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Politics & Government

If Democrats Can’t Turn Denton Blue, Can They Ever Turn Texas?

There's often a strange disconnect in voters' minds.
Two sides to a Denton voter?

You may have heard that it’s been a while since a Democrat has won statewide office in Texas. Despite abundant speculation about demographic trends flipping the state from red to blue, the results of the last gubernatorial election proved Texas Monthly wise to have included a question mark on its August 2013 cover featuring Wendy Davis and the Castro brothers.

The last person to get a Democrat into the governor’s mansion was Mary Beth Rogers, who ran Ann Richards’ successful 1990 campaign (as well as her unsuccessful 1994 re-election bid). Today the Texas Observer has published an excerpt from Rogers’ new book, Turning Texas Blue, which lays out her blueprint for the party’s resurgence.

Most of her plan’s points — e.g., “Devise a Strategy to Win” — sound like the sort of insights a sideline reporter might pull out of a football coach at halftime:

“Coach, that was a rough couple quarters for your team. How are you going to turn things around?”

“Well, we’ve got to devise a strategy to win. If our players are better than their players, we score more points than the other team, and don’t let them score as many points as we do, we should be all right.”

But Rogers does interestingly highlight the disconnect that can exist in voters’ minds between policies they dislike and the politicians that they elect, who then enact those very policies. Her example is (my hometown) Denton, which overwhelmingly enacted a ban on fracking in 2014:

They won the election by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent, despite the almost $700,000 that oil companies had spent to defeat it. Yet the day after the election, Texas Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick, one of the three elected Republicans who run the agency that oversees oil and gas production, announced that the agency would not honor the town’s vote to ban fracking, and the practice would continue. Adding insult to injury for Denton residents, the Republican majority in the 2015 legislature passed a law that forced Denton to repeal its anti-fracking ordinance. The new law also prohibited other Texas cities from stopping fracking in their communities. Governor Greg Abbott signed the new law with great fanfare. But here’s the disconnect: Denton also voted overwhelmingly for Abbott and the Republican slate of candidates that took away their power to enact certain local ordinances. Wouldn’t it be a good idea for a Democratic candidate for governor to go into Denton and blame Greg Abbott and the Republican-controlled legislature for overturning the will of the voters on an issue that really mattered to them?