|Hidalgo County Democratic Party|
Dear Aaron Pena from anthony gutierrez on Vimeo.
"Angry people vote."
Those are Paul Burka's words, writing at TexasMonthly.com this week about the potential Democratic candidate for Senate, General Ricardo Sanchez, and how the Latino population would -- or would not -- react to his candidacy.
It was timely that whispers of Sanchez, a Rio Grande City native, began floating around in the days before I made my way to Hidalgo County, where I was invited by the Hidalgo County Democratic Party Chair Dolly Elizondo-Garcia to speak at their County Executive Committee meeting. This trip down to the Valley was to be my first time in the area, outside of the occasional trip to Laredo.
As I drove through Edinburg, I couldn't get past the burn of what that city had become to me: the home of State Representative Aaron Pena, who saw many of the same problems I see in my state party and yet rather than stay and fight to improve our cause, chose to abandon it. Dusty, yellowed and barren, Edinburg looked like what the rest of the Rio Grande Valley looked like to me during my short time there: poor.
My presentation took place at the International Trade and Technology building at UTPA. Dolly had a large spread of breakfast tacos and coffee ready for guests, and a sign-in table was being worked by Hidalgo County Young Democrats wearing matching HCDP t-shirts. For 10 AM on a Saturday morning, the event was surprisingly well-organized and I realized that Dolly -- or perhaps all of Hidalgo County -- has grown used to the rest of the state underestimating them.
In the meantime, they've continued organizing. Unthreatened and open to new ideas, Dolly has catapulted several strong talents in her area into leadership positions. Eli Olivarez, an immaculate, quick-witted man who founded a chapter of the Stonewall Democrats in Hidalgo County, was encouraged by Dolly to run for the SDEC position in District 20.
Eli credits Dolly for the unity that the Hidalgo County Democrats now reflect. A symbol of this unity can be seen on their "passport" page, a landing page showing four online portals to the many faces of Hidalgo County Democrats. The passport page, which features updates from the local Stonewall Democrats, the Young Democrats, the Democratic Women and the county party itself, implies that everyone isn't the same in Hidalgo County but they all believe in a common vision.
During most of the meeting, an image of Aaron Pena laughing with his Republican cronies was displayed on the big screen at the front of the room, captioned with the words "There's nothing funny about these cuts." At one point in the program, Hidalgo County Commissioner Joel Quintanilla addressed the crowd and, pointing at Aaron Pena's image, said, "Look at this photo and tell me what you see." Spanish curse words were thrown out and someone from the audience said "Judas."
There's a perfect storm brewing in Hidalgo County and it's one that the Republicans have every reason to be afraid of. There's a large population with an intimate knowledge of just how bad the Republican Party can treat its poor, its elderly and its children. There's leadership unlike any I've seen in the Democratic Party since I've been active within it, and I'm confident saying that in Dolly Elizondo-Garcia, I've found my heroine.
But perhaps the final missing piece that could springboard action from Hidalgo County to the rest of the state is anger. The feeling in that room when the subject of Aaron Pena came up wasn't the feeling of a meeting but a revolution.
In questioning whether Latinos in Texas will ever turn out to vote like those in California and Arizona, Paul Burka goes on to write, "Hispanics in Texas are not alienated." Well, thanks to Aaron Pena, they're alienated now and they're angry. The future of the Democratic Party lies in Hidalgo County. They know it, they're uniquely poised to take over and, given the people I met down there this weekend, I don't see how they couldn't.