The Austin Chronicle

Dream on, Dream Team

Democrats Fail to Convince Texas

By Michael King, November 8, 2002, News

Silver Linings

In Tuesday's state GOP tidal wave there wasn't much good news for Democrats, but here and there a cause for celebration. Most notably in Travis Co., incumbent Dist. 14 state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos held off what had seemed a formidable challenge from first-time candidate Ben Bentzin by a margin that wasn't that close: nearly 20,000 votes or 53-43%, a lead that held throughout the counting. Late Tuesday night at the Austin Music Hall, perhaps spooked by the Dems' obvious statewide disaster, Barrientos was only cautiously optimistic, saying he would wait until most of the boxes were counted before he would acknowledge victory. "I'm truly humbled by the support I've received," Barrientos said, "but I'm not jumping to any conclusions. I'm hoping and praying for a victory, and I'm thanking all of the troops here for all their work."

Asked about the nasty turn of the campaign in the final weeks, Barrientos responded, "People want to hear about the issues. They want us to balance the budget, to address the crisis in the so-called Robin Hood school funding system, to bring down property taxes, and address the rising homeowners insurance rates. If we win, that's what we need to do."

Other than that, pickings were pretty slim. Amid the din of the Sanchez un-celebration, Mayor Gus Garcia hoped that the election would make it clear that "the Democrats are back." Dist. 46 Rep. Dawnna Dukes said that whatever happens, the statewide campaigns have "returned hope to the Democratic Party, and it also speaks to an important lesson: It takes money, and without Tony Sanchez's money none of this could have happened." Dukes pointed particularly to the defeat of Dist. 45 GOP incumbent Rick Green by newcomer Patrick Rose, "and that could only happen because the party had enough financial resources to mount a real challenge." Asked if she thought the GOP numbers would mean a transformed state House, Dukes answered, "The Republicans may have a majority, but they're not at 86 seats just yet." (Observers expect the GOP will need at least 88 seats to unseat incumbent Democratic Speaker Pete Laney.) "I expect Pete Laney back as speaker," concluded Dukes. That may be quite enough for the Democrats to wish for.

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