Herman: Texas Democrats claim big wins in small races

After years and years of wandering in the political wilderness, Texas Democrats have found a way to win some races. The secret is simple: just don’t put Democrat next to their candidates’ names on the ballot.

Sarcasm aside — and that’s not always easy when talking about long-losing and long-suffering Texas Democrats — kudos to the party for winning seven nonpartisan local races around the state last Saturday and advancing six other Democratic-endorsed contenders to runoffs.

A case could be made that this was among the most — if not the most — successful election day for our state’s Dems since 1994. That was the last time they won any statewide races, capturing seven of the statewide contests on that ballot. But the U.S. Senate race was lost to Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison, and the gubernatorial contest was lost when Repub George W. Bush ousted Dem Ann Richards.

Perhaps the most outstanding thing about the 1994 races is that one of the Democratic wins was an unopposed race as Mike McCormick was re-elected presiding judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals. Hard to imagine an unopposed Dem in a statewide race these days.

Aware of their failures in big races, Texas Dems wisely focused on small races in Saturday’s local contests around the state. It’s part of what they call Project LIFT (Local Investment in the Future of Texas). I believe our state is at its best when both parties wield some clout. This current one-party stuff is an invitation to excess.

Project LIFT endorsed 34 candidates in last Saturday’s nonpartisan races for city councils and school boards. The big winners in the small races included Project LIFTers Mike Floyd, an 18-year-old high school senior, for the Pearland school board; Shirley Fleming for Killeen City Council; Tammy Young for Round Rock City Council; Nakisha Paul for the Texas City school board; Heather Jefts for Cedar Park City Council; Curtis Cornelious for Little Elm City Council; and Nancy Wurzman for Collin County Community College board.

Advancing to runoffs were Democratic-endorsed candidates for Pearland mayor, Dallas school board, and city council seats in Arlington, Allen, Plano and Pasadena. Among the losers endorsed by the Dems were David Sray who ran for Georgetown City Council and Tracie Storie who ran for Round Rock City Council. (And I really shouldn’t call anybody who runs for local office a “loser.”)

To celebrate their little wins, the Dems threw a big, boisterous election night bash at the Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin. No, they actually didn’t, but they issued a statement from Texas Democratic Chair Gilberto Hinojosa, who rightly has reason to find optimism in the victories, albeit in nonpartisan races.

Hinojosa spoke of “building the bench of future state leaders.”

“Texas Democrats stepped up and challenged Trump Republicans in every kind of district, including areas not thought to be Democratic-leaning,” Hinojosa said. “They didn’t just pick the fights they knew they can win. That’s not something our children, our friends and our neighbors can afford. They ran because they wanted to fight for a fair shot for all.”

The statement included this overstatement: “We know a vote for school board is just as important as a vote for the presidency.”

Maybe not. But it is important.

“This is just the beginning,” Hinojosa said.

Those of us who like two-party — or more — government hope so.

Does this mean the Dems can knock off U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz or Gov. Greg Abbott in 2018? Doubtful, at best. But as evolving demographics continue to favor the Democrats, statewide wins are going to happen someday.

And wouldn’t it be fun to someday have a governor whose political career began as a member of the Little Elm City Council or an 18-year-old school board member?

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