One week from today, Texas Democrats will gather in San Antonio for their state convention. They will choose delegates to the party's national convention in Philadelphia, and also set their state political platform, laying down goals for the 2017 legislative session.
Texas has gone in the Republican column in every presidential election since 1980. Few are predicting 2016 will be the year the state turns blue, even with the state's rapidly growing Hispanic population and an expected backlash against anti-Latino rhetoric by presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump. So what influence can Texas Democrats hope to have next month in Philadelphia?
"The vice chair of finance is Henry Muñoz, who's from San Antonio," says Katie Naranjo, who represents Texas on the Democratic National Committee. "And also Leticia Van de Putte, former state senator [and 2014 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor], has been appointed to serve as the co-chair of the rules committee, and so we have two Democrats from Texas who are placed in very prominent roles at the national convention."
Other personal bridges between the state and national parties will come in the form of Julián and Joaquin Castro, both of whom will be featured speakers at the Alamodome. The two brothers grew up in San Antonio, raised by a single mother. Joaquin now represents the city in Congress. Julián, the city's former mayor and now secretary of Housing and Urban Development, is regularly mentioned as a possible running mate for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
"Secretary Castro is going to, one, reestablish the narrative of working Americans, no matter their skin color, and visually provide a contrast to Donald Trump, who came from a family of means, and also define what the issues are that Democrats are going to be fighting for this election," Naranjo says. That means a push for comprehensive immigration reform at the national level.
For the state platform, top priorities include school finance, Medicaid expansion, and amending or rolling back the Voter ID law. And just as Republicans did at their state convention in Dallas, Democrats are likely to weigh in on the Obama Administration's directive on transgender rights.
"We Democrats would like to keep the $10 billion that the state receives to fund Title I and all these programs that almost every child in the state is touched by," says Arthur Pronin, president of the Meyerland Area Democrats, who is campaigning to represent West Houston as a delegate to the national convention in Philadelphia.
Title I of the Elementary and Secondary School Education Act provides financial assistance to schools with high numbers or percentages of students from low-income families. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Texas would forgo the money rather than comply with the transgender directive, which he argues is a threat to children's safety. That's a charge Pronin dismisses.
"We will fight tooth and nail to prevent any revocation of federal funds for the education system simply over unfounded, and I would dare to say, prejudiced concerns over transgender students and restroom access," Pronin says.
It's hard to see how the Democrats can translate their platform into action. The party is in the minority of both houses of the Texas legislature, and it hasn't won statewide office in more than twenty years. But Charles Kuffner, who writes the progressive political blog Off the Kuff, says the San Antonio conclave could help lay the groundwork to change that.
"While Trump has all of his baggage, our governor and lieutenant governor and our most recent past governor have all endorsed him," Kuffner says. "So, it's an opportunity for Democrats to look forward two years when you'll have state elections and say, ‘Hey, these guys are busy embracing Donald Trump. They own everything, all of these awful things that he's been saying and doing as much as he does.'"
While the Democrats are meeting in San Antonio, Trump himself will make his first swing through Texas since clinching the GOP nomination. He's scheduled to visit Dallas on Thursday, June 16 and Houston Friday, June 17.