Texas Democratic Party

Photo Credit: Anthony Mireles | Daily Texan Staff

Ten teams gathered on Sunday at a downtown building to present their ideas on utilizing technology to increase progressive votes.

Participants created apps and websites this weekend at ATX Political Hackathon, the first officially partisan political hackathon in the nation. The hackathon was hosted at Civitas Learning and in partnership with the Texas Democratic Party.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler, who spoke at the event, said the hackathon represents an intersection between politics and the tech industry.

“Looking at the intersection of technology and elections is not only fascinating, but is crucial if we’re going to change what’s going on politically in our city and in our state and in our country,” Adler said.

The University Democrats participated at the hackathon and won second place. They created “Democats,” a game which rewards players with points for their political engagement in the real world, said Allie Runas, UDems officer and electrical and computer engineering junior.

“Our goal was to make something for young millennial voters who are not likely to be actively engaged in the political process and to find a way to make the political process more engaging,” Runas said.

Robbie Zuazua, electrical and computer engineering senior, participated at the hackathon with three other UT students and said the event is important because it allows people from tech backgrounds to care about political issues.

“A lot of tech people, they just don’t necessarily think about what they’re building, they just do it because it’s cool,” Zuazua said. “This gives you a lot of context and understanding into like things that you can build.”

Cliff Walker, campaign services and candidate recruitment director of the Texas Democratic Party, said the teams provided innovative solutions to existing civic engagement problems.

“I want people to look at these (political) challenges that we have with fresh eyes,” Walker said. “There are things I saw presented tonight that I’ve not seen actively being done in politics in the dozen years I’ve been involved.”

ATX Political Hackathon founder Daniel Webb said the event was not just a way to come up with solutions to problems from a technology side, but it was also a way to bring the community together.

“Hackathons are supposed to be competitive but … half the pitches we saw were referencing other hackathon projects to integrate with,” Webb said during the event. “That is community, that’s people coming together to try to solve problems.”

Wendy Davis speaks to supporters at her election night party in Fort Worth after losing to the race to Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

I spent Tuesday night at the Driskill Hotel in a circle of Democrats as we all swapped our phones out with the one charger someone had brought along so we could continue poring over election returns as they rolled in.  

As the night progressed, the atmosphere became more grim. You can’t sugarcoat Tuesday night — it was bad for Texas, and it was bad for the country. But I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have spent the evening with than my friends, whom I’d been standing alongside for the past 18 months, as they poured their hearts and their passion and their energy into what President Dwight Eisenhower once called “the noblest of professions”: politics.

You see, my friends believe in a dauntingly brilliant future. They envision a Texas with bright skies, clear air and clean water. They want to see a Texas that ranks first in voter engagement, not dead last. They envision a Texas in which public schools are celebrated and supported because they know a well-educated populace plants the seeds for the prosperity of the next generation. They want to see a Texas that supports minimum wage workers and the elderly and people who can’t access the healthcare they need. In short, they want to see a Texas that works on behalf of all its citizens.

And they believe our government can help us do all these things and live up to our potential. They believe in government as a tool to achieve great and noble goals, because they know that no single entity is ever as strong as our collective hearts and minds. And so in the face of Tuesday night, my friends are going to fight on.

Because let me be clear: The Republican party hardly has a mandate in this state. Twenty-eight percent of voting-eligible Texans voted in the election, which means that less than a fifth of eligible Texans voted for Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate. Young people and people of color overwhelmingly supported Wendy Davis, the Democratic candidate, and demographically speaking, that’s where this state is headed.

We’ve known for years that Texas has a serious problem with voter engagement. That’s why organizations such as Battleground Texas and the Texas Democratic Party worked tirelessly to register citizens in the face of harmful, repressive and disenfranchising legislation, because we believe in the right of every citizen to make their voice heard.

Our home county, Travis, is a fantastic example of this. We registered almost 50,000 new voters this cycle, which helped Davis see an increase of 27,000 Travis County votes over Bill White, the previous Democratic gubernatorial candidate, in 2010. Our get out the vote efforts have re-elected a slate of wonderful progressive candidates and managed to flip the only elected office in the county with a Republican incumbent. 

