Texas Democrats have been shut out of statewide office for nearly 20 years – the longest losing streak for Democrats in any state – and have held a minority of seats in both chambers of the Texas Legislature since 2003.
So the Texas Democrat Party decided to try focusing its resources on electing local candidates. In 2015, they concocted Project LIFT (Local Investment in the Future of Texas), a program to “recruit, train, and support” progressive Democrats running for local office in nominally non-partisan city council and school board races.
According to TDP Chair Gilberto Hinojosa, their goal is to elect local Democrats who would “deliver progressive solutions” in municipalities and school districts across the state.
How did they do this year?
Twenty-four of Project LIFT’s 34 endorsed candidates lost their May 2017 contests. That’s a 70 percent failure rate for progressive Democrats in local Texas elections.
Only six TDP-supported candidates won. One was an unopposed Pasadena city councilmember. Another was an 18-year-old Pearland high school senior running for school board.
The remaining four party endorsees are in runoff elections. In all four runoffs, Project LIFT candidates finished second in three-way races.
In the Plano City Council Place 2 runoff, for example, progressive Democrat Ann Bacchus finished with just 28 percent of the vote, well behind top finisher Anthony Ricciardelli’s 46 percent. Ricciardelli is endorsed by Texans for Fiscal Responsibility.
Hinojosa fared a bit better percentage-wise with his picks than his party. He personally endorsed five progressive Democrat candidates in local races. Two won, two are in runoffs, and one lost.
One of Hinojosa’s winners was progressive Collin College Trustee Nancy Wurzman, who received 58 percent of the vote in conservative Collin County. Hinojosa-chosen Democrat Lori Kirkpatrick is in a runoff with TFR-endorsed Dustin Marshall for Dallas’ District 2 school board seat.
Pushing liberal ideology at the local level isn’t the TDP’s only goal in trying to get Democrats elected to local offices. They’re also aiming to build up the state party’s bench of progressive candidates for higher office. In March, Hinojosa said that to fight against Republicans “in Washington, D.C. and Austin,” Texas Democrats “have to build on our success, and that starts with winning locally this May.”
Project LIFT candidates performed better than their statewide Democrat counterparts’ zero percent success rate, but the TDP’s program to make Texas local governments more “progressive” gets a failing grade this election cycle.