Report from the ground in Houston, day one:
Led by organizer Richard Haas, I got an incredible tour of Tom DeLay’s district and met some great people last night. One thing that struck me driving back to my hotel from Sugar Land last night: Richard set up meetings with doers, not just talkers. The people I met with last night know how many door-hangers and phone calls were made in last year’s election because they made the calls and walked the blocks themselves.
Here are approximately 40 of them at the Bay Area New Democrats monthly meeting last night:
They had great stories about last year’s race DeLay-Morrison race (there were two other candidates in the mix, who together received about 4%), including how they helped force DeLay to attend a candidate’s debate in Clear Lake put on by a local school’s debate club. Many of these BAND club members (which is not affiliated with the Democratic Party, or with national “New Democrats”) are employees of NASA, now represented by DeLay. My hats are off to them for their continuing hard work, especially to Yolanda Coroy, Karl Silverman, and John Cobarruvias who took extra time to talk over dinner.
We went from there to Sugar Land, Tom DeLay’s hometown, to meet with Don Bankston of the Fort Bend Democrats, another club, and Carrie (I can’t read my handwriting on your last name, sorry!) of the Fort Bend Teachers Union. Charles Kuffner of the influential Off the Kuff blog, trekked out from Houston to meet and share insights.
Don and Charles recalled precinct and county data from 2004 back to 1994 to demonstrate the changing voting trends of the district. Fort Bend County, or at least the lionshare of it that is represented by DeLay, performed less well for DeLay than the rest of the district, 52.5% for the county versus 55.2% overall. And, Don continued to point out, Sugar Land, the major city in the county, is his hometown.
Charles has down some clear-minded thinking and analysis of Republican drop off votes -- those who voted for Bush but not for DeLay. He sees this as a growth area, particularly in Fort Bend, and in 2006 with a different top-of-the-ticket race.
Carrie shared a burning issue for teachers here, the wrongly-named “Social Security windfall,” which basically treats teachers as second class citizens by telling them they need to choose between their pensions and Social Security benefits. Teachers, of course, pay Social Security taxes like the rest of us and are entitled to the benefits. DeLay has stopped fixing this. The Fort Bend Teachers Union has grown by about a quarter over the last year or so, and, in a right-to-work, anti-union state, represents 1,250 teachers. That’s an accomplishment.
We met across the street from the spectacle of the Sugar Land City Hall, which is an immense structure complete with night-lights galore, fountains and statues of horses out front. The picture below is a little fuzzy, but take my word for it: it’s a sight more worthy of a museum or college library, than the city hall of Tom DeLay’s hometown.
Earlier in the day Richard Haas and I spent an hour or so with Richard Shaw, the secretary-treasurer of the Harris County AFL-CIO and with Keir Murray, an up-and-coming consultant in Houston with his own business, KLM Consulting and blog, Houtopia.com. This is a tough town for labor, Shaw acknowledged. But there’s some new excitement, and hopefully that will build. The hotel workers international, HERE, just successfully organized their first hotel in Houston, and did so by engaging local organizations in community outreach.
Murray is absolutely convinced that DeLay is vulnerable and suggested the need to build a local organization or network of individuals and organizations, all connected via a new website, to help drive and coordinate actions against DeLay and his policies, as well as to serve as information source for local activists and journalists. It’s a good idea, and I’m going to think about it some more.
This morning, I met with a dynamic, smart lead organizer for ACORN, Ginny Goldman. I will report on that meeting and the other ones I have later with former member of Congress Chris Bell and former Governor Mark White. I am running out of time, and if you have read all this, I’m sure you are, too.
Just a few last thoughts to sum this all up: There is palpable energy in these people. They’ve been represented by Tom DeLay for two decades now, and they are, for the first time, getting a taste of both his vulnerability and their power to exploit it. That wasn’t the case before 2004. This sense of optimism isn’t clouded by out-of-touch fantasy. It’s born of doing the work and seeing the positive results and studying the numbers in the district. They need a strategic outlet for this passion. That’s what we gotta figure out.