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The head of the Texas Democratic Party has appointed a committee to take a "deep dive" on what went wrong in the November election after a group of executive committee members wrote to him demanding answers, reforms and a shakeup in senior staff.
The chair of the party, Gilberto Hinojosa, said he always intended to convene a formal effort to review the election results, but the news of the panel comes after 38 executive committee members sent him a letter urging sweeping changes at the party after what they described as an "electoral failure" in November.
"Even though we very much disagree with the allegations that are made in the letter, we think it is important to find out exactly what happened in this election because we were just as shocked as everyone else," Hinojosa said in an interview Monday.
Texas Democrats severely underperformed expectations in the November election after looking to it as their best shot in decades at making inroads. President Donald Trump carried the state by 6 percentage points, U.S. Sen John Cornyn won reelection by 10 points, Democrats picked up zero U.S. House seats despite targeting 10, and their push to flip the state House fizzled as they gained one seat and lost another.
Democrats have since said they were misled by bad polling and lamented their decision to hold off on in-person campaigning during the coronavirus pandemic. Hinojosa cited both those factors in a letter responding to the executive committee members, while saying he agrees that a "complete analysis needs to be done on this to determine what really happened."
"The Party is committed to conducting a 'deep dive' analysis of the election, using outside persons or entities, and partnering with other allied groups to fund it if necessary," Hinojosa wrote.
The Tribune obtained a copy of the letter that was dated Friday. In it, the State Democratic Executive Committee members raise a host of issues related to the governing body's relationship with party staff — which appear to predate this election cycle — as well as the party's role in the November election.
"From messaging to organizing, political data to simple administration, the Texas Democratic Party has dropped the ball and it is becoming more and more apparent every day that our senior leadership is refusing to take responsibility or, more importantly, the actions necessary to resolve the many shortfalls of our party this election cycle," the letter said.
The letter makes a dozen requests, including a change in senior staff, a "full accounting" of party finances, a "full roster" of party employees and consultants, a "10-year strategic plan," an "overhaul" of the party's approved vendors list, outreach to state parties in places like Georgia and Virginia, and a task force on the party's headquarters.
The letter was organized by two SDEC members, Kendall Scudder and Jen Ramos. A copy of the letter obtained by the Tribune did not include the signees, but Scudder and Ramos said it was signed by 38 members of the 108-member executive committee.
The letter came a day before a regularly scheduled quarterly meeting of the SDEC, and Hinojosa converted the meeting into an open forum to discuss the issues raised in the letter. He said the meeting lasted seven and a half hours.
Hinojosa also responded in writing, addressing all 12 requests and agreeing without comment to five of them.
Scudder said he has been encouraged by Hinojosa's responsiveness.
"He immediately reached out to us," Scudder said. "I had extensive conversations with him, and he agreed with us on probably 90 [percent] to 95% of our requests, and so I'm very optimistic that his leadership is going to allow us to put in place large party reforms that will allow for more accountability and transparency in our party and lead to be even more competitive in 2022."
The "deep dive" committee appears to be the most immediate and concrete action to come out of the discussions.
As of Monday, the committee had 23 members. The co-chairs are Ramos and Chris Hollins, the party's vice chair for finance and the former Harris County clerk. The committee includes several other executive committee members, as well as the party's vice chair, Carla Brailey; party leaders in the Legislature such as state Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, chair of the House Democratic Caucus; and former candidates like Chrysta Castañeda, the 2020 nominee for railroad commissioner.
Hinojosa said in the interview that he has given the committee six months to complete its work. In his letter, Hinojosa said that "once the analysis is completed, the committee can submit recommendations to the SDEC and the Chair, as to what appropriate action(s) to take, including certain changes in leadership."
One of the more sensitive demands in the initial letter is the one for a change in senior staff, which singles out the executive director and deputy executive director — Manny Garcia and Cliff Walker, respectively. Hinojosa said he has heard very little support for that, both at the SDEC meeting Saturday and in private conversations. On Monday, an open letter was circulating in support of Garcia and Walker. As of Monday night, more than 60 current and former party workers had signed it.
“We support and greatly appreciate the leadership of Manny Garcia and Cliff Walker, and disagree with the select SDEC members’ narrow and one-sided depiction of the Texas Democratic Party’s work in the 2020 election,” the letter said.
As for the party’s headquarters, Hinojosa wrote in his letter that he “strongly believes” the party should maintain a “storefront” office as it has in Austin. But he said the party “should consider whether a city like Houston would be a better home for our Party,” calling Austin too expensive and a place like Houston “much more representative of the diversity of our Party.”