Gilberto Hinojosa, the chair of the Texas Democratic Party, speaks in a mild and measured manner. That calm delivery, however, doesn’t mask a strong and pointed critique of a party that somehow managed to lose a national election to Donald Trump. The good news is that he seems to think that the mistakes are fixable and a way forward for the party is clear.
Hinojosa, in an interview with The Political Bridge, said that the loss in November had three main causes: Not enough feet on the ground, not enough focus on the financial challenges of constituents and too much attention to what to lower-income voters are secondary issues.
Hinojosa, who also is a practicing attorney in Brownsville, said that the single biggest reason the Democrats lost was too much reliance on media. Not enough time was spent enough time knocking on doors and meeting constituents face to face. Hinojosa knows of what he speaks. He said relying too much on media cost him a county judgeship after having not lost an election for 23 years.
Hinojosa also suggested that it was a loss long in the making. He ackowledged that the trade deals entered into by the Democrats made macro economic sense: The opening of new markets to American products ultimately will lead to more jobs and the opening of our markets to other nations will reduce prices. That means little, however, to workers displaced by the closing of factories and other businesses due to those deals.
Hinojosa said that when he was the Cameron County Judge, NAFTA led to the closing of three Levi’s plants, two Haggar plants and a Fruit of the Loom plant. All told, he said, between 5,000 to 6,000 jobs were lost. Those laid off, he said, were virtually all Hispanic and about 80 percent female. In cases such as those, he said, little is done to retrain or otherwise help displaced workers. “They felt betrayed by our leaders ignoring their needs for what [the leaders] considered the greater good,” he said. “To me that doesn’t make any sense.”
A third reason for the defeat is that was an emphasis on identify politics. The support of things such as transgender rights and sensible gun laws voiced by the national Democrats certainly follow the party’s traditions. However, they don’t resonate with folks struggling to put bread on their families’ tables and worrying about the quality and safety of their kids’ schools. These issues don’t drive huge numbers of lower income people to the other party, though some went to Trump. However, it gives them little reason to come out and vote at all.
The good news is that it is possible for change to happen quickly. Before the election, the growth of the non-white population was seen as a long-term advantage for the Democrats. While that certainly didn’t work out in November, those demographic changes still are real and still favor the Democrats.
The first step toward resurrecting the party is the choice of chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee. Hinojosa is backing outgoing Secretary of Labor Tom Perez. He attended a regional forum in Phoenix last weekend and came away convinced that the candidates had developed a better understanding of the issues and challenges the party faces.
Please click on the SoundCloud link above to hear the interview.