HOUSTON (AP) — Texas Democrats put their brightest stars on display at their convention Friday as they try to rebrand the party as pro-family and pro-education while ridiculing the growing influence of the tea party movement among Republicans.

State Rep. Joaquin Castro, who faces no significant challenge to represent San Antonio in Congress next year, is scheduled to introduce his twin brother, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, as the keynote speaker. The 37-year-olds said Democrats must take advantage of the GOP’s brutal internal battles.

“You have a lot of Republicans, mainstream classic Republicans, who are very worried about the future of their party,” Julian Castro said. “I think they’ve released a monster and I don’t think they can stop it.”

Democrats are struggling for relevance in Texas, where they haven’t won a statewide office since 1994 — the longest losing streak for Democrats in any state. However, with a rapidly growing Hispanic population and key victories in the state’s largest cities and countries, the mood in Houston is optimistic about the future, if not for November.

“The problems within the Republican Party are a lot of the same that we saw in the Democratic Party years ago,” Joaquin Castro said. “You do see a lot of excited delegates here working on the issues that are important to Texans today.”

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, a Democrat, announced Friday that she would consider running for higher office when she is forced to step down by term limits in 2016. In the meantime, she said Democrats need to be unafraid to stand up for what they believe in and call out radical Republican rhetoric.

“Business is not the enemy, businesses create jobs. We need good jobs and fair wages. Government is not somehow evil … government is necessary, government allows us to live together in relative safety,” Parker said. “Taxes are not evil, taxes are a tool. Taxes allow us to provide services.”

More than 7,000 delegates are attending the Democratic convention, hoping to rally hardcore supporters to go out and recruit more supporters. Hispanics are the fastest growing segment of the Texas population, but they are also the least likely to vote.

In apparent recognition of demographic trends, all of the candidates to chair the Texas Democratic Party are Hispanic.

One of the candidates, Gilberto Hinojosa, a candidate for party chairman, said Democrats need to educate poor citizens about the importance of voting.

‘When you have to work every day until 6 p.m. and their main priorities is to just to make it every day, it is difficult to prioritize voting,” he said. “We need to go to this population and engage them and show them how this affects their lives, how it affects their families.”

Hispanic delegates said the party’s future depends on their community voting at the same level as non-Hispanics.

“If we don’t get out and vote, they are never going to take us seriously,” said Lenora Sorola-Pohlman, a party vice-chair addressing why national Democratic leaders don’t support Texas candidates. “We have to get out the vote for the president down to the county courthouse.”

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, a former Dallas mayor, is also scheduled to give a major speech Friday. The convention concludes Saturday with the election of a new party chair.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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