Royce West helped flip Dallas County for Democrats in 2006. Could he flip Texas in 2020?

Royce West helped flip Dallas County for Democrats in 2006. Could he flip Texas in 2020?

State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, is hoping his decades of experience at the Texas Capitol set him apart in the 2020 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. Photo credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

Royce West helped flip Dallas County for Democrats in 2006. Could he flip Texas in 2020?” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.


Royce West was not on the ballot in 2006, the year Democrats swept Dallas County and wrested a GOP stronghold into Democrats’ firm grip. But the longtime state senator still earned a spot onstage at the Adam’s Mark Hotel for the victory party, memorably mimicking a Johnny Carson golf swing and serving as hype man for the members of his party who joined him that night in elected office.

“All these Democrats,” he told winning candidates late that night, as favorable returns poured in, “they are fired up.”

And when a reporter turned to him, he summed it up nicely.

“Democrats have long been on the outside looking in,” West told The Dallas Morning News. “We now have the leadership of this county.”

Thirteen years ago, West was a pivotal player in a campaign to flip Dallas County the same way his party now hopes to flip Texas. This year, West aims to be on the ballot himself if the big swing comes, competing against Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, who is expected to easily win his own primary. But first, West, the elder statesman in a crowded field with no clear front-runner, has to make it through the March 3 primary.

In 2006, West helped engineer a turnout machine that capitalized on demographic changes to the county, propelling Democrats to victory with the support of black and Hispanic voters. That strategy became a model for flipping other Texas districts and will undergird the Democratic approach in 2020. As he sprints toward this year’s primary, with early voting starting Feb. 18, the 27-year state senator said he’s looking back to 2006 for “the formula that it takes in order to get it done.”

“Look at Dallas County, and Harris County, which just turned blue. You’ve gotta be able to put together coalitions,” he said. “That’s the lesson that I’ve learned.”

“Power broker”

The first clues that Dallas County might be ripe for a turnover came in 2004.

George W. Bush beat John Kerry there by nearly 10,000 votes, and Republican candidates for Railroad Commission and Texas Supreme Court won the county. But on the same election night, Dallas Democrat Lupe Valdez shocked the nation by becoming the first openly gay Hispanic woman elected sheriff in the United States. And more Democrats than Republicans pulled the straight-party lever to vote for every candidate on the party’s slate.

A small group of Democrats gathered at West’s law office and began to sketch plans, recalled Domingo Garcia, a former state representative from the area who is now the national president of League of United Latin American Citizens. (LULAC is neutral in the race.) Demographic shifts were benefitting Democrats as white people moved out of the county and black and Hispanic families moved in. The Democratic vote in the county had increased 2 points every election cycle since 1998, the party’s statisticians reported. If Democrats in 2006 could turn out unprecedented numbers of voters of color and build coalitions with white Democrats, they could seize control of the county.

According to interviews with five of the operation’s key players, West was a critical leader of the coordinated campaign, a “trusted messenger” to African American communities both inside and outside his South Dallas district, and a major credibility booster to donors who might otherwise have been skeptical of the effort’s viability. He went on the radio, appeared in television ads, attended church with the Democratic nominee for governor and sponsored fish fries.

“Royce had been an elected official in the area for a long time,” said Matt Angle, a Democratic operative who worked on the campaign. “He did enough work on television, got on the radio enough, that his voice had influence on African American voters beyond the boundaries of his district.”

After 5 p.m., West’s law office and others’ offices turned into phone banks. Volunteers stayed on the lines until 9 p.m., as Garcia recalled. They dialed up “people who had never been called before,” Garcia said — part of an effort to expand the Democratic base. Dozens of judicial candidates pooled resources to fund the campaign.

It was West’s idea, Garcia said, to bus voters straight from church to the polls — an effort that shot up turnout in African American and Hispanic communities on an early voting “Super Sunday.”

West spent thousands of his own campaign funds on a race he was not competing in. When donors were skeptical — could Dallas County ever go blue? — he vouched for the effort, securing crucial dollars.

And West, allies said, was determined to get out the vote in his own district — critical work that many politicians are unwilling to take on when their own seats are not at stake.

“If Royce West’s district did not turn out, we would not have gotten over the line. That’s a fact,” said Jane Hamilton, a Democratic consultant who led the effort.

