On Saturday, the Texas Democratic Party hosted the five candidates for DNC Chair at a meeting of their Senate District Executive Committee. Over 100 members of the general public attended the open meeting with roughly half of those specifically there to show support for Keith Ellison. The proceedings gave little indication that the rift between Clinton and Sanders supporters has been healed or that the Texas Democratic Party is ready to change course.
But, guys, we’re already super progressive
Right off the bat, Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa unintentionally revealed one of the sources of contention between the progressive and establishment wings of the party. In his opening remarks, he remarked that he had gotten wind of a Progressive Caucus being formed and didn’t quite understand why. The Texas Democratic Party is already progressive in his opinion. The SDEC applauded in agreement. The dozens of Ellison supporters, who’d arrived three hours early to make sure they got a seat at this meeting, were mostly silent.
Through the course of this meeting the SDEC would give a standing ovation twice. One was a call to urge for an investigation into Russian hacking and the other was for Tom Perez, who not only was a strong proponent of TPP but also urged the Clinton campaign to attack Bernie Sanders on identity issues. Is that the progressive party to which Hinojosa was referring?
It’s been written that the very term progressive offends establishment Dems because it implies that they are not it. And it makes sense that party insiders, in the face of such an abysmal loss to a Republican Party led by Donald Trump, need to prove that they are still good people doing good things. That likely explains why the bulk of the meeting was spent on an election post-mortem presentation that focused on the bright side of a very dark cloud. Some highlights included the way they mobilized against Sid Miller when he called Clinton the c-word, all the ways that Texas didn’t lose in as big a way as other states, and their campaign’s strategy to “deliver a strong message to the base, target voters who need the contact and focus on straight-ticket voting.” While these are all, or at least mostly, things to celebrate, none of them resulted in Democrats winning the election or even our state.
But while the establishment takes a self-defensive posture, the progressive wing remains convinced that Bernie Sanders’ strategy of targeting Independents in order to bring new voters into the process would have won this election. Sanders was also able to mobilize grassroots activists in a major way, and progressive support for Ellison stems from their belief that he can do the same. And it should be said that while “grassroots” was a word mentioned by every candidate there, Ellison was the only one that actually inspired 50 or so real live grassroots activists to show up for him. Without even asking them to.
Don’t clap. Don’t you do it. I mean it.
The establishment response to those grassroots activists that showed up to the meeting reveals another source of contention. Donna Beth McCormack, the Sergeant-at-Arms, took her duties very seriously by sternly reminding everyone (i.e. the people in the audience wearing the Keith Ellison stickers) as she opened the meeting that official business was about to take place so everybody better be quiet or they’d hear from her personally. Ellison was the second candidate to speak and despite the repeated admonishments to be silent, bursts of applause could be heard. McCormack showed that she meant business by getting up and standing near the crowd, glowering at them threateningly through the entire speech.
In contrast, she barely made her presence known at all during Tom Perez’ speech. The SDEC and the other half of the audience in attendance were given no such admonishments to avoid applause – besides one half-hearted waving of her arms- and she certainly did nothing at all to stop the SDEC members from rising to their feet in the aforementioned standing ovation. One could argue that his place in Obama’s administration has earned him a special amount of respect. But does a party who’s already been accused of favoring one candidate over another in the primary not want to avoid the impression that they’re still doing that sort of thing? Especially when the candidate they favored lost to Donald Trump.
So what happens now?
Truthfully many of the people in that room don’t even get to vote for DNC Chair, so their reaction may not be a good gauge for how the vote will turn out. And a whole bunch of actual voting DNC members didn’t even show up to this meeting which may be its own cause of concern. But a Texas Democratic Party that thinks of itself as already progressive enough is perhaps not an encouraging sign for those wanting to push for a leftward move at the DNC Chair level.
One of the lines Ellison uttered that got the most applause – despite the menacing glare of McCormack- was when he asserted that the Democratic Party was for the people, not just Democrats. Do the party insiders who’ve earned their seats at the table through years or even decades of party loyalty really believe that? Is the Democratic Party ready to be held accountable for more than just their good intentions? Are they ready to reflect and become more effective so that those who will pay most dearly for their losses can trust them again? Or are they more concerned with blaming Russians and defending themselves? I guess only time and the DNC Chair election will tell.