I am merely one of thousands of volunteers for Battleground Texas. This is a summary of my tenure with the organization in S.W. Houston.
There are no words to describe the stunning loses Democrats suffered in Texas in November. Of those of us who volunteered for various groups, including Battleground Texas, our county's Democratic Parties and the Texas Organizing Project, none of us predicted such a devastating outcome. Sure, most of us knew our side would likely lose in 2014. That said, we did believe some of our down ballot local candidates would win
The possibility to inch the needle away from red and toward purple served as the underlying hope that drove all of us. We knew from the beginning that this would be a very tough slog as well as a a monumental work in progress.
The big papers in Texas endorsed the top of the ticket Democrats; Governor, Lt. Governor, Comptroller and Attorney General. The Houston Chronicle, in particular, urged voters not to vote straight party. Its editorial board wrote a scathing indictment of the city's own candidate for Lt. Governor, Dan Patrick. The paper's endorsements of Democrats and our weekly volunteer activities (phone banking and canvassing) did much to engender hope. False hope, as it turned out
Because in the end, despite all of the voters we registered and all of those whom we called and knocked on their door, two thirds of us failed to vote. Most of those who did vote voted straight party. We failed to get out the vote.
Like a plane crash or an industrial accident, many things small and large had to go wrong to produce the dismal results on Nov. 4. The Davis campaign’s effort was bungled from the get-go, and it was certainly a bad year for Democrats nationally. But neither of these fully explain the scale of 2014’s loss. The most serious failing of the Democratic coalition this year was its inability to mobilize and turn out voters, a responsibility that fell largely to Battleground.
There are many reasons why we failed but at this point I would like to discuss my work as a neighborhood team leader for Battleground TX as well as a volunteer for the Harris County (Houston) Democratic Party. I would also like to share my thoughts as to how I plan to proceed in the future. For as long as I live here, giving up is not an option.
When Battleground Texas showed up in Houston in February 2013 it packed a big union hall located next door to the Harris County Democratic Party headquarters. Jenn Brown, the Executive Director, excited the audiences while she presented her charts, graphs and data. BGTX impressed most of us because we knew OFA, (Organizing for America, the group that worked to elect President Obama twice), had a winning strategy. Some of the same people who successfully drove OFA would be driving BGTX. Finally, hope is alive for Texas Democrats, we thought.
After the presentation we broke up into small groups. My group discussed potential outreach activities. How to reach voters.
Organizers passed out volunteer forms and most of us signed up. Which should have meant the Houston area would have an army of volunteers.
In January I had coffee with a field organizer for S.W Houston. The recent college grad from Long Island, NY, helped me organize a canvassing event at my home. I also organized canvassing events at a private university. We made phone calls every Wednesday afternoon from a residential college's dining hall. As the year progressed we held more frequent phone banking events. Another nearby neighborhood group made calls on Tuesday nights from a neighborhood restaurant. My group made calls on Wednesday nights at another restaurant in my neighborhood. We knocked on doors on weekends, all over Houston. BGTX hired more organizers and made the Houston area turfs smaller.
But in the end, we didn't have enough volunteers, at least in the Houston area, to do the job that needed to be done. I could not find enough steady volunteers to build a team so I joined my resources with another neighborhood team leader.
Meanwhile I also serve as a volunteer for the Harris County Democratic Party. I could therefore see organizational efforts from two sides. From my perspective I plan on hitching my 2015-2016 pony to my county's party's wagon. Why? Longevity, unrelenting persistence, a deep knowledge of the county and relationships that rely on mutual trust and respect. Most if not all of the salaried staff were born and raised in Houston. That said, I will still serve as a volunteer for Battleground Texas in the future. But any donations that I make will be going to my Party. In Texas. More about that below the fold.
Personally, serving as a volunteer for BGTX was extremely rewarding. I met people I would have likely never met. Kind, wonderful and generous people. I also met women I previously had known from our children's elementary, middle and high school years. Most of us had served on school PTO boards or ran school fund raising events in the past. Or we had volunteered together at Little League concession stands and served as soccer team moms. We had a fine group of organizers, many talented recent college grads, who took themselves out of the job market search or graduate school application process. But we were frustrated by the revolving door of organizers. We would no sooner learn to work well with one when (s)he would be transferred to another turf.
Battleground taught us how to organize people we did not know. Our group of neighborhood team leaders and volunteers exchanged email addresses and phone numbers because we knew once the election was over, the organizers would leave and we would have to organize on our own until spring 2015. Most of us had access to Vote Builder, a data base of Democratic primary voters. We could print call and canvassing lists. All of us are political organizing novices but we learned fast and quickly knew what had to be done. I am very grateful to BGTX for jump starting our neighborhood teams.
Please follow me below the orange croissant.