The result: A Democrat, Jim Foster, won the county’s chief executive job; Dallas elected its first black district attorney, Democrat Craig Watkins, who wept before he took the stage on election night. Dozens of Democrats won benches from Republican judges. And West gained credibility as a political leader.

“He became the power broker of Dallas County,” Garcia said. “Everybody who was running statewide or countywide knew that they had to make a stop at Sen. West’s office. And his support could make you or break you in a countywide race.”

Photos COPYRIGHT Bob Daemmrich 1997, 1999, 2001. All rights reserved. Sen. Royce West in action at the Texas Senate. Year is shown in the file name. Talking with left to right, Rick Perry, Royce West, Teel Bivins and Troy Fraser.

Photos COPYRIGHT Bob Daemmrich 1997, 1999, 2001. All rights reserved.Sen. Royce West in action at the Texas Senate. Year is shown in the file name. Talking with left to right, Rick Perry, Royce West, Teel Bivins and Troy Fraser. Bob Daemmrich/BDP, Inc.

Photos COPYRIGHT Bob Daemmrich 1997, 1999, 2001. All rights reserved. Sen. Royce West in action at the Texas Senate. Year is shown in the file name. Talking with Sen. Florence Shapiro.

Photos COPYRIGHT Bob Daemmrich 1997, 1999, 2001. All rights reserved.Sen. Royce West in action at the Texas Senate. Year is shown in the file name. Talking with Sen. Florence Shapiro. Bob Daemmrich/BDP, Inc.

Photos COPYRIGHT Bob Daemmrich 1997, 1999, 2001. All rights reserved. Sen. Royce West in action at the Texas Senate. Year is shown in the file name. Praying with Sen. Carlos Truan and Rodney Ellis and Irma Rangel. Mario Gallegos on the left.

Photos COPYRIGHT Bob Daemmrich 1997, 1999, 2001. All rights reserved.Sen. Royce West in action at the Texas Senate. Year is shown in the file name. Praying with Sen. Carlos Truan and Rodney Ellis and Irma Rangel. Mario Gallegos on the left. Bob Daemmrich/BDP, Inc.

Coalition builder

Now the North Texas kingmaker is leaning on those relationships and that record as he competes in his most difficult political fight in decades, battling 11 opponents for a chance to take on Cornyn. West’s team hopes name recognition and support in the Dallas area will get him to the May 26 runoff election, when the top two vote-getters from March’s primary will compete for the party’s nomination.

Coalition building defined West’s long political career. He has the endorsement of all but one of his Democratic Senate colleagues, as well as Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who backed West as the “best choice not just for Houston, but for Texas” over a Houston City Council member and a former Houston congressman.

“My path is to make sure, No. 1, I unify African American and Latino voters in the state of Texas,” West said, harkening back to the approach that won his county in 2006. He cited an endorsement from the Texas Tejano Democrats and his top vote-getter status in a recent statewide poll conducted by the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats as evidence that he’s done that.

At the Texas Capitol, West muscled through funding for a new University of North Texas campus in South Dallas, the first public university in the area. He takes pride in a 2009 law that offers stipends to family members who take in children who would otherwise grow up in foster care and a measure establishing dash camera requirements for police officers.

All, he said, required building bipartisan coalitions in a GOP-dominated Legislature where Democrats’ priorities tend to flounder.

West’s challenge will be communicating those legislative achievements to the many voters who pay little attention to the Legislature. West, 67, is a moderate consensus builder at a time when some Texas Democrats want flame-throwers, and an elder statesman when many in his party are eager for new blood. He does not support a Green New Deal or mandatory gun buyback programs.

West said he is “not that person” who “throws bombs and hand grenades 24/7.”

“I’m more focused on getting things done,” he said. “No Democrat can win in Texas without being center-left.”

Polls show West toward the front of a still-shifting pack, though many primary voters remain undecided. He finished the most recent campaign finance reporting period with $526,000 cash on hand. That put him behind just one candidate, combat veteran MJ Hegar, who has positioned herself as the candidate to beat with a high-profile endorsement from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

West has often faced scrutiny for his business dealings. As an attorney in Dallas, West has made millions in legal fees representing public entities, including the school districts of Houston, Dallas and Crowley and the cities of Houston and Fort Worth, The Texas Tribune reported in September. In the Texas Senate, he is a leading Democrat on the education committee.

