U.S. Rep Joaquin Castro shakes hands with guests as he walks to the stage. Photo by Scott Ball.
U.S. Rep Joaquín Castro shakes hands with guests as he walks to the stage. Photo by Scott Ball.

The Texas Democratic Party will host its annual state-wide convention this weekend in San Antonio, where it will be anything but business as usual. The country’s presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump will arrive in San Antonio on Friday to  fundraise among prominent supporters gathered at Oak Hills Country Club and to steal a few headlines from the Demos.

For the Democrats, the convention will not be business as usual, even beyond Trump crashing the party. The focus will be on the mass killing of gay, mostly Hispanics at an Orlando nightclub, and Trump’s continuing attacks on Mexico, immigrants and a Mexican-American judge he believes unfit to preside in a civil fraud lawsuit against Trump University.

Beyond the headlines, a  mix of official state party business, including platform development, workshops, caucus meetings, and speeches will take place at the Alamodome this Friday and Saturday, but there will be informal gatherings and parties all over San Antonio’s urban core starting Thursday night.

Tariq Thowfeek, the state party’s communications director, told the Rivard Report on Wednesday that Texas Democrats seek to convey a message of unity. There’s no expectation of any raucous showdown between supporters of the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont), Thowfeek added. Rather, this weekend’s convention will concentrate on core Democratic issues.

“It’s going to be about defending hard working Texas families,” Thowfeek said. “We expect this to be our greatest convention to date, with over 10,000 people in attendance. Texas Democrats have the largest Democratic state convention in the country.”

Still, they’ve been unable to beat Republicans, which have been elected to every statewide office since 1998

“We’re laser focused on the kitchen-table issues that most affect our daily lives: healthcare, education, a strong economy, immigration reform, and a fair and just criminal justice system,” he added.

Texas Democrats should not be deterred by the notion that Texas will likely go to the Republicans this November, Thowfeek said. The state has shown up red in every single presidential elections since 1980.

Former Texas Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, a Clinton campaign operative, told media outlets earlier this week that neither Clinton’s campaign nor big Democratic donors will spend much money in Texas this fall. Regardless, Thowfeek said Texas Democrats – especially the Latino community – aim to leverage diversity statewide and within their party.

“Texas’ diverse new majority makes us stronger, and we’re proud of that,” Thowfeek said. “Texas Democrats embrace the fact that we’re a kind and friendly state, and nobody messes with us.”

Several notable Latino leaders on the national and state level will speak at this weekend’s convention, including U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Department and former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, his brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-20), and former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, who’s in a contentious rematch with incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd for the sprawling Congressional District 23, which reaches from San Antonio south and west to cover a large swath of the Texas border.

From left: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) listen to city officials speak at the candle light vigil. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
From left: Brothers U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro listen to City officials speak at the Orlando massacre vigil in San Antonio. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

Getting the vote out this fall will be a challenge for Texas Democrats, Thowfeek said. Latinos historically lag behind other groups on Election Day, partly because many are younger voters who don’t show up at the polls.

“Texas isn’t a Republican state, it’s a non-voting state. When you get more people to vote, they tend to vote Democrat,” he said. “The problem is partly due to voter ID, partly people who think it doesn’t matter to them. We bear some responsibility there.”

But Thowfeek thinks the star power of the Castros, Gallego, and other prominent Hispanic Democrats will help mobilize Latinos and Democrats to vote this November.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his inflammatory rhetoric aimed at Hispanics, Mexicans, Muslims, and immigrants should further inspire Democrats and Latinos statewide, Thowfeek added. Trump and his campaign plan to attend a fundraiser in San Antonio on Friday at the Oak Hills Country Club. His visit has already fired up opponents who have plans to protest.

(Read more: Groups Plan Peaceful Protest to ‘Dump Trump’)

“What (Trump) is saying is moving the needle on places like the race for District 23. Hispanics feel like this is something to pay attention to. People coming to the convention could say, ‘This is our city. His rhetoric isn’t welcome here,’” Thowfeek said. “We’ll have some sort of response to (Trump) at the (Alamodome), but if anyone really wants to contribute to the ‘Dump Trump’ movement, they should be inside the (Alamodome) where the real change is occurring.”

Members of the LGBTQIA community make up another bloc of Democratic voters who will likely have a large presence at the convention. Local and statewide Stonewall Democratic leaders said this convention will be a chance to celebrate their values and strengthen the Democrats’ fight to retain the White House.

The Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus will have an informal mixer at Paramour at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday. Carolee Moore, Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio co-chair, said guests and friends of the LGBTQIA community are welcome to the mixer.

There’s no doubt, Moore said, that the 49 people gunned down at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. last weekend – the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history – will be on the minds of convention-goers.

Community members hold up flags in support of LGBTQIA community during the vigil held for lives lost in Orlando during the mass shooting. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.
Community members hold up flags in support of LGBTQIA rights during the vigil held for lives lost during the Orlando massacre. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

Since same-sex marriage was legalized in the U.S. in 2015, the feelings of joy in the LGBTQIA community have been tempered by lawmakers proposing anti-gender expression laws in many states, Moore said. The debate over rights for transgender individuals has only intensified the larger discussion about civil rights for all.

The City of San Antonio’s non-discrimination ordinance, passed in 2013, helps the community but political blowback and the Orlando shooting prove “there’s much more work to be done,” Moore said. “I think what’s been happening lately will shock and mobilize people toward positive action.”

Eli Olivarez, Stonewall Democratic Caucus president, agreed with Moore.

“We celebrate because we’ve come a long way, but we’re cautious when people try to push us back,” Olivarez said. “We are going to celebrate and honor those who died because it’s the right thing.”

The horrific Orlando shooting not only galvanized the LGBTQIA community, Olivarez added, but might cause political opponents to temper their anti-LGBTQIA actions and rhetoric.

“Discrimination and hatred and violence against the LGBT community is something we have fought for years,” Olivarez said. “We hope recent events will inspire others to help or join us.”

The Democratic convention will be a chance to promote diversity within the local and statewide Stonewall organizations. Olivarez understood why there has long been a perception that Stonewall groups have been mostly made up of gay men.

“We’ve lived in a male-dominated society, and men had been more mobile and for longer,” Olivarez said. “We give thanks to the gay men who set things up for us. But now the Texas Stonewall Caucus has a roughly 60/40(%) male-female composition.”

Olivarez encouraged the state caucus to attract more women into its leadership and basic membership ranks “to show we stand for all people. We’re an inclusive, diverse party,” Olivarez said.

The local Stonewall Democratic group splits its chairing duties among a man and a woman, though the make-up of the membership and leadership ranks always depend on who invests the most time.

“Our general membership has a good mix of men and women. There was a good contingent of lesbians who built this group,” Moore said.

Olivarez hopes the convention will put all Democrats on the same page and encourage them to be aggressive on issues that they are most passionate about.

“I’ve told people I will no longer be silent,” Olivarez said. “We’re going to be united for all people.”


Top image: U.S. Rep Joaquín Castro shakes hands with guests as he walks to the stage.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.