Monday, June 9, 2008

The Lone Star State Convention: Democrats Retake The Texas Capital

"Warm winds blowin'
Heatin' blue skies
And a road that goes forever.
I'm going to Texas." — Texas, Chris Rea

<<<- Tedium is tiring, esp. in Texas ....

Texas Politics is back in bloom – Democrat Style! Yes, I know I capitalized Politics … that’s the way it’s done here: big, obnoxious, bold, blunt, elbows-out, heels-dug-in, take-no-prisoners and play to win. It’s at once a thing of awe, infuriation, beauty and ugliness. And sometimes, after all the hard work, acrimony, tedium and gamesmanship, you actually get something that works to some extent.

(And if you don’t know what that last sentence means, find a Texan and have them translate it for you.)

On the Convention floor Larry Penn is a blur, Shannon Patterson and ... hey! -- Isn't that Barack Obama?!?!
This year’s convention in Austin was a good choice. Yes, Austin is still weird and keeping it that way, I’m happy to report. The proximity to Austin’s party place – 6th Street – was quite convenient. Being Texas’ most liberal hotbed certainly helped as well. And with this watershed year, with a greater crowd in the Dem Convention, certainly one of the most well-attended ever – it was fitting to come back to our state capital in the heart of Texas. Fortuitous planning.

Another thing I noticed about Austin, thanks to the location of the Austin Convention Center, is its homeless problem – a relevant sign of the times. For years I’d always wondered why the homeless seemed to be more visible around the far end of Austin’s 6th Street bar promenade a block or two in from the freeway. This past weekend I found out: the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH) is located at 7th and Red River, just a block north of where they seemed to be most visible.

There’s always been a large homeless population there, and indeed a trans acquaintance and former TATS member was homeless there a few years back. But this year has been a perfect storm of epic economic proportion. It’s been a stagflated anchor cracking and breaking a lot of this year’s attendees, as well as the state and nation’s populace. Even while we were in convention on Friday, the price of oil skyrocketed over $11 a barrel in one day (an all-time record) to a new all-time high, the unemployment rate rose 10% in one month (now at 5.5%) and the Dow-Jones fell nearly 400 points (over 3% in one day). Indeed, homelessness is an appropriate backdrop of what a large swath of America – even the middle class – is seriously worrying about today.

It’s also a reminder of what we Dems are truly working for: a halt to this bi-polar, two-caste society we’re rushing headlong towards.

“Don’t you know that it’s true That for me and for you The World Is A Ghetto” — The World Is A Ghetto, War

As the paradigm shifts and the economy pinches and pisses off even the most conservative of Bubbaville, the blue dog is actually feeling the yellow dog nipping at his heels and catching up.

One lady I chatted with was a multi-generational, lifelong white Dem (a bit blue doggish) from the conservative Texas panhandle who was married to a husband from a similar family who disowned him when he went GOP with the Reagan Revolution. She reported how he’d given up the ghost on Dems in 1980 and was as rock-ribbed as they came … until this year. Now he’s back to the Dems and swears he’s never going back to red!

My precinct compadre, Larry Penn, went up to Austin with me and had a blast in his first convention. An African-American attorney, I think he initially had doubts about me during the precinct convention and again at our pre-senate district convention meeting. But since the Senate District, he feels me now and is someone I feel has my back as I do his. Even though I had my 2004 Transgender Delegation button (courtesy of Babs Casbar) in full display, Larry was totally cool … we cut up like class clowns during much of the boring sections of the convention.

Larry and I both met a forty-something couple from Killeen (the Fort Hood area) with their Clinton buttons while I donned my Obama T-Shirt. We chatted, joked, poked fun with each other and they even shared their freebie snacks of trail mix and Cheetos with both Larry and me. So who says we can’t unite the party?

I got to see some old acquaintances: the person I was answering to in the Texas Women’s Political Caucus while I headed Houston’s – former TWPC president Lulu Flores (who will also be going to the National Convention as an at-large delegate this year). I got a chance to chat some with Texas’ only “out” elected state official, former State Rep. Glenn Maxey, who is going as an alternate delegate to National. And I got a long chat with attorney Harold Landreneau III and even met his dad as well – longtime regional Dem Party stalwarts (and I didn’t get a chance to see if they’d been elected from their district.)

