Ms. Pierson is a single, African-American woman who said she realized her potential, sought education and found a way out of poverty. She said she is politically active because she wants to be a role model to others.
As a member of the Dallas Tea Party and founder of the Garland Tea Party, Ms. Pierson plans to make sure Battleground Texas, a Democratic initiative to turn Texas blue sooner than later, doesn’t reach its goal.
Her goal is the antithesis of Battleground Texas, but in a way, it’s also the antithesis of her own party-by-default – the GOP.
Ms. Pierson shared a blunt perspective on state and national Republicans.
She said the Republican Party has failed “miserably” to communicate with differing demographic groups, including women, minorities and people on lower rungs of the economic ladder, who otherwise might agree with conservative policies beyond divisive social topics, including abortion and immigration.
Ms. Pierson said her message to state and national Republican leaders is “you guys need to have a presence (in communities) and tell people what the possibilities are and what their potential is.
“It’s the whole ‘hand up, not handout’ and being able to articulate it without insulting a particular group because when it gets down to it all that really matters is the truth in how the (government) works and doesn’t work,” she said. “But the Republican Party can’t communicate with its base much less people who don’t look and sound like them.”
Ms. Pierson said the GOP “dynasty” in Texas has been run as a club rather than a party, a dangerous practice considering the state of the state, which is teetering on the precipice of major funding shortages for water, roads, education, mental health and public safety.
Fiscal folly will be placed deservedly at the feet of Republicans who have been steering the ship for almost two decades, she said. This could mean fertile ground for Democrats, she said.
Democrats, such as Texas Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, believe antagonism toward minorities and women already makes Texas a fertile ground for Battleground Texas.
He said the battle for the hearts and minds of Hispanics, other minorities and many women has been lost by the GOP and Battleground Texas need only focus on rebuilding Democratic networks, cultivate candidates and draw potential voters to the polls.
Hinojosa said geography, diversity and more than a dozen media markets made Texas a daunting task for statewide efforts. Battleground Texas understands the problem for Democrats, a lack of party infrastructure, which inhibits its ability to turn out base voters, he said.
In the last election, four million eligible voters, considered base supporters, did not vote, of which more than two million, were unregistered Hispanics.
“When you have those kinds of numbers staying home within a broader base it’s obvious why we haven’t been able to win elections statewide,” he said.
Hinojosa said educating base voters and instilling confidence in the importance of their vote will be critical. He said Hispanics want to have the same opportunity to move up the economic ladder and that access to education and health care are necessities.
Jenn Brown, Battleground Texas’ executive director, said voter education and mobilization will be two key components to an effective campaign for Texas.
Ms. Brown was President Barack Obama’s Ohio field campaign director during his re-election campaign. She said the same grassroots efforts that won Obama battleground states such as Ohio, Iowa, Virginia and Florida will begin ramping up in Texas soon.
The focus will initially be on voter registration, education and rebuilding the Democratic infrastructure around the state, she said.
“The most important thing is that we’re out talking to voters about the importance of voting and how their voice can make a difference in who is elected,” she said.
Ms. Brown said Battleground Texas is not ready to lay out specific plans, but Democrats should be excited about the collective, collaborative effort to make Texas competitive. Support from donors and volunteers within and outside Texas since the launch of Battleground Texas has been “amazing.”
Ms. Pierson said conservative grassroots groups share many of the same goals, including targeting potential voters, educating them on policy and how it affects them, candidate building and a door-to-door neighborly approach to motivate political activity.
Republican leaders have rejected the idea Texas could become a battleground state anytime soon.
Gov. Rick Perry called Battleground Texas’ endeavor a “pipe dream.”
James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at The University of Texas at Austin, said the Democratic initiative is not a pipe dream but that it will take time, effort and money to win the battle for Texas.
The Democratic Party in Texas, outside of urban areas, has been in a state of decay, Henson said, and will have to be rebuilt from voter precincts up before mobilization efforts get underway.
Henson said Battleground Texas does have battletested leaders and early momentum on its side.
The Obama campaign in other battleground states demonstrated an ability to use database technology to target potential voters and new organizational methods to mobilize voters, he said.
“We’ve heard this before and it’s fair to be skeptical but on the other hand some combination of (voter) registration efforts and increased turnout would be able to turn the tide,” he said. “The people coming out of the Obama campaign are confident right now. They have models, they have techniques, they have experience and I wouldn’t underestimate the will is there.”
DECLARATION OF WAR
Ms. Wilkerson said Texas has been a “cash cow” for national Democratic campaigns for years, but a political wasteland for legitimate candidates and base supporters and volunteers.
“Over a few cycles that begins to deteriorate the momentum and resolve of donors, candidates, voters and everybody else,” she said. “What we have is a combination of the Obama campaigns’ commitment to maintain the strategy they maintained in other battleground states and bring that technical expertise and that level of county by county organization to Texas. That’s exciting for the faithful.”
She said demographics don’t guarantee victory but the expected shift does make the GOP vulnerable and emboldens dormant Democrats. Ms. Wilkerson said she expects “hundreds” of organizers and activists to begin ramping up efforts around the state over the next several months.
How deep the national initiative penetrates Texas’ political landscape will depend on money, Henson said. The success of Battleground Texas will depend on how many tens of millions of dollars, and how much time it might take to reach critical mass, but also the GOP’s ability to counteract gains.
Henson said it also will take time to cultivate strong candidates, especially in Republican strongholds. The political ladder typically starts at the local level, on city councils, school boards or as county commissioners he said.
Creating viable and competitive candidates who are ready for higher offices could prove more daunting than motivating base voters, he said.
The conversation among the GOP base, strategists and leaders regarding appealing to minorities, whether in regard to immigration or social policy, remains unresolved, Henson said. This could impede a concerted effort to negate Democratic gains, he said.
Calls to the Republican Party of Texas went unanswered, but party chairman Steve Munisteri shared a mock “welcome” to Battleground Texas on the party website.
He noted recent Democratic defections across the state and his party’s penchant for electing minority candidates as evidence of GOP dominance and diversity.
Henson said the battle for Texas will be a moving target for both parties. He called Battleground Texas an “interesting development and if it is halfway successful it makes the party system more competitive” and is a positive for voters.
“It’s one thing to talk about doing it, and one thing to mount a successful marketing campaign, which is what we’ve seen so far,” he said. “But it’s another thing to get on the ground and execute.”