The Austin Chronicle

Dem Party Chair: Who Can Replace Harding?

Two formidable candidates for TCDP chair

By Nina Hernandez, February 16, 2018, News

After being appointed to his position in 2015 and winning his only election unopposed in 2016, Travis County Demo­cratic Party Chair Vincent Harding announced in Sep­tem­ber that he wouldn't run for another term, leaving a void many thought would be filled by former Assistant County Attorney Rick Cofer. But that candidacy went up amid a cloud of smoke characteristic of #MeToo; the party activist withdrew within a month after allegations of sexual harassment. Though Cofer's initial statement attributing his decision to the "strong female candidates waiting on the sidelines" rang a bit hollow, it did pave the way for the current slate of candidates.

Each of the women running hopes to flip the script on the current state of the local party, which after recent years embroiled in the saga of state Rep. Dawnna Dukes must now focus its attention on shoring itself up to face a midterm election. Dyana Limon-Mercado, deputy executive director for Planned Par­ent­hood Texas Votes, has staked her campaign on grassroots support, and prioritizes connecting the party to people of color and working Austinites who she said are traditionally left out of the party's decision-making processes. Attorney Anne Wynne has raised money for candidates since her time working for Ann Richards, and boasts a wide establishment support that includes the Texas Democratic Party delegation. She's billing herself as the best person to rebuild the party from an organizational standpoint.

Wynne has chaired the Texas State Gen­er­al Services Commission and was the first female member of the Texas Trans­port­a­tion Commission. And around the turn of the century, when conservatives were pushing constitutional amendments banning gay marriage in states across the country, Wynne founded Atticus Circle. The organization of "fair-minded straight people" worked to advance rights for LGBTQ partners and their families. But the crux of Wynne's platform is an ability to fill the county coffers at an important time. "I know what it takes to get an organization stabilized and funded," she recently told a forum hosted by the Workers Defense Project. "I'm happy to ask people for money, especially when it's not for me but for good causes. And that's the reason that I'm asking for this job."

Limon-Mercado, meanwhile, remembers watching with dissatisfaction last fall as Hard­ing's supposed successor was seemingly chosen with little community input or outreach. "I think that process really turned a lot of people off, who sort of felt like this is the sort of lack of small-D democracy that has been underpinning a lot of the Demo­crat­ic Party lately," she said. "I think there's been a call from the community that we need to have more fair and transparent processes." She hopes to bring that transparency and accountability to an organization she said doesn't often reach beyond the same familiar faces (and pockets) when it comes to organizing. She also has experience fundraising through Planned Parent­hood, and her deep connections to the activist community give her cause to believe she can fundamentally change how the party engages the community.

"I have more of a grassroots approach [to fundraising] that I believe is imperative," she said, "so that we're not driven by traditional power dynamics of big money influence."

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