It was a nice surprise to see our U.S. Senate candidate, State Rep. Rick Noriega. We got a quick hug and a few words while we passed each other. Also got to wave at former congressman Chris Bell (though we didn’t get chance to talk), and later revisited with another of his former local aides who remembered me from working on Bell’s campaign. It turns out he’s now working in DC in another congressman’s office again – yet another contact! I also got to visit with Rep. Terri Hodge again, though that turned out to be a more troubling revisit. She wasn’t happy she was left off of the PLEO delegates (Party Leader / Elected Official) to National, and expressed it by saying she was going to support Hillary instead. A little earlier, they had broadcast Hillary Clinton’s concession speech on the convention floor. Though Ron Kirk (former candidate for Cornyn’s Senate seat) was there heading the Obama selection, he was busy and we didn’t get a chance to reconnect.

My Transgender Delegation button also got a lot of chances to educate as well! Numerous people stopped and asked about it and what I was doing with it (as if I wasn’t trans!) It also helped me campaign for my run for re-election to the State At-Large Nominations Committee again – not only for the transgender part, but to let them know I was actually a past delegate as well.

But for every silver lining, there must be a black cloud as well. For me, I finally lost my first election. My bid to repeat as Committee-woman to state ended up tanking: I was third in a field of five. It turned out to be the norm this year. With so many new attendees, we had a clean sweep of all offices incumbents including Temporary Chair for the Convention, and surprisingly both Senate District Executive Committee members. <<<- This is video (not great quality video, mind you) of me and the other candidates lining up for the election for Sen. Dist. 17 At-Large Nominations Committee for the State. It's only a committee, but it's a statewide committee -- not bad! Thankfully the video's battery died early: I lost my bid for re-election.

However, I was fine with my loss. We had new blood, folks were willing to get involved, and I helped train my successor on what to expect in At-Large Nominations. Thankfully our district was well-represented for freshmen committee members. A few of the other newbies were out to lunch with one actually screwing up so badly she was booted off of the committee.

Our senate district also had numerous problems, and some rules confusion and challenges in delegate elections. It was excruciatingly long, very tedious and took us until 3:30 AM before we finally adjourned Friday night / Saturday morning. We were literally the last people in the building besides cleaning crew. The trip back to my car 8 blocks from the convention.

Other more unfortunate displays the consuming self-interest displayed by folks wanting to be delegate. Before the convention, I’d already resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t be re-elected to National (especially with the turnout of new faces and intensely focused interest this year). Yet watching others get downright pissy about their being snubbed was sad – even elected officials and at least one DNC member wanted vindication. Some of these folks had been to conventions past, so it wasn’t as if they were starving for the very experience of it.

“If we define an American fascist as one who in case of conflict puts money and power ahead of human beings, then there are undoubtedly several million fascists in the United States.” — former Vice President, Henry Wallace

On the flipside, I was very bothered that Randall Ellis, the Obama Campaign’s GLBT Chair who busted his butt for them and had never been to a National, was not elected to an At-Large spot. Randall was the antithesis to these others described above, and yet gets nothing.

The floor fights, manipulation and political posturing were also seamy. There was an African American delegate from years past who was giving Q&A in the at-large nominations meeting room who I assisted in giving some explanation of the process to those in the room. At the time I presumed she was an Obama delegate (though there were no buttons, etc.) She continued to try to stir the Obama delegation on the “process” of selection of delegates. Sadly, she even managed to turn my districts committee person to her side. It wasn’t until later that she revealed to the room that she was a Hillary supporter. In the end, she even got nearly 1/3 of the delegates to challenge the selection of national delegates. We ended up with yet another floor fight over our slate of at-large delegates that drug the convention out for over half an hour. Result: we finally adjourned the convention on 11:45 Saturday night (compared to a little after 5PM four years earlier).

