During a Wednesday afternoon press conference with Texas news media, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, second in command of Senate Republicans, voiced surprise at high Democratic turnout in the primary election back in his home state. He warned fellow Republicans to avoid complacency in the Nov. 6 general election, no doubt fueled by speculation that Democrats may retake Congress. Regardless of your party affiliation, that’s sterling advice for voters.
And as Marianne Arnold, now the Democratic nominee for Texas House District 12 including part of McLennan County, told the Trib editorial board in our candidate Q&As, Democrats are quite likely to remain fired up, unlike the 2014 midterms: “This time around I have people around me breathing fire. There are people so outraged by what the Legislature did. There are two or three times each week when they can be outraged by the president.”
For Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate, not being complacent means strengthening their grip on cherished Article I powers in the Constitution and showing backbone in checking the president rather than letting him set their agenda. This means scuttling House Speaker Paul Ryan’s weak-kneed strategy of passing only bills the president agrees to sign ahead of time. That’s not just complacent, that’s complicity in a dysfunctional government. And back in Texas, battling complacency means seeking to expand the Republican Party tent — not shrinking it to pacify an aging, narrowly focused political base.
For Democrats, not being complacent means demonstrating they have viable, practical solutions that appeal to not only party faithful but also moderate Republicans increasingly disenchanted by radicalism infecting their own party. It means demonstrating consensus-building on issues in ways that prove Democrats are serious about policy — not assuming inflexible stands on issues that fail to resonate with everyday citizens. As Texas Monthly political editor (and former Trib editor) Carlos Sanchez shrewdly noted in a Texas Monthly podcast about the primary election, it’s critical for Democrats to remember that some of their high turnout may have focused on down-ballot races. Judging from our interviews, that was certainly the case in the local Republican primary; most voters we talked with said the McLennan County district attorney’s race is what spurred much turnout.
More importantly, voters shouldn’t be complacent. Too often in our engaging, sometimes bracing conversations at the polls, voters admitted casting ballots in important races based on gut instinct, fleeting impressions and an admittedly shaky grasp of facts and context. We must endeavor to do better. We must be skeptical of word-of-mouth and social-media posts. We must pay attention to those news sources that have enough integrity to correct their mistakes and maintain experienced journalists. We should look to groups such as the League of Women Voters and a balance of reputable news sources including Texas Tribune and (somewhat to our surprise) Texas Monthly of late. Battling complacency means, first and foremost, endeavoring to be an open-minded, well-informed citizen.