HOUSTON (AP) — Texas Democrats elected the first Hispanic to the state chairman’s position Saturday, a move indicating the party aims to play a greater role in the Republican-dominated state.
Delegates overwhelmingly chose Gilberto Hinojosa to lead the party for the next two years on the final day of the state convention in Houston. Hinojosa is a former judge, county party leader and member of the Democratic National Committee. He is replacing Boyd Richie, who has led the party since 2006.
The native of the South Texas town of Mission takes over a party that has not won a statewide election since 1994 and does not control either chamber of the Texas Legislature. But the state’s evolving demographics favor Democrats, with non-Hispanic whites now making up less than 50 percent of the population. In the 2010 election, more than 85 percent of minorities voted Democratic.
“We as a party need to realize that there are more of us than there are of them,” Hinojosa said. “We believe that everyone in this great state deserves an equal chance … and we can only do that if we win elections.”
Hinojosa, 59, also said Democrats need to begin believing they can win elections and stop allowing Republicans to define them as unpatriotic. He said it was Republicans who carried out un-American policies by cutting funding for public education, women’s health care and opposing civil rights protections for all sexual orientations.
Fort Worth state Rep. Marc Veasey, who is in a runoff for a Democratic nomination to Congress, welcomed Hinojosa as someone who had experience working at the national level and at organizing the grassroots of the party.
“His election is historic and besides that, Gilberto is a good guy,” Veasey said. “He is a coalition builder; he gets along with a broad group of people.”
Hinojosa has promised to change the math on Texas elections. In the May 29 primary vote, twice as many Republicans cast ballots as Democrats, but, overall, less than 20 percent of registered voters showed up. Turnout among Texas Hispanics has never matched that in other states with significant Latino populations.
“There is no independent issue out there that has caused this to happen,” Hinojosa said. “They are not going to go out and vote for anybody if they are not engaged, no matter how dynamic of a leader you’ve got running … as a party we have to engage them and offer strong candidates.”
Hinojosa was the first in his family to attend college at the University of Texas-Pan American and graduated from Georgetown University Law School.
Texas Democrats also approved a party platform Saturday that — for the first time — explicitly called for equal marriage rights. Same-sex marriage is currently banned by a state constitutional amendment
Earlier in the convention, Democrats representing Texas in Congress spoke and tried to rally the party base ahead of the November elections. Rep. Al Green from Houston called for equal rights based on sexual orientation, a $10-an-hour minimum wage and equal pay for women.
Houston Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee honored two veterans, insisting that Democrats have served in the military as well as Republicans. Jackson also invoked the civil rights movement in calling for equal rights people of all sexual orientations. Rep. Henry Cuellar of Laredo praised the Affordable Care Act, the health care law designed to give everyone insurance.
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