Ron Kirk Could Come Home and Teach Texas Dems how to Win, but Don't Bet On It

What will Ron Kirk do when he returns to Dallas after leaving the Obama cabinet next month? If I had to bet, I'd say he won't return to Dallas, which will be a shame. If he did come home, maybe he could do something about these local Democrats.

Former Dallas mayor Kirk is getting high marks from both the president and some Republican business leaders for his tenure as U.S. trade representative and the only Texan in the cabinet. Before leaving Dallas in 2009, he was a partner with Vinson & Elkins, a law firm.

The problem with getting him to come home is this: Kirk can stay in Washington and make about 18 zillion bucks a year as a lobbyist. He started his career here as a lobbyist for the city, and people who worked with him in the crazy atmosphere of Austin said he was kind of the Yo-Yo Ma of lobbying. Never missed a note.

So why wouldn't he pick it up again in D.C. and cash in on a life of public service? He's got a certain side to him, you know. He said once his secret ambition was to be a car dealer.

But let's say for whatever reason he does come back and he does ask himself the all-important WWJSTMTD question (what would Jim Schutze tell me to do?). Get back here and clean up the damned Texas Democratic party!

Kirk was quoted last week in a story about one of the inaugural balls saying it's only a matter of time before the inaugural balls of Texas will turn blue. Forgive me, by the way, if I messed up the metaphor there. Kirk was predicting that Texas in the not too distant future will be a Democrat-majority state, full of pent-up potential Democratic ... energy.

That might seem like great news for a lifelong Democratic activist like Kirk. But nobody would know better than Kirk what a mess it could be actually, if the Texas Democratic Party remains what it is today. Don't turn your back!

Take our own city, for example. The most powerful elected Democrat in the county, County Commissioner John Wiley Price, in all likelihood will be indicted on sweeping federal corruption charges this year, at least in part based on allegations that he sold out his own community in deference to the business interests of right-wing Republicans. If and when that indictment happens, it won't be a shock to Kirk. When Kirk was mayor, I never heard him say anything about Price, but he did tell me personally once I was a liberal sucker about some of the speakers who appeared regularly during the public comment portion of City Council meetings supposedly representing the interests of black South Dallas.

I always called them community activists. Kirk said some of them -- not all, but some -- were just hand-out crooks. In the long view of things, he was right, I was wrong.

Later after he left City Hall, there was a specific instance Kirk could not have missed that demonstrated how the local party works. Kirk worked for Obama big-time in 2008. The presidential election circus came to Dallas during the Democratic primary when Obama was in pitched battle with Hillary Clinton for the nomination and Dallas was a trove of important Democratic votes.

The Clinton campaign here was run by Price though his favorite operative, political consultant Kathy Nealy. The Obama campaign was run by all these smart sharp young people from somewhere whom nobody had ever seen before.

Nealy, also now a target of FBI interest in the same probe shadowing Price, ran the worst campaign since Clayton Williams refused to shake hands with Ann Richards in 1990. It was not just dumb and dumber but also slack and slacker. At one point she had Bill Clinton -- BILL CLINTON -- standing in the back of a pickup truck speaking to a crowd estimated to be in the tens of people. Had I been there, I might have cast off my journalistic objectivity (assuming I could find it) and called out, "Please, President Clinton, you do not have to do this!"

Meanwhile those Obamatoids swept in here with an entire playbook of what were then brand-new high-tech organizing tricks, utilizing social media, micro-polls and other means of laser-focused targeting to get out their vote. They beat the socks off Price and Nealy in Dallas and in the process made a mockery of the local Democratic organization.

And then they disappeared. I hate to say it, but they took their votes and ran. As soon as that primary was over, the local party reverted to type. Ever since, it has been the same assortment of shakedown artists and over-the-hill 1970s folk singers it was before Obama came to town. The smarts blew town. Now what we have instead is an organization that must devote most of its energy to its defense fund.

You really want to do something for local Democratic officials? Send them cartons of cigarettes so they can make new friends where they are going.

And it's not just Dallas. For reasons plain to see and easy to understand, the Democratic Party in Texas is made up mainly of people who have mastered the art of losing well. That's great. Better to lose well than poorly. But losing well doesn't happen to entail the skills involved in winning.

If Kirk is right -- and all the trends say he is -- then Texas is not too far away from shucking its rural Republican straightjacket, stepping out from behind the oops image and emerging as a Democratic force. But what will that avail, exactly, if the party is still in the grip of the slack-and-slackers?

Nobody -- not one single person on Earth -- is better positioned personally or politically to reshape and transform the Democratic Party in Texas than Ron Kirk. He's smart as hell. He's tough. He can be charming. He knows exactly how the cow ate the cabbage, where the bones are buried and what to watch out for. He gets it done.

Plus, I don't believe that car dealer stuff. I think he just says that. Kirk knows how things should be, and he hears a call of duty beyond self-aggrandizement. If he does come back, he could help Texas turn blue the right way. I'm so serious about it, I have decided to omit another blue balls joke here to show you what good taste I can have. Is that a new trend too? Eh, don't hold your breath.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze

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