The main attractions in today’s primary run-off elections in Texas are a series of Republican contests in which candidates scramble to show off their conservative bona fides. Aside from the unfortunate appearance of LaRouchian Democrat Kesha Rogers (her yard signs actually say ‘Impeach Obama‘) in the US Senate primary run-off, Democrats have no contested federal races. And in Texas, that’s a big missed opportunity.
Texas’ US House delegation is made up of 24 Republicans and 12 Democrats; certainly not an encouraging fact itself. But to add to its problems, all but 4 of its Democrats are too conservative for the district they represent (the figure drops to 3 if you include Rep. Pete Gallego, who, as the representative of a R +3 district, is given substantial leeway in our rankings, but could easily be more progressive without alienating his district).
Texas US House Democrats include a list of colorful characters like TX-28 Rep. Henry Cuellar, the first Democrat to be endorsed by the Club for Growth and the only House Democrat to earn a Primary Score of 10. Cuellar has betrayed progressive values by voting to restrict abortion access, evangelizing free trade for the Heritage Foundation, and voting to build Keystone XL.
Rep. Filemon Vela, a conservative Democrat representing the safe (D +8) 34th district, gets a Primary Score of 6 for his frequent bad votes including the one where he joined Republicans to pass the ‘Save American Workers Act of 2014‘. Ironically, the bill would not save any American workers and would instead cause 1 million Americans to lose their health insurance by changing the definition of ‘full-time employee’ from someone working at least 30 hours/week to someone working at least 40 hours/week.
Why are Texas Democrats so needlessly conservative?
It might be an overreaction to Texas’ overwhelming conservative lean in federal and state-wide elections. Even when Southern Democrats ruled state-wide politics (Republicans took control of the state legislature in 2002 for the first time since 1872 and now hold all state-wide elected offices), Texas was very conservative as a whole. It’s easy to imagine Texas Democrats mistakenly tying their decisions to state-wide politics and ignoring the progressive voices in their districts.
You might think this needless conservatism and the total failure of 2/3 of US House Democrats from Texas to adequately represent their district would lead to an emboldened group of progressive primary challengers eager to give their districts the kind of representation they desperately want.
But you would be wrong.
Only two of the eight insufficiently progressive members of Congress were even challenged in the March 4th primary and neither were challenged by a progressive alternative. One, Rep. Marc Veasey, a first-term Democrat representing an extremely safe D +18 district, was actually challenged in the Democratic primary by a businessman who not only voted in the 2010 and 2012 Republican primaries but actually contributed to three separate 2012 GOP presidential campaigns (Perry, Gingrich and Romney). The other was to longtime Rep. Eddie Johnson (who is quite progressive, but could improve as her district is an incredibly safe D +27) from state Rep. Barbara Mallory Caraway who ran as a “fresh face” and not as a progressive alternative.
If any of our Texas readers know of progressive alternatives to any of the aforementioned conservative Democrats, we urge you to let us know by filling out our ‘Draft Candidate’ form. If we like what we see, Primary Colors will start a petition to draft them to run. Our hope is that the Texas Democratic Party will build on its recent successes such as nominating a strong gubernatorial candidate in state Senator Wendy Davis, producing a budding national politician in Obama’s nominee for HUD Secretary and former San Antonio mayor Julian Castro and the emergence of Battleground Texas as a force to organize and register large numbers of Spanish-speaking voters and start nominating smart progressives who can win state-wide elections in an increasingly diverse Texas.