OUR REVOLUTION TEXAS IS IN THE PROCESS OF CREATING THE INFRASTRUCTURE TO CHALLENGE THE ESTABLISHED STATE PARTY. It has divided the state into 11 regions, and the regional chapters will recruit and train candidates to run in local, state and congressional elections next year. Our Revolution Texas is also encouraging progressives to become precinct chairs in their local Democratic Party chapters. The party is so hollowed out in the state that taking it over is mainly a matter of showing up.
“In probably half of the precincts in Texas, there’s no precinct chair,” Hightower says. “So we’re going to fill as many of those as we can.” The precinct chairs elect the county chairs, who in turn choose the state party chair.
In January, Our Revolution Texas became the national organization’s first state affiliate. Hightower says it’s filling a vacuum in the state left by the Democratic Party’s reliance on corporate donors and top-down party decision making. “Democrats gave up on door-to-door and precinct-to-precinct organizing,” he says. “And we surrendered our populist voice.”
In Texas, the corrosive influence of corporate money on the Democratic Party is especially clear in its relationship to oil and gas interests. Henry Cuellar, who represents a U.S. House district in the oil-rich southern part of the state, took in upwards of $165,000 from that industry in the 2015-16 election cycle—more than any other Democratic member of Congress. The League of Conservation Voters gave Cuellar a score of 26 out of 100 for his environmental voting record in the 2015-16 cycle.
Hightower cites fracking as an example of a progressive issue that could revitalize the party and help it win in rural areas the GOP has come to dominate. The digging of fracking wells creates only temporary jobs, sometimes filled by non-locals, he says, and, “We’re left with the noise, the pollution, the methane, the illnesses, the destruction of the roads, the total usurpation of the water.” If Democrats took it on as an issue, then “people would say, ‘All right. There’s somebody standing up.’ ”
In the 2014 congressional election, Texas had the third-lowest voter turnout in the nation: just 28 percent of eligible voters. “It’s not that Democrats turned right-wing,” Hightower says. “They quit voting. If they hear candidates and political organizations talking about the things they care about, they’ll respond.”