Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, as Hillary Clinton tussled for the Democratic nomination against Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders, the independent U.S. senator from Vermont, an underlying theme by the party faithful was that Sanders was not a Democrat and neither were his supporters. Now, in a primary season when Texas Democrats are trying to reestablish their self-identity, Sanders supporters are infiltrating the party as a new and revitalized progressive wing of the party. They are among a crowd of 346 candidates under age 40 seeking office this year.
Although the actual number of Sanders progressives running for office is small, they are persistent. There’s Laura Moser for the 7th Congressional District based in west Houston; Rick Trevino for the 23rd Congressional District that stretches from San Antonio west to El Paso; Derrick Crowe in the crowded field for the 21st Congressional District that goes from San Antonio to Austin; and Northern style kung fu practitioner and biomedical PhD candidate Allison Campolo of Euless, who is running for the 10th State Senate District in Tarrant County. Across Texas, the Sanders-supporting Our Revolution Texas is organizing the election of precinct chairs while preparing to reignite populism in the state. The Texas operation is a spinoff of Sanders’s national organization, which includes former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower as a board member.
“My slogan for Texas is: ‘We’re not here to protest the government. We’re here to become the government,’” Hightower told me. “It’s not an attempt to take over the Democratic Party. It’s an attempt to build the progressive force, a progressive voice into the Democratic Party.”
Two of the Sanders supporters who are receiving the most enthusiasm from this new progressive movement are Crowe of Austin and Moser of Houston. Crowe is running in a crowded Democratic field for the congressional seat being vacated by retiring Republican Lamar Smith, while Moser is in the hunt for the party nomination to challenge incumbent Republican John Culberson in the general election. But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently tried to torpedo Moser’s candidacy, while U.S. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi fired a shot at Crowe during a meeting with the editorial board of the Austin American-Statesman.
“We don’t agonize, we organize, that’s our motto. We don’t waste time. We don’t waste energy, we don’t waste resources. This is a cold-blooded, strategic, focused campaign to win the Congress for the American people,” Pelosi told the Statesman. “How can I say this in a nice way? We have to be cold-blooded in what we do. In other words, if the wrong person wins — well, nobody’s wrong — but if the person who can’t win, wins, it’s not a priority race for us anymore, because we’ve got 100 races.”
The message of the national party on Moser and Crowe: don’t support them because they can’t win in the fall. Hightower said Pelosi doesn’t understand what is driving young people to voting and to activism this year, issues like a living minimum wage and universal health care. “The young people, particularly, are pouring out, and that’s the future of the Democratic Party, and yet the party is stiffing them. So, yes, the candidates who are standing up and saying something are generating genuine grassroots excitement, and that’s why Nancy Pelosi doesn’t have a clue.”
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