Why Beto didn’t really lose: Texas Democrats made huge gains, ousting the worst Republicans

Democrats will likely end with 38 House pickups and new senators from Arizona and Nevada. On the state level, we flipped seven governorships (with Georgia and Florida still up in the air) and six state legislative chambers (including the State Senate here in New York!), with nearly 400 legislative seats flipped over the course of this election cycle. Democrats in Arizona narrowed Republican majorities, while Team Blue broke super-majorities in crucial states like Pennsylvania and North Carolina. A majority of voters actually voted Democrat in NC; an absurd GOP gerrymander was the only thing that kept that party in power.

There was also an immense amount of progress made in Texas. Really.

On paper, rockstar Rep. Beto O’Rourke came just short of unseating Sen. Ted Cruz, who beat him by less than three percentage points. It comes as little consolation to many of O’Rourke’s national supporters that it was the closest race in Texas in years — we all desperately wanted to unseat Cruz, a cynical snake wearing a suit of second-hand human skin with a face only an exterminator could love. But even though Beto came up short, his all-inclusive grassroots campaign helped lift other Democrats across Texas, assisting in major gains in a number of areas.

Texas map
via Washington Post

First and foremost, Democrats flipped two House seats (TX-7 and TX-32) and came within 1000 votes of flipping another (TX-23). They cut into noxious Lt. Gov Dan Patrick’s margin of victory, taking him from a 19-point win in 2014 to just a five-point win over (Progressives Everywhere-supported) Mike Collier this time around. The Attorney General race was even closer, settled by just over three points.

In the state legislature, Dems flipped a dozen House seats and took two State Senate seats — the two seats that Progressives Everywhere raised money to contest, so congratulations to newly minted State Sen. Beverly Powell (SD-10) and Nathan Johnson (SD-16)! We’re excited to see Goku toys popping up around the capitol in Austin.

Democrats also flipped four major appeals courts in Austin, Houston and Dallas, giving them a majority on half the state’s intermediate — and most active — courts. And in Austin, activists passed a $250 million affordable housing bond measure that will help working people continue to live in the city, which has seen a surge in real estate and housing prices thanks to a boom in transplants and tech companies, among other things.

To get a more granular look at individual races, I reached out to Joe Deshotel, an activist who hosts the podcast “Left in Texas.” There was one Democratic win in particular, he said, that should have an outsized positive impact on future elections.

“The biggest hidden gem of the 2018 midterm has to be the defeat of Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart,” Deshotel told me. “It’s hard to know if he was truly corrupt, totally incompetent or both, but he had been the GOP’s biggest firewall in the state’s largest county. In fact, 25% of votes in the Texas GOP primary come from Harris County. He was also the state’s biggest obstacle preventing online voter registration which will be a focus in the upcoming session as far as election issues are concerned.”

As the Houston Chronicle reported in August, a few Republicans have stood in the way of bipartisan efforts to bring online voter registration to the state, which would help boost its legacy of terrible turnout. A federal judge even found the state in violation of the 1993 Motor Voter law because Texas allows people to renew their driver’s licenses online but not register to vote. “With Stanart out of the way,” Deshotel added, “expect more votes for statewide candidates and a continued bluing of Harris County, which was previously purple.”

Deshotel suggests that Texas is now more competitive than Ohio, a remarkable assertion that, given the sheer number of seats in Congress and in the state legislature, actually checks out. While Ohio — thanks in part to gross gerrymanders — resisted the very real Blue Wave, plenty of seats in Texas got caught in the rising tide.

Given the changes to the state, the energy on display this cycle, and the substantial infrastructure built by motivated young volunteers, the hope is that this is no one-time fluke.

For more stories like this one about local progressive campaigns, subscribe to the free weekly Progressives Everywhere newsletter.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.