From a purely political point of view, holding the 2018 Texas Democratic Convention in Tarrant County is a smart move. Ours is the largest county in Texas that still votes red, and the Dems are hoping to turn that around this year. Placing the confab (Thursday-Saturday, June 21-23) at the Convention Center downtown was a no-brainer by comparison — Fort Worth is the bluest part of Tarrant County.
“We worked hard to get this convention here,” said Libby Willis, a longtime activist and the Senate District 10 committeewoman to the state Democratic party. “We were intent on it, because state Senate Seat 10 is up this year, and we want it back.”
Seat 10 — which includes Fort Worth, Arlington, Mansfield, and Colleyville — is currently held by God-and-guns enthusiast Konni Burton (R-Colleyville), but not too long ago it belonged to Wendy Davis. Burton won the seat by beating Willis in 2014.
To give Konni the boot, the Dems are putting up Beverly Powell, “a wonderful candidate,” Willis said, with a “lifelong commitment” to education.
Powell served on the boards of the Burleson school district and Texas Wesleyan University.
“We think she can take that seat back,” Willis said.
Powell isn’t the only candidate Willis is amped up about.
“On the federal level, we think we can turn at least three red Congressional seats blue,” she said, referring specifically to the misfortunately named Colin Allred, who’s running against Pete Sessions in Dallas. The other two seats are in Houston’s Harris County and El Paso.
And like at least half of Texas, Willis is in love with the idea of U.S. Congressman Beto O’Rourke taking over Ted Cruz’s senate seat.
The convention, the largest of its kind in the country, will bring 8,000 delegates to Fort Worth, and, no, Willis has no stake in any hotels or restaurants in town. At the convention, the delegates will hammer out the state Democratic platform after holding dozens of caucuses and hearing from as many of the candidates as time allows. Willis said platform planks will likely focus on public education, with an eye on free college. The state Dems will also include planks on infrastructure, immigration reform, and healthcare.
“These are all very important issues for the state Democratic party,” Willis said, “and with the Trump administration saying just a few days ago that it will back the states that don’t want preexisting conditions to be included with healthcare, well, that’s certainly something that will be talked about a great deal.”
Turning Tarrant blue isn’t going to be easy, and Willis knows it. But she’s seeing signs that it might not be impossible. A devout Muslim Democrat was recently elected to the city council in Euless.
“There are 19 Democratic party clubs in Tarrant,” Willis said, “and I go to all the meetings, and I’m going to tell you that after the 2016 election, we’ve seen an incredible increase in the number of people who are attending those meetings. Then look at the massive turnout we had in the primaries, and it all adds up to a lot of energy and enthusiasm for our cause and candidates this year.”
Tarrant County is often said to be a microcosm of Texas voting. The big city votes blue while the rest of the county goes for red. But with the county’s changing demographics, there might be room for change.
“We’ve got a lot of people moving here,” Willis said, “and a lot of those people are younger, more diverse, and they’re beginning to make Tarrant look like the bigger blue counties here in Texas.”
Motivating Democrats to come out and vote in a mid-term, particularly those who live in traditionally deep red cities and towns, is one of the necessary things that has to happen if the Dems’ slate of candidates — from the race for governor to state supreme court judges, from county commissioners to district clerk — is to have any real shot.
“We have absolutely got to get young people, millennials, and women to turn out,” Willis said. “In the past, the younger people sometimes didn’t see the connection between their everyday lives and the need to vote. We have to change that, and we, the party, have ramped up trainings around the state. People are being trained in going door-to-door to meet people. Volunteers are being trained in registering people to vote, and we have the energy out there to do that all across the state. Those trainings will certainly be a focus of the convention.”
The banner for the convention is “Fair Shot for All.”
“We think everybody deserves a fair shot,” Willis said, “whether it’s a fair shot at good healthcare, or free college, or good infrastructure, or any number of other things. We, as a party, have got to consistently focus on those issues, and we, as a state organization, are doing that.
“I am looking forward to this convention,” she continued. “It’s going to be fun. I’m pumped. I think we’ve got good candidates, and we are all looking forward to working to get them elected.”