And we plan to continue the fight. Travis County shows that it isn’t enough to register as many voters as you possibly can before the deadline. The Democratic Party’s message is one of diversity and inclusion and opportunity for all, and during the past six years we’ve had the chance to pass terrific legislation that works to achieve just that. Since President Barack Obama has taken office, 4.5 million jobs have been created and unemployment is predicted to drop to 5.4 percent next summer. Now, it’s our job to share that message with the American people.

But we also have to spend the next two years engaging the American public on the issues. To start, we’re going to continue to register as many people as we can. If Tuesday night showed us anything, it’s that the American public overwhelmingly supports progressive issues, even as they elect Republican candidates. We’ll save that dissonance for another article. In the words of Jeremy Bird, senior advisor to Battleground Texas, “We’re not going anywhere.”

I was so proud to be a part of this progressive movement in Texas. Together, thousands of Texans fought for a future they knew to be worthy of the great state we live in. And as Ted Kennedy once said, “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

Adams is the communications director for University Democrats. She is a mechanical engineering senior from Dripping Springs.

Wendy Davis, Democratic candidate for governor, launches her campaign in Haltom City, near Fort Worth, on Oct. 3.

Photo Credit: Shweta Gulati | Daily Texan Staff

Over the past few weeks, state Sen. Wendy Davis, the likely Democratic nominee for governor, has clarified her position on a number of issues, including the question of same-sex marriage. Almost nonchalantly, Davis lent her full support to the issue on Feb. 13.

“It’s my strong belief that when people love each other and are desirous of creating a committed relationship with each other that they should be allowed to marry, regardless of their sexual orientation,” Davis told the editorial board of the San Antonio Express-News. Immediately, Davis’ liberal supporters celebrated her newly expressed support for what many call the new civil rights movement of our generation.

However, what is far more impressive than Davis’ support itself is how normal it all seems. In this day and age, the only Democratic officials who still oppose same-sex marriage are holdover Dixiecrats (the colloquialism for close-minded Southern Democrats who stood in opposition to the Civil Rights Act) with fiercely conservative social views, such as Sens. Mark Pryor (D-AK) or Joe Manchin (D-WV). This is an amazing transformation from four — or even two — years ago, when Democrats, particularly in Texas, were enormously cautious on the subject. While many other Democratic gubernatorial candidates over the years have been unabashedly progressive on other gay rights issues, Davis is the first to lend full support to marriage equality on the campaign trail.

Chris Bell is a former Houston City Council member and congressman who was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2006. Throughout his campaign, he reiterated support for civil unions and opposition to amending the constitution to ban such unions, but steered clear of marriage. Many years later, as Bell is frequently mentioned as a possible candidate for mayor of Houston in 2015, he notes that his opinion has changed.

“I support same-sex marriage and I would have to say my opinion has evolved,” Bell recently told me. “I guess it started changing in 2007 or 2008 when a friend told me he and his wife attended a same-sex wedding and it was one of the most moving ceremonies they had ever seen.” By 2012, a Huffington Post article had noted his complete change of heart.

This was similar to the sentiment held by Gilberto Hinojosa, the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party since 2012. Hinojosa’s opinion also changed in advance of the 2012 elections.

The floodgates truly opened in May 2012, following an announcement by President Barack Obama that he unequivocally supported same-sex marriage. Obama’s change of heart helped to change the views of religious African-Americans, a key demographic that both largely voted Democratic and fervently opposed same-sex marriage. In the following months, even the Texas Democratic Party  — now under the leadership of Hinojosa — changed its platform to recognize the right to same-sex marriage.

The United States, with the Democratic Party in particular, has made great strides in advancing this cause. While just 10 years ago, many ascribed the reelection of President George W. Bush to heavy turnout among evangelicals who were voting for constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage, many see the social issue as only detrimental to the Republicans in this day and age. Texas has also seen significant progress. While in 2005, more than 76 percent of the electorate supported a constitutional amendment banning both same-sex marriage and civil unions, a 2013 poll by the University of Texas showed barely 26 percent of registered voters still felt that way.

