I’m proud to be part of an innovative Internet telethon Monday night to support abortion access for Texas women, organized by Lizz Winstead and Sarah Silverman. It’s already a big success – the physical event is sold out and the “telethon” (which you can watch tonight here) is inspiring house parties across Texas and the country. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
But I saw a couple of folks on Twitter mock the notion that Silverman or Winstead (or me, for that matter) have any connection or affinity with Texans – or Texans with us. It reminded me of the otherwise reasonably smart George W. Bush strategist Matthew Dowd admonishing Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis for “allying with Hollywood actresses” in her race for governor, implying such ties would turn off regular Texas voters.
But I think national progressives owe Texans some support. They were the first victims of Karl Rove’s anti-women divide-and-conquer politics that put Bush in the White House. Not only did he knock off Ann Richards as Texas governor in 1994, but the redistricting plans overseen by Rove and Tom DeLay to take back the Texas Legislature targeted women in particular. In 2002, five Democratic women lost their seats when their districts were redrawn as Republican strongholds.
Rove transformed the Texas of Barbara Jordan and Ann Richards, of Sissy Farenthold and Sarah Weddington, into a state now best known for George W. Bush and Rick Perry (not a Bush ally but his inheritor nonetheless), Blake Farenthold and Steve Stockman. And under Republican control, Texas has passed some of the most restrictive antiabortion laws in the country.
The truth is, some progressives like to act as though Texas is a red-state hellhole, uniquely receptive to Tea Party insanity and we’d be better off letting it secede. But demographically, the state is a microcosm of the country, with a fast-growing Latino population, an aging and declining white population, and women playing a swing-vote role. Texas Democrats have been fighting what Rove did to their state for the last 10 years, but they’ve had a lift lately from national Democrats, who’ve put money into groups like Battleground Texas and We Are One Texas (headed by former Annie’s List director Robert Jones) to boost participation by women, Latinos, African-Americans and younger women, and turn Texas blue.
Wendy Davis’ long shot run for governor is going to be a test of these strategies. She’s currently trailing Attorney General Greg Abbott by between 6 and 15 points depending on the poll. Latinas are key to the strategy: With the second biggest Latino population in the U.S., Texas is 17thin Latino voter participation, and the lagging turnout of Latinas compared to their counterparts in other states is one reason why. With state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte about to declare a run for lieutenant governor, Texas will be a battleground state in 2014 for everyone who cares about women’s rights – and about the role of women candidates in a progressive national turnaround.
So yes, national feminists and progressives have a stake in Texas politics. It’s important to show the right they don’t own women, or our ladyparts, and they don’t own Texas. Remember to watch the telethon tonight here and give what you can.