West insisted that his stature as a state senator does not make it easier to secure lucrative clients and said there are no conflicts of interest between his public office and private business.

For now, West is busy crisscrossing the state, including stops in rural areas that rarely hear from Democrats. If he is to win in November, the independent and moderate Republican voters he seeks to bring out will form an important part of his coalition.

But first, he needs to secure Democratic support broad and deep enough to propel him to victory statewide for the first time.

Garcia said the senator’s chances are good.

“If he gets to the runoff, I think he’s the nominee,” Garcia said. “If he’s able to consolidate his North Texas base and expand into other urban areas like Houston, Austin and San Antonio, then I think he will lock it up.”

Disclosure: The University of North Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/02/13/royce-west-democrat-us-senate-flip-texas-coalition/.

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15 Questions for Success: Avril Speaks

15 Questions for Success: Avril Speaks

For the past few weeks, we have been working hard to bring you quality content on faith and work and plan to continue shedding light on people who are actually successful in making their work and faith collide in their respective industries. Each entrepreneur and professional that will be featured in our “15 Questions for Success” series will give us their road map to success and answer questions on how their faith plays out in their careers.

The second installment of the “15 Questions for Success” series features Avril Speaks, producer and director for BET. Check out what Avril has to say about faith and work below:

When people ask you what you do, how do you answer?

I usually say I am an independent filmmaker, or an independent film producer.

When you think of the word ‘successful’ who is the first person that comes to mind and why?

Ava Duvernay. She is someone who has defined success on her own terms. The movie “Selma” is not what made her successful. She owns and defines her own truth in which she was already successful. She had a unique voice within the film industry before that film and she continues to have one today.

 

What role does faith play when it comes to your career?

Faith plays a huge role because my relationship with God and my interest in film developed around the same time in life, so for me those two always go hand-in-hand. My faith inevitably shows up in my work somehow, even though it is often not in the way that many people would expect.

What does the first 60-90 minutes of your day look like?

It depends on the day. Some days I go to the gym early in the morning. Some days (when I think about it) I’ll read a passage of Scripture. Some days I jump right up and get in the shower. Sadly, other days I lay in bed and scroll through Facebook for an hour (I’m trying to break this habit).

How has knowing your personality type affected your life and how has it played a role in any life decision?

I’m an introvert so I’m not much of a schmoozer. But what that trait has taught me is how to seek out authentic relationships with people. So I’m not really one to “work a room,” but I’m pretty good at finding the one or two people in a crowd that I connect to and those people often end up being valuable parts of my life in some way. I’ve come to realize that my quietness allows me to be an observer, one who thinks thing through before acting out. When making decisions, I weight all the options, rather than jumping into anything too quickly.

What do you most love about what you do?

 Getting to collaborate with other creative people and seeing good stories come to life. I think that human stories and testimonies are powerful and any way I can be part of getting those stories told, it makes me happy.

What should someone ask themselves to determine their passion?

What is that something that makes you lose track of time? What is something that you love doing, even if you didn’t get paid for it?

How do you define success?

Success is having the freedom to do what you love. For some people, freedom comes financially (being able to make a living from doing something you love), for others it comes with time (making time in the schedule to do something you love).

What habits or skills are most important to living a successful life?

 Persistence in making space for those things that bring joy/success.

How do you maintain productivity throughout the day?

Making lists!!!

What advice would you give your 20 year old self?

Trust yourself and the knowledge that you have. I spent so many years doubting that I know anything and that I have something valuable to say (I still struggle with this, actually).

What books would you recommend on career and business to someone just starting out?

Hollywood Game Plan: How to Land a Job in Film, TV and Digital Entertainment by Carole M. Kirschner and

Imagination and the Journey of Faith by Sandra M. Levy

What advice would you give someone interested in making a career change?

Capitalize your strengths. Just because you are changing careers doesn’t mean you have to throw away all of the skills you have acquired in your previous occupation. My hairstylist was an accountant before opening her own salon. She may have switched careers, but that business sense went a long way for her when starting her own business, which is how she has been able to sustain herself for so many years. Think of none of your years as wasted time. Every job you have done in the past was to prepare you for where you are right now or where you’re trying to go.

