If you fight for Team Blue, you have a lot to be optimistic about over the next four years. Candidate recruitment for the 2018 cycle is going very well, and activist energy on the left is still white-hot. Trump’s low approval ratings–if they persist–give the Democratic Party a great chance to win big in 2020 as well (though I am wary of the Party’s internal fault lines becoming very destructive once it actually comes time to pick a presidential candidate.)
It’s far from guaranteed, but Texas Democrats just might be about to enjoy two consecutive election cycles with a strong national political wind at our backs. It’s a helluva blessing, so now is the time to start thinking through how best to utilize it. I have a humble suggestion. Democrats need to focus on gaining control of at least one of the three power centers in the redistricting process: the Texas House, the Texas Senate, or the governor’s office.
Strong gerrymandering for congressional seats and the state legislature has made electoral progress a tedious uphill climb throughout the early- and mid-2010s. Avoiding the same fate in the next decade will mean better governance for our state and a better contribution to the conversation in Washington.
My vote is for focusing on the Texas House. Here’s why.
(1) The whole body is up for re-election every two years, so we theoretically get two shots at every seat before the 2020 deadline.
(2) Based on data from the 2016 election (averaging each district’s presidential vote with its partisan vote for statewide offices), the “tipping point district” (the least Democratic district needed to gain a majority in the chamber) has a Republican advantage of 11.7 percentage points. Compare that to a 14.5% Republican advantage in the tipping point Senate district. The statewide (gubernatorial) number is also 11 and some-odd percent, but the governorship is not equivalent to the House, because we only get one shot at it, and…
(3) Love it or lump it, Governor Abbott is likely to over-perform the average Republican candidate in 2018. His hard-right tendencies are outshone by other statewide bozos like Dan Patrick, Ken Paxton, and Sid Miller. He has played the bathroom bill issue with just enough obfuscation/finesse to hold his base without coming across as crass and hateful. And he earned a very respectable portion of the Latino vote in 2014; Latinos will be a huge part of any successful Democratic turnout strategy for 2018. Also, we don’t have a strong candidate yet, and the clock is ticking for organizing a competitive statewide race.
(4) House districts are smaller, cheaper jurisdictions, and their smallness presents an opportunity to tailor candidate recruitment to fit with local idiosyncrasies.
(5) Failing to take the majority but still coming close is a rewarding result in its own right. State policies will be generally more in line with progressive priorities, and we can always be proud of strengthening the farm team of future candidates for higher office. But even a 76-74 Republican House will have trouble passing a redistricting bill that gerrymanders too abusively. Maps that maximize partisan advantage tend to produce pairings of two majority-party incumbents in the same district, and incumbents hate that.
By all means, let’s expend reasonable efforts on any race where we have a chance. But where we have to choose, I say we choose the Texas House. Coming soon, I will tell you which districts will be (or ought to be) in the spotlight…