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It’s the System Stupid: The Path Forward for Texas Democrats
Texas stands at a crossroads. As we approach the 2024 elections, our young voters - a force poised to represent nearly half of the voting-age populace (46% of the voting-eligible population next year will be either Gen Z or Millennials) - are unmistakably disillusioned. What they feel is not just disillusionment but a growing sense of alienation from a system that sidelines them. For Texas Democrats, these feelings are both a challenge and an opportunity to mobilize.
An October 2022 New York Times poll sheds light on this sentiment. An alarming 68% of voters believe our federal government only works for powerful elites, leaving ordinary folks in the shadows. Over 56% of 18-29-year-olds feel that our democratic institutions are too polarized to solve issues. And perhaps most concerning, over 71% of all voters view democracy itself as under threat, with corruption fingered as the principal culprit. (Texas itself went unpolled, but doubtless, similar sentiments prevailed.)
These figures underscore a profound message: to reinvigorate the political landscape and ignite the passion of these voters, we must start by "unrigging" the very foundation of our democracy and reimagining a new system that can actually work and deliver concrete legislation that moves society forward.
Unrigging the System.
The interests of average Texans are becoming overshadowed by the unchecked influence of billionaires and the top 1%. Right now in Texas, state election donations for the House or Senate, as well as other county-level positions, have no financial limits. It’s literally possible for a far right-wing billionaire to throw in 5 million dollars in the final week of an election on a whim.
Voters of all stripes believe it’s imperative to introduce robust campaign finance reforms, such as a $500 cap on individual donations. Moreover, we must address the blatant conflicts of interest. Right now, it’s legal for sitting legislators to essentially work as lobbyists. It’s also legal for legislators to take their campaign funds which they get from the super-wealthy, invest them in the stock market, and use them to buy Rockets tickets or rent a BMW. Paxton’s crimes are awful, but impeaching him will not fix the shameless corruption plaguing our state legislature. Legislators’ allegiances should remain undividedly with the Texans they represent. That is not the case currently, with countless legislators getting paid through lobbying fees by the very interests they ostensibly oversee and regulate.
Reimagining Democracy for the 21st Century.
Voters have too little choice and voice. Every campaign cycle, Texans are left with just two parties and political paralysis, even though there are many more great choices. That would be the same as the fair restricting us to donuts and pound cake even though we know 8 different types of fried desserts like yummy fried Oreos and classic funnel cake are somewhere in our midst.
To younger Texans, the system is obviously not designed to pass legislation or allow change. Therefore, we need to reimagine it. We must champion systems like ranked choice voting and proportional representation, which not only lower partisan division but also build consensus and increase representation.
Over 40 states already benefit from online voter registration, and citizen referendums are present in more than 25 different states and have helped defend reproductive freedom in Kentucky and Kansas, states much redder than Texas. These initiatives work and will make Texas a more vibrant, inclusive, and representative democracy. We cannot solve 21st-century problems with 19th-century institutions.
Embracing these procedural reforms is not just about principle; they are the key to unlocking substantive progress. They stand as necessary preconditions that can galvanize voters to fight for systemic change and pave the way for advancements on pivotal issues - from reproductive freedom to gun background checks to Medicaid Expansion and a myriad of other pressing concerns that Texans care deeply about. Voters think the current system is failing, and Democrats can appeal to the most voters as the party of change. Let’s give them what they want.