Naked City

Soechting Takes Dem Party Chair

The election may be over, but the campaign has just begun. That was the buzz in the wake of Saturday's state Democratic executive committee election of attorney Charles Soechting of San Marcos to succeed Molly Beth Malcolm as chair of the Texas Democratic Party. Soechting, the party's general counsel, defeated longtime party headliner Garry Mauro and three other candidates: state Rep. Garnet Coleman, Brazos Co. chair Mary Moore, and San Antonio labor lawyer David Van Os. As expected, the race was effectively between Soechting and Mauro, who divided 50 of the 63 available votes (with Malcolm abstaining) on the first ballot, Soechting at 28 and Mauro 22. Coleman, who had gotten seven votes, withdrew, and Soechting picked up six, to defeat Mauro 34-23 on the second ballot. (Moore got four votes, Van Os received two.)

In his speech to the committee, Soechting had stressed three goals for the party: raising money, recruiting candidates, and unifying the party. In the wake of his election, unity was not immediately in evidence; Mauro, the former three-term land commissioner and 1998 gubernatorial candidate, declared his intention to run again for chair at the state party convention next June -- although he added that he would watch Soechting's effectiveness to see if he should change his mind. (Malcolm was stepping down for personal reasons, shortly before her term expired, necessitating the vote for an interim chair. Only Coleman had declined openly to seek the permanent chairmanship.)

A few days before the vote, Mauro had been confident of victory, telling Naked City he believed he had enough commitments from executive committee members to win. He also had many endorsements from prominent state Democrats, but sources say Soechting campaigned more directly and effectively for the support of voting members. "Those endorsements from big names say Garry has been important in the past," said one party official. "But the committee members seem to be looking for somebody new."

After the vote, Soechting was happy to take aim at Republicans. "People have told me my language is sometimes too strong," he said, "but we are going to get after the rats that have run things into the ground in this state and this nation for too long."

In her farewell speech to the committee, Malcolm told party members to remember that whatever they do, to "keep their eyes on the prize." Malcolm briefly choked up as she spoke of her stepson, who recently returned from military service in Afghanistan only to be quickly reassigned to Iraq, telling his parents, "Some of us may not be coming back." "It matters that the truth be told about the reasons for a war," said Malcolm. "It's a scary time, and we need to take our democracy back."

Afterward, Coleman said he thinks Soechting will do "fine" as chair, and will be able to learn on the job. "The party is not one person," concluded Coleman. "He'll only be as good as the work we put into him."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Election 2004, Charles Soechting, Molly Beth Malcolm, Texas Democratic Party, Garnet Coleman, Mary Moore, Garry Mauro, David Van Os

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