covered the 81st legislative session for the Rio Grande Guardian. Previously, he reported from the border for the Laredo Morning Times. A native of El Paso, he has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Texas and a master's degree in journalism from the Frank W. Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism at the University of North Texas.