Until quite recently, however, you would have never known about this shift just from the sentiment of public officials. As the Republican Party’s primary electorate glides further and further to the right, bigots such as Phil Robertson (of the show “Duck Dynasty”) who decry the very existence of gays and lesbians are sadly still considered mainstream. Just ask Sen. Ted Cruz or Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, and their conciliatory comments about those who compare homosexuality with bestiality. 

“We affirm that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society and contributes to the breakdown of the family unit,” the 2012 Texas Republican Platform even states. “Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans.”

Luckily, on the other side of the aisle, Wendy Davis has become the first major Texas candidate to make the leap into the 21st century on this issue. Let’s hope the first officeholder to affirm LGBTQ rights comes soon as well.

Horwitz is a government junior from Houston.

Senator Wendy Davis pauses during her speech to supporters of Texas womens' rights, who gathered at the capitol Monday morning as a reaction to the second special session.

Photo Credit: Erika Rich | Daily Texan Staff

Over the past few weeks, much ink has been spilled on the rising star of state Sen. Wendy Davis, whose 10-hour filibuster of the previous special session’s abortion bill, Senate Bill 5, delayed a vote until just after the midnight deadline.

On social media and in the papers, Davis has been heralded as the Texas Democratic Party’s newest superstar, as well as its best shot at regaining the governor’s office next year.

However, the exalted status the Fort Worth Democrat has achieved in some circles is out of proportion to the weight of her actions in the filibuster and the current political calculus in Texas.

To be sure, Davis’ filibuster has laid out a bright future for her in Texas politics. Standing up against a bill for close to the equivalent of two workdays requires both determination and strength. That said, the excitement over Davis, which has spawned memes featuring the pink tennis shoes she wore as well as a short animated film recapping the filibuster, just doesn’t compute with last week's show of political grit.

Our leaders ought to win public office after gaining the respect of voters through repeated political achievements, not by dazzling the media at a politically opportune moment. The governorship, especially, is a serious position that requires more experience than Davis presently has.

In their scramble for a viable candidate for governor against the as-yet unknown Republican heavyweight, the Democrats have latched onto the most politically galvanizing Texas Democrat to come along in years. Not since 2003, when Texas House Democrats fled to Ardmore, Okla., to break a quorum on a redistricting bill beneficial to Republicans, has the Texas Democratic Party been the focus of so much attention.

And not since former Gov. Ann Richards has a woman been at the center of it all.

However, it’s not that the Democrats haven’t had any potential candidates until now. To the contrary, Julian Castro, the current mayor of San Antonio who electrified the Democratic voting base with his keynote address at the party’s 2012 national convention, would likely have posted impressive numbers had he thrown his hat in the ring. The real problem, then, is that none have wanted to put themselves forward because of the political calculus against them.

 Not a single Democrat has won statewide office since 1994, and according to a survey conducted by the Texas Politics Project in July 2008, 39 percent of Texans identify as conservative, 41 percent as moderate and only 20 percent as liberal.

But with the Democrats riding high on a wave of adrenaline and the next gubernatorial election less than 18 months away, it makes sense that the party should want to start planning for 2014. However, Davis’ chances of election are bleak. According to a survey conducted by Public Policy Polling, a national polling firm, Davis trails Gov. Rick Perry by 14 points (55 to 39) in a hypothetical race. Davis fared better, though still came in second, against Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (her most likely competitor were she to enter the race), trailing him by eight points (48 to 40).

What do these numbers tell us? The fanfare over Davis is overblown and premature, a reality acknowledged even by Amber Mostyn, a Houston trial lawyer whom the New Republic has identified as Davis’ “most powerful political patron.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” Mostyn said. “I have always wanted Wendy to be my governor, but I don’t want everyone to get carried away with the events of the day without the mathematics having changed.”

In other words: the Democrats have a way to go before they can justify this level of elation.

Riley Brands is an associate editor. Follow Brands @ribran.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this column incorrectly reported the last time a Democrat held statewide office in Texas. 1994 was the last time a Democrat won statewide office.