With U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, Texas Democrats have a candidate at the top of their ticket of enormous likability and relentless equanimity. But at their biennial convention, anger was the watchword for a party counting on deep-seated animus toward President Donald Trump and acquiescent Texas Republican leaders to rouse voters — especially Hispanics, women and the young — to propel them to victory.
The hostility toward Trump goes back to the day he took office, but the passion swelled to new heights amid a crisis with its epicenter in Texas, as the administration’s zero tolerance policy on illegal border-crossing separated more than 2,300 children from their parents until Trump rescinded the policy earlier this week.
“You see these little children, they look like us. These are our family who they are treating like this, and it should make you angrier than you have ever been,” state party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa told Tejano Democrats on Friday.
“This happened because we didn’t go vote,” Hinojosa said to the Mexican American Caucus. “There’s more of us than there is of them, by mucho — you thought I was going to say the other word,” Hinojosa said.
“Say it,” came a voice from the crowd.
“Por chingos,” Hinojosa said, using a Spanish profanity for “a lot.”
Beyond rousing Hispanic ire, Trump also is credited with helping recruit a record number of Texas Democratic women to run for offices from justice of the peace on up to governor, comptroller and agriculture commissioner.
The Texas electorate is notably older and whiter than the state’s population and, in her remarks to Texas Young Democrats, Kim Olson, who is seeking to unseat Sid Miller as agriculture commissioner, said, “This is not the prom. No one has to ask you to show up. You go to the polls and you bring somebody with you. … You have to be like gerbils on Red Bull.”
State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, who is seeking a seat in Congress, hailed young people after the Parkland, Fla., school shooting for taking on the NRA. “And guess what, the kids are winning,” she said.
Meanwhile, she said of Trump, “we are being attacked by every single tweet.”
“This isn’t the America we know and love,” said Garcia, who said Democrats needed to transform their anger into power.
“All of it has made me more angry than I’ve ever been, and I’m not typically an angry guy,” said state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. “But I find myself getting pretty worked up about the efforts to divide us, the extremism, the unthinking, unblinking partisanship.”
“Where is the love and compassion?” Watson asked.
For years, the mantra of Texas Democrats has been, “Texas is not a red state, it’s a nonvoting state,” lagging at the bottom nationally in turnout, especially among Hispanic voters, who Democrats hope will help put an end to more than two decades of electoral drought for statewide office.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner brought the house down, declaring, “I’m not waiting for this state to turn blue. We’re already blue. We are just waiting for this state to be who we are. Democrats, let’s stop talking about turning blue. We’re already blue. We just have to vote.”
“We’ve heard about this Latino sleeping giant,” gubernatorial candidate Lupe Valdez told the Tejano Democrats in the morning. “Sometimes I think we have to get our people angry. We couldn’t be any angrier with what’s going on now.”
Valdez told the Hispanic Caucus that Republicans say Hispanics should vote for them because they are the party of family values.
Not true, Valdez said, “Hate is not a family value.”
In her convention speech, Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff said, “This country has not seen the real Texas brand. The real Texas brand is not full of hate and intolerance. The real Texas brand is us — look around you. This is who Texas is. All cultures, all nationalities, all identities, all ethnic groups, all belief systems.”
For months, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, O’Rourke’s target, has been warning Republicans they should worry about the negative energy animating Democrats since Trump’s election.
“The hard left is angry. They’re energized. They hate the president, and they’re coming for Texas,” Cruz told the Republican Convention in San Antonio last Saturday.
“Ted Cruz said the Democrats will crawl over broken glass to get to the polls this year,” Valdez said.
“Well, yeah,” she said to laughter. “We’re going to march over glass, and we will have our boots on, because we’re smart Democrats.”
Valdez was followed by O’Rourke, the third-term congressman from El Paso, who closed the show on a typically upbeat, inclusive note.
“I just want to remember this for always, because to me this is what Texas looks like, this is what democracy looks like, this is what winning looks like,” said O’Rourke as he took the stage, just in from Washington, where there were votes to cast Friday.
“We show up in every county, and we show up in every community in every county, and we show up for everyone,” said O’Rourke, who visited all 254 counties in his campaign.
O’Rourke asked the 7,000 delegates what county they are from, eliciting a babel of responses.
Again, asked O’Rourke.
Again came the babel.
“I thought so,” O’Rourke said, “I’ve been there.”
“You want to bring everyone in?” O’Rourke said. “That’s what I want to do.”
Including, he said, those families that were separated in recent weeks.
“We stopped family separation, now we have to get those kids and those parents back together,” O’Rourke said, bringing the delegates to their feet.