Without a doubt, this has been my most arduous, draining convention season ever!

Even the trip home on Sunday took its toll. First, I had no plans of staying over on Saturday night thus no second night in my hotel room (which smelled like rotting papaya and kept me from sleeping). Due to the convention’s long run and my sleep deprivation, I wasn’t able to make it back when I wanted. Sunday morning I ate at Katz’s Deli in Austin and somehow ended up with a gut-wrenching bout of what appeared to be food poisoning. There’s no way to know if it was water or the food, but it was a very unwelcome surprise even before making it to Bastrop just twenty minutes out of Austin.

After two bathroom stops, and baking in the humid heat while driving back, I ended up breaking down on the side of the highway in Brookshire, thirty miles from home. Adding insult to injury, I got a flat on my back tire when I coasted off the shoulder to park my disabled car. After walking the distance back into Brookshire and shelling out $173 tow back home, I arrived to find the lights had cut out at some point and fried my oven’s digital computer chip for some reason. Plus it was 99 degrees when I got back home, and I was already sweat-drenched from my previous walk. And my un-air-conditioned house was baking like an oven.

Some odd news: while we finished up the convention, the Texas Governor's mansion (in repair for her highness, Rick Perry) ended up burning.

Not to end things on a bad note though: I got a chance to stop by my favorite record store – Waterloo Records in Austin – and picked up a few LP’s (including my 3000th album).

Serendipitously I met a therapist in the At-Large Nominations room around noon – a Hillary delegate – who struck up a conversation with me. We became fast friends. I mentioned to her my initial intention to leave sometime early enough to make it back and even quipped that I was ready to sleep in my car if it ended late. She urged me not to do that and instead share her hotel room at the historic Driskill Hotel. I really didn’t think I would be staying late, but due to the overly-drawn out challenges to the nominations, I found myself calling her at 10PM to see if the offer still stood. It did, we got even more time to chat and we hit a bar on 6th Street, then repaired to her place to mix drinks with her stock – I had a surprisingly tasty concoction of rum, Red Bull and a dash of cranberry juice – and sit out on the Driskill’s ground level balcony to watch the drunken promenade on 6th Street.

And we even slept together.

No, not that kind of sleeping together – the platonic sharing of a bed type of sleeping together! She was a life-saver and a really great soul! Oftentimes it’s these improbable or spontaneous things that are the best experiences.

Oh … and one more bit of good news: I got elected as a full delegate, and am heading back to the national convention. Look out, Denver!


Anonymous said...

Vennesa, you are such a GOOD READ! Of all the bloggers who attended -- and I am burned out myself -- yours appears to have the most sincere personal touch, the greatest energy and certainly the most progressive attitude in the wake of what has been described elsewhere as a Texas Goat Rodeo. I don't think I'd go that far in describing whatever we had, despite even the fire in the convention kitchen and the co-occurring disorder crosstown when the Governor's Mansion burned down to its wheels; but, still, I'm amazed at the energy you have held in reserve. Right On, sister-girl!

If you recall, we met briefly during the debate over delegates and gave each other a high-five. You are absolutely correct about the "trouble maker" who created a dust-up by first rendering the impression on the floor that all of the delegate seats to Denver were not yet filled and then hanging onto the microphone like she was the only one seeing the Rapture occurring in the heavens above the suspended big-screen.

I'm glad you are going to Denver. After reading your blog, I wish I was going just for all the fun and hoopla that will no doubt center around you ....and all the while I thought you were a just gregarious and fun-loving COWGIRL with a progressive attitude....but then, I WAS SO RIGHT ABOUT YOU, WASN'T I???!!!!!

What a pleasure to meet you!!!

Balmorhea, Texas
Reeves County, Senate District 9

Richard Jennings said...

Vennesa - Unemployment is up but when I look at all the high paying jobs posted online (& yes low paying) I just cant help but think many people dont realize the number of employers hiring and the salaries they are offering...not minimum wage either:

Does anyone HAVE to be unemployed?? I dont get it