Democratic women are a key to election success in Texas

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And Annie’s List, a political action group that recruits, trains and invests in progressive women, knows as much.

For more than 15 years, the group has been working diligently– often under the shadow of flashy presidential and congressional politics– on one of the most important political tasks of the decade for Texas Democrats.

“We are going to try as hard as we can to flip party control of the state house,” Royce Brooks, the executive director of Annie’s List said in an interview. “That’s our top political priority for this cycle and I think we’ll accomplish it.”

Brooks joined Annie’s List last year as the organization’s youngest and first ever Black executive director. She said the group plans to continue its historic gains made during last year’s midterms.

“We had our biggest cycle ever,” Brooks said of 2018. “We endorsed the most women ever in Annie’s List history– 37 candidates– and we helped elect the largest number of candidates in Annie’s List history at 31 candidates.” 

Some of the women supported by Annie’s List ran for county level offices, like Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. Most were incumbents, like Reps. Donna Howard, Gina Hinojosa and Celia Israel. But seven of them were newly elected women who managed to kick Republicans out of their respective legislative districts.

This year, Annie’s List has raised more than $700,000 in political contributions to continue their work chipping away at Republican dominance in the state.

Since 2003, the GOP has maintained a trifecta of power in the Texas House, Senate and governorship. The upcoming 2020 election is the last chance Democrats have at closing a 9-seat gap in the state House before 2021, when lawmakers meet to draw political boundaries that will remain locked in place for the next decade.

Like others, Brooks said the success of the 2018 midterms was partly because of a growing political awakening that has taken place in the Trump era. But, she noted, the fight for the soul of Texas goes far beyond Trump.

“This is a long term fight,” Brooks said. “The problems that the Trump administration has brought to bear in this country did not just start in November 2016.”

She said structural issues of inequality, racism, race, misogyny and exclusion plagued Americans long before the Trump presidency. 

“We’re not going to solve all of that just by voting Donald Trump out or by just by having a couple of successful Democratic cycles,” Brooks said, adding that she hoped that those who became politically active under Trump would stick around after he was no longer on the ballot. 

A Fort Worth native and a graduate of Rice University and Harvard Law School, Brooks has pushed Annie’s List to invest in more candidates than ever before while also strengthening the state’s progressive infrastructure.

She said Annie’s List has trained more than 3,000 people to run for office and will soon launch a “campaign graduate school” to beef up the training of progressive staffers who’ve worked in politics before.

Under her leadership, she said she was most proud of the diverse and energetic team she’s helped build, as well as the fact that Annie’s List is now a women of color-led organization at the staff and board level.

Prior to joining Annie’s List, Brooks worked as the statewide policy director to Wendy Davis’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign, and a year later, as policy director for Sylvester Turner’s first Houston mayoral campaign. 

She said working policy in both those campaigns taught her that Democrats should focus on creating good policies that positively impact people’s lives– not making concessions to Republicans who will smear those policies anyway.

Before working with Texas candidates, she worked as a policy analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington-based think tank focused on policy for communities of color.

In her home and office, Brooks said she keeps a picture of Barbara Jordan, the first Black woman to become a state senator in Texas and later an influential member of Congress. Brooks said Jordan’s singularity as an incredibly powerful Black woman from Texas that led with courage and integrity is something she keeps close to her heart.

She said her other political heroes include Shirley Chisholm, and her childhood favorite, Ann Richards— whom she channeled when asked about what kept her going in such a political atmosphere. 

“This is high stakes work,” Brooks said. “If I’m doing something with my life, I want it to be impactful. This fight will continue whether I’m in it or not, so I might as well be in it.”

Photo: Casey Chapman

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