Analysis: Are Texas political conventions necessary?

Front row delegates at Day 3 of the Texas Republican Convention in Fort Worth, Saturday, June 7, 2014.
Front row delegates at Day 3 of the Texas Republican Convention in Fort Worth, Saturday, June 7, 2014.
Bob Daemmrich

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When Texas Libertarians get together every two years, their relatively low-key conventions have a genuine consequence — conventions are where that party nominates its candidates for the general election.

Texas Republicans don’t do that.

Texas Democrats don’t do that.

And while we’re here, can you name the Libertarian candidates for U.S. Senate and governor? (Answers at the end.)

The two major parties convene every two years in big, splashy gatherings to hear speeches, to network, to write party platforms that are almost uniformly ignored by their respective candidates, to spend money at hotels, restaurants and other tourist-oriented businesses in their host cities, and then to pack up the buttons and bumper stickers and funny clothes and go home.

Some of those things are important, if only to the delegates, but they’re not an essential part of the Democratic process. Nothing of genuine importance takes place.

Nevertheless, the elephants and the donkeys from Texas will gather this week (Republicans) in San Antonio and next week (Democrats) in Fort Worth for their biennial convocations, displaying their already chosen nominees, writing those platforms and all the rest.

In presidential election years, they also elect their nominees to national conventions. In mid-terms like this one, they don’t even have that purpose. Officially speaking, they elect party officials (Pop quiz: name them! Answers at bottom.) who don’t do much at all.

Still, this is a chance for each party’s true believers to hang out, to see their candidates up close, to see — and to a limited extent, shape — their party’s messages for the elections in November and for the legislative session that will start in April.

The list of potential topics is pretty long. Some of it is even interesting, if politics and culture turns your crank. But the list of things to do — if by things to do you mean things that will have any impact outside of the respective convention centers — is pretty short.

Look through the news from recent conventions for any stories that resonated longer than a week or so after the festivities were over. It’s not easy.

In 2016, Greg Abbott launched a book. Extra points if you can recall the title. (answer at bottom).

That same year, the conservative opposition to a particular set of federal education policies began to swell at the 2016 convention, culminating in the 2017 legislative session’s “bathroom bill.” The issue has hardly raised its head so far in this election cycle.

The other big talk at that Republican gathering was U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who at the time had just thrown in the towel in his race with Donald Trump for the GOP’s presidential nomination. Trump supporters were working to rally the delegates to their guy.

The Democrats were doing their own version of the same thing at their shindig, trying to reunite Hillary Clinton supporters and Bernie Sanders supporters. The convention was in San Antonio and the native Castro twins — then HUD Secretary Julian and U.S. Rep. Joaquin — were big stars.

That gathering didn’t generate much news either. Two years earlier, the Wendy Davis—Greg Abbott race for governor was in the center ring at both conventions. They served the purpose of revving up their delegates for the race ahead. Abbott won the November contest with 59 percent of the vote; hardly anyone remembers either candidate’s convention speech.

If you’re really interested in a big dig, you can see some of last year’s legislative proposals in the 2016 Democratic and Republican party platforms, along with some ideas that never got anywhere at all. But it’s hard to credit the parties for those notions, most of which were recycled ideas or new ones raised by the candidates campaigning that year.

It’s hard to find a firm way to finish a sentence that begins, “but for that Texas political convention…”, and maybe that’s by design. The delegates will convene, argue a bit, eat a lot, network a bunch, get revved up and go home.

For the rest of us, there’s not much to see here.


• Neal Dikeman is the Texas Libertarian nominee for U.S. Senate; Mark Tippetts is that party’s gubernatorial nominee. Here are the people nominated at their convention.

• Republicans elected Tom Mechler (he resigned before his term ended and was replaced by James Dickey) and Amy Clark as chairman and vice chairman in 2016; Democrats elected Gilberto Hinojosa and Fredericka Phillips to its top two posts that year.

• “Broken but Unbowed: The Fight to Fix a Broken America” is the name of Abbott’s book



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