Battleground’s founder, Jeremy Bird, a high-level veteran of Barack Obama’s two presidential campaigns, fed those dreams. He pledged to do what the Texas Democratic Party couldn’t and earnestly begin the project of “turning Texas blue.” Armed with technology and tactics derived from the Obama campaign, Battleground promised to succeed where others had faltered. But doubts about Battleground’s approach and its intentions began immediately as well. Could an operation run largely by folks from outside Texas understand the state’s complicated electoral landscape? Did it make sense to build a sort of shadow party alongside the traditional Democratic apparatus?
In my view BGTX's biggest mistake is its failure to work with the Democratic apparatus. This is a highly diverse and very complex electoral state. What may have worked in Ohio won't work here. Also, what methods might be successful in Dallas may not fly in the Rio Grande Valley. Local county Democratic leaders and long term residents understand the complicated dynamics. They should have been consulted, in my view
Local organizers offer diverse and specific critiques of the group’s strategy on the ground: In big cities like Dallas and Houston, Battleground used turnout models that were far too optimistic about the number of Democratic voters that would come to the polls with little prodding. In South Texas, they say, an unfamiliarity with Hispanic communities frequently tripped up the group’s organizers. In other large cities and counties, Battleground often ended up competing with well-established local parties for control of resources, such as money and volunteers.
A consultant for the Harris Co. Democratic Party gave a presentation the week following the election. He and his colleague addressed low voter turnout in the county. I attended the meeting and learned thousands
of hardcore, reliable D voting members did not vote in November. I nearly fell out of my chair. WTF?
All of our voting registration, phone calls and canvassing efforts were all for naught? I later spoke to the Party's political director who said we needed to turnout reliable Anglo and low income voters. The latter group comprises a major part of our Party's base.
Too many cooks can and will spoil the broth. Too many leaders and too few grunt workers is a recipe for disaster.
The models developed for the Davis campaign by BlueLabs and implemented by Battleground contained assumptions that seemed shaky, according to party staffers and local organizers familiar with the effort. BlueLabs assumed that much less work would be required to get Democratic voters to the polls than what the Texans on the Davis campaign said would be needed. (Getting Democrats to vote in midterm years has been a long-term problem.)
“We have to be honest about why we failed. We can’t keep sugar-coating everything and saying, ‘Well, it was a bad national year.’ That’s unacceptable. Unless we’re going to be honest and do an actual post-mortem, and see where the mistakes were made, where things could’ve been done better, we’re doomed to repeat the same failures again.”
The models, the party staffers say, seemed to treat Bill White’s performance in 2010 as a floor, beyond which Davis could improve—failing to recognize that it had taken a lot of money and effort to reach White’s level.
So in some parts of the state, Battleground volunteers spent time combing white suburban neighborhoods for “crossover” voters—soft Republicans and independents—while neighborhoods rich with potential Democratic votes went underworked.
The Very Bad.
Jeremy Bird, BGTX founder and Steve Mostyn, the group's most important financial backer, are prominent leaders of the Ready for Hillary, Pac. Not all Texas Democrats are on board with HRC at this point in time.
Does this mean volunteers in Texas will be asked to work other states? Texas Democrats are getting sick and tired of serving as an ATM machine for our national party and its candidates outside of the state. We get little support in return.
But if Battleground Texas uses its volunteers to support Clinton’s campaign in other states during the general election, a lot of Texas Democrats would be downright furious. Exporting Texas’ money and volunteers isn’t a new phenomenon, of course. Texas Democrats have long complained that the national party uses Texas as a piggy bank. In 2012, Texas volunteers made 400,000 calls on behalf of Obama’s campaign in Florida. Bird told The American Prospect last year that his interest in Texas began with those phone banks.
I am sure most of us Democratic activists are a little stunned and more than a tad disappointed to learn this.
I had assumed Jim Messina was no longer involved in Obama-land or Democratic politics after signing a contract to advise David Cameron and the Tories on their 2015 UK election. He might as well be working for Mitch McConnell and the new Senate Republicans.
And he's been doing this while the Democratic Party took one of its worst drubbings in the fall elections. Anyone know if he played a role here while helping right wingers across the pond? He took 15K in January of 2014 from the DNC as a consultant. While I haven't researched beyond that, it does bear looking at.
So is this a big deal? Or am I being overwrought? Wasn't Messina one of the wizards behind Obama's 2012 re-election and his first election in 2008? Should we be grateful or pissed? The Guardian said this about him: "He is a revered figure in US political circles and was once described by the White House communications director as "the most powerful person in Washington you've never heard of". (If you read the article you'll also see some early evidence that he is willing to compromise his stand on issues in order to win).
Well, for me, working for Tories is a deal-breaker. And if Jim Messina is still a part of OFA, then I want nothing to do with it. I'm sick and tired of left leaning consultants and politicians who pretend to do one thing and quietly sell out our side behind our backs. Which is what Messina is now doing by advising the Tories, something he's been doing -- apparently with enthusiasm -- since August of 2014.
