From U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro to failed gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, Democrats have begun to poke through the red tarp blanketing Texas and emerge on the national scene.
This resurgence arguably was made possible by one man’s vision and truckloads of trial lawyer cash.
In a Tuesday interview with Salon, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean discussed how he remade the Democratic Party by instituting – much to the dissatisfaction of his supposed beltway allies – his 50-state strategy during his time as the Democratic National Committee chairman from 2005 to 2008.
Rather than label adamant red states as lost causes, Dean sought to establish bases of Democratic support in every state through grassroot campaigns and connecting groups through the Internet – a strategy used and taken to the next level by President Barack Obama in 2007.
When it came to establishing a Democratic base in Texas, Dean told Salon he got “lucky” with trial lawyer support.
“So we got lucky in Texas, a group of trial lawyers took over the party and funded it, and it wasn’t perfect, but we knew each other, and they were OK,” Dean is quoted as saying in the article.
Dean declined to elaborate any further, but one of the trial lawyers who first commandeered the Texas Democratic Party in the early 2000s was the late Fred Baron – co-founder of the Baron & Budd asbestos law firm in Dallas.
Without party consent, Baron used his own money to rebuild the Texas state party and establish the Texas Democratic Trust to fund candidates.
From 2005 to 2012, the trust pumped $12 million into Texas legislative and congressional races, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Although Baron lost political clout after reports surfaced of his involvement to payoff former presidential candidate John Edward’s mistress, Texas trial lawyers have continued his work.
Houston plaintiff’s attorney Steve Mostyn, the top funder of Democrats in Texas, caught the attention of Washington insiders in 2012 when he donated $3 million to a super PAC that supports Obama.
In the 2013-2014 election cycle, Mostyn, who made hundreds of millions suing insurers after Hurricane Ike pounded Texas, contributed more than $3 million to Davis’ campaign for governor and threw another $2 million at congressional races and national committees, campaign finance records show.
In recent years, however, Texas trial lawyers have begun to move away from Dean’s strategy and implement one of their own – if you can’t beat them, join them by financing the political campaigns of Republicans seeking to usurp incumbent Republicans.
For example, in 2012 Mostyn spent nearly $1 million dollars in a span of 30 days funding the GOP primary opponent of then state Rep. Larry Taylor – a legislator who has relentlessly pressed for reform of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Agency, the state’s sole provider of windstorm insurance and the primary target of Mostyn’s lawsuits.
More recently, Houston attorney Mark Lanier earned the ire of tort reform groups by bankrolling Republican challengers to three Texas Supreme Court justices who were up for re-election this year.
Nonetheless, in spite of trial lawyer funding, Texas remains overwhelming a red state.
But regardless, in the words of Dean, “there are Democrats everywhere, and if you want to nurture the party you have to nurture all of them.”
“I believe in the South the Democrats will come back, but you can’t do it if you don’t pay attention.”
The Salon article, entitled “People yelled and carried on”: Howard Dean tells Salon how he remade DNC — and Dems’ new path forward, was written by David Dayen.