 

 

Faith and Work Series: Work. Career. Calling. What’s the Difference?

Faith and Work Series: Work. Career. Calling. What’s the Difference?

Many of us tend to do two things with our time: work and sleep. While finding a bunch of articles on sleep is just as exciting, the Urban Faith team will be shedding light on Faith and Work. So, for the next several weeks, we’ll be talking about careers, individual calling, entrepreneurship and all things related to connecting your God life with your job life. Be sure to check back regularly for the next Faith and Work Series feature.

When we are introduced to someone, what is one of the first questions we ask?

“What do you do?”

When we ask this question, what we really mean is, “What is your job?”

We define ourselves by our careers. Even most Christians find their identities in their vocations. Our work no longer serves God. It serves us.

In his article “Careerism and the Ethics of Autonomy: A Theological Response,” J.A. Donahue writes,

As a secular perversion of calling, careerism invites people to seek financial success, security, access to power and privilege, and the guarantee of leisure, satisfaction, and prestige.

Avoiding this “secular perversion of calling” is essential to integrating faith and work. Many Christians desire a deeper, more integrated approach to serving God in their work, but they struggle with how to do this. Understanding the difference between work and calling can help.

The Difference between Work and Calling

In an interview with Fast Company, Harvard Business School psychologist Timothy Butler offers the following advice about how vocation differs from career or job:

There are three words that tend to be used interchangeably—and shouldn’t be. They are “vocation,” career,” and “job.” Vocation is the most profound of the three, and it has to do with your calling. It’s what you’re doing in life that makes a difference for you, that builds meaning for you, that you can look back on in your later years to see the impact you’ve made in the world. A calling is something you have to listen for.  You don’t hear it once and then immediately recognize it. You’ve got to attune yourself to the message.

Christians today have the same difficulty understanding the differences between vocation, career, and job. We also throw in the word “calling,” which further complicates things. Calling may or may not mean the same thing as vocation.

If we look at the origins of the words career and vocation, we immediately get a feel for the difference between them.

Vocation comes from the Latin verb vocare, which means “to call.” This explains why Butler equates vocation and calling. The definition suggests that a person listens for something which calls out to him. The calling is something that comes to someone and is particular to someone.

In the secular world, career is the term we most often hear regarding work. it originates from the medieval Latin noun carraria, which means “a road for vehicles.” Hence the term career path.

A career is usually associated with an occupation. Becoming a lawyer or a securities analyst is a career choice. It is not usually the same thing as a calling.

The most specific and immediate of the three terms is job. It has to do with current employment and a specific job description.

The Difference between Vocational Calling, Career, and Everyday Work

In order to understand the biblical doctrine of work, we must understand a fourth term, vocational calling, and how it differs from career, occupation, or job.

Vocational calling is the call to God and to his service in the sphere of vocation based on giftedness, desires, affirmations, and human need. It is usually stable and permanent over a lifetime (unlike a job or a career, which can change often).

How are vocational calling and career related? A career should be based on the opportunities for service presented to believers, enabling them to fulfill their vocational callings. Finding the right career at any one time is a matter of God’s specific leadership, guidance, and provision.

Vocational calling from God to the workplace is above a job or a career. Luther and the Reformers saw occupation as timely opportunity for service, in God’s providence, presented to believers to enable them to fulfill their vocational calling through what we would call everyday work.

Rather than equate vocational calling with a specific occupation or career, we are called to be Christians in whatever situation we find ourselves. Vocational calling stays the same as we move in and out of different jobs and careers. It is directly related to the discovery of our God-given talents. We develop and hone these talents into useful competencies for the glory of God and the benefit of others, often in various jobs or occupations.

Thus vocational calling provides a framework for our jobs, careers, and occupations. As R. Paul Stevens describes in Doing God’s Business: “The New Testament treats work in the context of a larger framework: the call of God to live totally for him and his kingdom.”

 

This article is republished with permission from the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics. IFWE is a Christian research organization committed to advancing biblical and economic principles that help individuals find fulfillment in their work and contribute to a free and flourishing society. The original article can be accessed here. Visit https://tifwe.org/subscribe to subscribe to the free IFWE Daily Blog.