If successful will BGTX follow the same path? While I can understand why Jim Messina would want to market his highly successful tool box I would think he would at least work for groups that support Democratic, progressive and populist values. This is obviously not the case.
or those not up on British politics, here's the Tory record since 2010. They have slashed the social welfare system, moved UK health care closer to privatization and transferred large amounts of wealth to the upper class through their tax policy, further increasing inequality. The pay-off? A slew of low-paying jobs from an economy built on casino banking and another housing bubble. The austerity that drove all this and was supposed to balance the budget has instead increased the UK deficit. Cameron's right hand man -- Chancellor George Osborne -- has promised to increase the pain for the poor if the Tories win in May. The BBC has said spending cuts would take the government back to the size it was in the 1930s. Paul Krugman has repeatedly pointed out the failings of Tory economic policy, and compared them unfavorably to Obama's record in the US. So what is up with Messina? And what does it mean for OFA and for the Democratic Party?
Tory economics seem to be the same as the GOP trickle down economics, implemented by Ronald Reagan, the President who set the middle class on its path into near poverty. This is a definite deal breaker for me, too. Which is one more reason why Democratic voters get depressed. Too many of our candidates run away from the New Deal values that define, inspire and unite us.
So, what my efforts with BGTX mean for this Democrat? I decided to work very closely with my County's Democratic Party now and in the future. While serving as a volunteer I observed and participated in some of the efforts made by the political director and other salaried staff members on behalf of the Chair.
A native of Houston who attended high school here as well as a state college, Chris, the political director, has a deep understanding of the electoral dynamics in the Houston area. As a former community and union organizer he knows the art and science of organizing people.
I couldn't help but notice his efforts as he trained a team of summer fellows, most of whom were college students They focused on the mail in ballot project for senior citizens which turned out to be highly successful. I observed the director's action in the fall when he hired a new crop of fellows. The fellows called senior Democratic voters to make sure they received applications to vote by mail. They would answer questions seniors had about the mail in ballots. Individual fellows created relationships with their group of assigned senior voters.
As the election drew nearer Chris and his fellows worked seven days a week. The Party's local candidates spent days at the headquarters. They called voters to ask for their votes.
Eight days prior to the election BGTX, TOP (Texas Organizing Project) and the HCDP held a joint meeting. It is at this time when BGTX said it had come up short. Voting was down during the first week of early voting.
The Democratic local turnout operation this fall was run primarily by a series of allied groups rather than solely by the party, and that hodgepodge of Harris County Democratic groups began to unravel on Wednesday. Groups looked to explain how they failed to elect the Democratic ticket after unprecedented efforts by Battleground and Texas Organizing Project, both of which worked to bring new voters who would make Texas more politically competitive but only turned out a third of registered voters this midterm election. Some local Democrats were charging that Battleground ignored the base and did not begin hitting the phones to encourage Harris County voters to turn out until after that Sunday night meeting. The get-out-the-vote efforts of Battleground and Texas Organizing Project focused on door-knocks rather than phone calls, though Battleground says it did make calls ahead of early voting.
I've had numerous conversations with Chris, the political director. I've badgered the poor man with question after question. He is a patient and excellent teacher.
I mentioned that my group wanted to register voters during the MLK Day events. The problem is all of our deputized voter registrar status expired on December 31. This is what happens when one lives in a red state where the Republican Party prefers that only its base turns out. One has to jump through hoops to help "others" register in order to exercise their civic right and duty.
All deputy voter registrars have to attend another training class in order to become re-deputized. There is little time between January 1 and 19. To complicate matters, even if we attend the first re-training on January 10, we are not able to register voters unless we have our deputy voter registrar cards in hand because the cards include our official deputy ID numbers. They are sent to us via the mail.
Chris, knowing people in the County Clerk's office, got on the phone and arranged a January 10 training date at the County Clerk's office downtown. The clerk assured him we would have our cards by January 19.
My group made arrangements to go together. Chris is also helping us organize our voter registration efforts on MLK Day. Some of us are Facebook mailing and Tweeting our fellow BGTX volunteers to let everyone know we intend to stay in the game.
For those who cannot attend the January 10 training session the Harris Co. D Party has scheduled a training event at the headquarters in late January. Details to follow. The County Clerk's office has scheduled trainings throughout the year. Please visit Harris Votes for details.
We (the HCDP) are also hosting a Toast to a Blue Year honoring Wendy Davis on January 29, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at the De Gaull on Washington Avenue. Women might want to bring their pink sneakers to have them autographed. God knows, our pink sneakers burned a lot of pavement. Guys might want to bring their T-shirts.
We may have gotten beaten up pretty badly but we are far from drooling and dead. The next time around all of us will know what to do and how to do it better. Giving up is never on the table.
Meanwhile, Texas Democrats should brace ourselves for the fresh hell that will burn from Greg Abbott's and Dan Patrick's 2015 legislative session. A little bird told me that House Speaker Joe Straus hates Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Meanwhile Dan Patrick's tea party fascists want to fire Joe Straus because he is too liberal. SNORT.
Get ready for the shooting matches. Some could be literal considering the Republican obsession with open carry and other insane ideas.
Voting matters. Big time.