Posted on August 19, 2013 at 6:19 PM
Monday, Aug 19 at 6:25 PM
AUSTIN -- For Texas Republicans, the summer of 2013 has been a season of change.
"Today I'm announcing I will not seek reelection as governor of Texas," Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) told a crowd of supporters gathered at a construction equipment business in San Antonio in early July.
In office since December 2000, Perry has been the party's most prominent figure for more than a decade. His decision not to seek an unprecedented fourth full term as governor kickstarted a domino-like cascade of campaign announcements from Republicans seeking to move up the party ladder.
"I think he's going to leave a legacy of strong, conservative government that resulted in a really good job market and strong economy, which is what most Texans I think will give him credit for," said Republican Party of Texas Chairman Steve Munisteri, who sat down with KVUE Monday to discuss the changing times for the state party.
"What a lot of people don't know in this state is that Democrats actually held a majority of the offices statewide," said Munisteri, explaining that as recently as 2008, Republicans held around 2,400 of the roughly 5,200 political offices in the state. He says that number now stands at around 3,500.
"For the party and party building his legacy is going to be that we had our most significant gains numerically, and he's leaving us in a very strong position numerically going into 2014," said Munisteri.
The next governor will manage a rapidly growing state with an influx of people relocating to Texas to live and work. Such growth will only increase the pressure on water, transportation and education funding issues the new governor will face. With Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and former state party chair Tom Pauken seeking to replace Perry, the race to define the new era for Republicans has already begun.
"That really is the public face for the rest of the country when people think about Texas," said Munisteri. "Whoever the governor is next fall will have a different flavor to state government. They'll have their own personality, they'll be making thousands of appointments in state government. So that will trickle down. It will be different, absolutely."
Meanwhile Democrats have a new hero in state Sen. Wendy Davis, whose filibuster vaulted her into the national spotlight and spurred calls for her to enter the gubernatorial race. Working at the same time to bolster Democrats at the grassroots level is Battleground Texas, created by veterans of President Obama's election team who aim to turn Texas blue.
After successfully flipping formerly red states such as Colorado, Battleground Texas is wielding the Obama team's innovative use of data and well-honed mobilization techniques in an effort to flip the largest red state in the nation. While Gov. Perry laughed off the organization's plan in February, Munisteri says he isn't taking anything for granted.
"We take them seriously and we take the Texas Democratic Party seriously," said Munisteri. Like their Democratic opponents, Munisteri says Republicans are focused on using data mining and analytics to more effectively communicate with the electorate. The party has also hired four full-time staff members to focus on the Hispanic community, and plans to hire a total of 13.
When it comes to the filibuster over controversial anti-abortion laws that made Davis a household name, Munisteri suggests Democrats risk alienating independent Texans who may fall on the other side of the abortion issue. The legislation, which eventually passed, bans abortions performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It also includes new restrictions on providers, which opponents warned will cause all but five abortion clinics in the state to close their doors.
"Most significantly, our polling of Hispanic voters in the last election indicated that the one group that was most supportive of a ban of abortions at the five-month mark and later were Hispanic voters in Texas," said Munisteri. "So I think the Democrats have made a huge miscalculation."
"What Wendy Davis and this demonstration has done for the Republican party is to tell our supporters we can't take anything for granted, and perhaps as they said after somebody attacked Pearl Harbor, 'They woke a sleeping giant.'" said Munisteri. "It's really getting the party up and motivated and we are having a very good summer."
As the summer continues, the battle for next fall is only heating up.