Texas Matters
12:26 pm
Fri September 7, 2012

Texans at the DNC, Party Power Changes and Juvenile Justice

More from the Democratic National Convention from TPR's Ryan Loyd. Is Texas on the verge of being a fertile ground for Democratic candidates? The Quorum Report's Harvey Kronberg shares his thoughts on future elections in Texas. An update on the Texas juvenile justice system five years since the scandal broke at the Texas Youth Commission.

Texas at the Democratic National Convention

Ryan Loyd - Texas Public Radio

For Erin Moore, Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Transgender (LGBT) issues are the most important. She said she’s here to listen and help form how the Democratic Party views and treats the LGBT community.

Moore says the marriage equality platform voted on this week is a monumental step in the right direction.
She says a growing number of people are fighting for marriage equality in their own states, but she also knows many are fighting to preserve the Defense of Marriage Act.

“You know," said Moore, "it’s all about being scared of the unknown and people not, people trying to hold on to their small slice of the world instead of recognizing that the world is bigger than they are. And, you know, that every voting citizen in this United States that pays taxes should have equal rights. It’s that simple. It’s in the constitution.”

The delegates feel the overall tone of the convention is one of acceptance, electrifying speeches and excitement for the future of the Democratic Party.

“I think it’s amazing. I mean you know, there are always small niggling issues but when you look at the big picture, this has been one of the most inclusive and open conventions of all time,” said Moore.

They are here to support President Barack Obama’s efforts to get elected to his second term, but to do that, Patti Fink says the Latino vote is the all-important demographic. She says there are plans in place, under the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, to increase voter turnout.

“It surprises me how close it is, that we could do this, this is very doable,” said Fink of the possibility of turning Texas purple and then blue.

Healthy speculation

While at the DNC, it’s easy for the delegates and the spectators to get swept away by the flowing Kool-Aid. It’s one thing to speculate that Texas is ripe for a political sea change and then look at the numbers – and it’s clear Texas is a long way from going blue.

Harvey Kronberg, editor of the Quorum report:

Harvey Kronberg from a video of
Credit Harvey Kronberg / Quorum Report

"I think that not being from San Antonio and not being as familiar with him, he dramatically exceeded my expectations. Ithought it was a well-written speech and well delivered, and had Michelle Obama not knocked it out of the park, Julián Castro would've dominated the next 24 hour news cycle."

Kronberg said that most of the people he's been talking to believe that the Texas shift to electing Democrats will be in the 2018 election cycle, but we should keep an eye on how this year plays out. He said that with one exception, Texas has not voted statewide for a democrat for president above 44 percent since 1998, so if Obama can get about 46 percent, they could build some quick momentum.

"I'm personally persuaded that despite Gov. Perry saying he is running for re-election, he probably will not; Greg Abbot will run for Governor. No governor two years before an election can say that he's not going to run again because he becomes a lame-duck going into the legislative session... Whichever one does make the run will win the Republican primary and then the question is: Can Democrats bring enough resource to general election to compete successfully against Rick Perry or Greg Abbott?

Juvenile Justice in Texas 5 years after Youth Commission abuse

In February 2007, The Texas Observer broke the story about rampant child sex abuse by staff members working for the Texas Youth Commission. The tales of what went on at the West Texas State School near Pyote were akin to the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State. And there are allegations that officials in the Governor’s office were informed of the sexual abuse problem but took no action.

Soon more allegations came to light at other State Juvenile Correctional Facilities and after an investigation it was found that there were over 750 complaints of sexual misconduct against correctional officers and other TYC employees between 2000 and 2007.

The state legislature reformed the system by dismantling the Texas Youth Commission and creating the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. But was this simply a name change? Five years later, how is the youth correctional system working today?

Texas Observer reporter Patrick Michles: "Texas Bets on Small Fixes to Reduce Violence in Youth Lockups"

"They've certainly changed a whole lot of it and they've shrunk the system a whole lot in terms of how many kids are in the lockups. One of the things that's happened is you go from about 4,000 kids to about 1,100 now - all of them in there because they've committed a felony - and so it's a rougher crowd than it was before. So something we've seen early this year is the youth-on-youth violence was kind of skyrocketing."

"Part of the restructuring of the system was that they merged the TYC with the State Juvenile Probation Department, so it created one streamlined system geared largely toward community-based probation options, halfway houses... If you commit a misdemeanor and you are a juvenile, that's where you are headed. It will keep you closer to your family; it's less intense than being in a lockup so that's where the extra couple thousand went."

"I think the whole system is all about coming up with anger management strategies, and education, GED training, ideas about what is going to happen when you get out. Of course its really tough. What they are trying to do is to break those cues that set the kids on the wrong path when they are back at home, but eventually they get back home, so they want to be armed with those tools."

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