AUSTIN -- With the primary over and run-off nearly two months away, each of the state's political parties will meet this weekend and regroup. For Democrats, that means picking a new leader to take charge of a party that hasn't won a statewide office since 1994.
"If you're running for the Democratic Party chairman's race, you're running to build a party from scratch," said Matt Glazer, executive director of progressive advocacy group Progress Texas, who says the sweeping defeats of Democratic candidates in 2010 have gone far to exacerbate many Texas Democrats' frustrations.
"There's this pathology of pessimism that's entrenched after 2010," said Glazer. "We've got to change the dialog. We just had the most conservative, out of touch, socially conservative legislative session that we've ever seen in our entire lives, and it didn't fix any real problems. So it means that we need to start winning state House races, state Senate races, and we need to start really moderating the house."
Glazer's appraisal is shared by Cameron County Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa of Brownsville. With current chair Boyd Richie opting not to run for reelection, Hinojosa is considered by many the insiders' pick to assume the mantle of leadership at the party convention in Houston.
"I think what the Republicans have done has been devastating to the future of this state," Hinojosa told KVUE. "The massive cuts in public education this last session have hurt us, have hurt us not in the present only, but for the future and have put us in a situation where it's going to be very, very difficult for us to structurally make the changes necessary to put us back on track towards developing the talent that this state needs to become a strong, economically vibrant state."
Texas used to be a stronghold for Democrats, but over the past 20 years that role has reversed. In the May 29 primary election, more than 11 percent of voters turned out, but only 4.5 percent, about 600,000, of those voted for Democrats.
"The turnout numbers in the State of Texas are abysmal," said Glazer, who lays part of the blame on Republican-led redistricting and voter identification efforts that have both wound up in federal court. "We rank 50th out of 50, and the only thing we can do right now is start getting people to show up."
"I believe that the numbers are there," said Hinojosa. "I believe that if you look at the demographics in this state, the people that fall within the natural constituency of the Democratic Party far exceeds those that would fall within the natural constituency of the Republican Party. Our problem as a Democratic Party is that we've been so fractured for so long, and there's something of a self-fulfilling prophecy out there that we've not been able to get out of this funk that we've been in for the last 20 years."
"It's a blue state," insists longtime Travis County Democrat Fidel Acevedo. A native Texan and Army medic during the Vietnam War, Acevedo also hopes to win the party's reins this weekend. Like many party insiders, Acevedo sees Hispanic voters playing a key role in moving the party back to a position of statewide relevance.
"The landscape of Texas politics, regardless of what party's in power, will be the Latinos," said Acevedo, who also believes the party's future will hinge upon its ability to recapture rural parts of East and West Texas.
"It's a monumental task to be able to connect Delhart to Laredo, or El Paso to Texarkana, but there in between lies the secret," said Acevedo. "In between that crosshair lies the secret to reaching out to our rural communities."
That may be difficult in border counties with typically low voter turnout, and Hinojosa says it will take time and patience to reverse the trend.
"Right now, they don't believe that it makes a difference in their lives," said Hinojosa. "They don't believe that people listen to them, they are scared of the process many of them. They don't think that it's something that is going to be beneficial to them, it's not a priority for them. If you change that mentality, if you change that culture Of not voting to a culture of voting, and you don't have to do it by a lot, it changes the whole scenario of electoral politics in the state of Texas."
When it comes to appealing to the Hispanic community, Acevedo says neither side is doing a very good job. Acevedo says Texas is still years behind in getting Hispanic voters to the polls and believes seeing more Hispanic lawmakers in office will encourage more Hispanic voters to go to the polls.
"The sleeping giant has opened an eye," Acevedo said. "Maybe when it opens both eyes, it can start doing some giant steps."
Hinojosa and Glazer both say Democrats need to work harder to illustrate the policy differences between Democrats and Republicans, as well as the legislative efforts of both parties and their effects on Texans.
"I believe our cause is righteous," Hinojosa says. "We have the right position on the issues that count for Texas families."
With a presidential election in November as the new party leader's first major test, they'll have plenty of work beginning day one.