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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

The Grassroots Resurrection of Denton County

Denton County has been a Republican stronghold for many years, but the Denton County Democratic Party has made strides toward reclaiming support among the citizens of North Texas communities. A building grassroots presence among Democrats has been slowly growing over the last few years and is about to be unleashed in the 2008 election cycle.

It should be noted that Denton County’s political offices are held entirely by the GOP. But this does not deter those who want to change a county just north of the newly blue enclave of Dallas. The official Democratic Party structure in the county includes the county chair and precinct chairs. As few as five years ago, the party only involved anywhere from 10 to 20 precinct chairs for the entire county, out of 140 voting precincts. The number of precinct chairs has steadily increased as Democrats make gains in other parts of the country and state. The current number of precinct chairs reached 50 this summer. Thanks in part to active recruitment of friends and neighbors, the Precinct Chair Leadership Committee has worked diligently to add to the party. It also held its first grassroots training class for new and existing precinct chairs in June of this year.

Committees such as Precinct Chair Leadership have made a resurgence due to active county chairs who want to make a difference. Former County Chairwoman Edra Bogle’s active involvement in groups such as Democracy for America started the grassroots push in local party politics. She stepped down in 2006 and was replaced by UNT professor Dr. John Gossett. Dr. Gossett’s vision included pushing the party into areas of the county long since neglected outside of the city of Denton. Holding meetings in Lewisville, house parties in Krum and Plano, and booths in Highland Village were all a way to show that Democrats exist in all parts of Denton County. Unfortunately, Dr. Gossett suffered health problems that led to a short tenure as Chair. A contest to replace him this past spring resulted in Issues & Policy Committee Chairman Neil Durrance becoming Chairman of the county party. Mr. Durrance has continued the policy of covering all parts of the county, and has been working actively to give Democrats a message.

While the message is prepared, others are preparing the candidates to take that message to the people. The Candidate Recruitment Committee initiated a program called Project Farm Team. Chairman Steve Southwell envisioned a system similar to that of the farm system in baseball that built potential candidates up before they hit the ground running in the big leagues. "We are all about preparing individuals to take up the battle against crime, corruption, and cronyism that currently tarnishes our public sector. We are about taking people of integrity and giving them the tools they need to make a successful campaign," Southwell said. "But Project Farm Team is also about encouraging leadership, activism, and public service outside of government. We're very excited about Project Farm Team, and we have heard from other Democrats across the state that they are anxious to see how well it works out."

Potential candidates attend training sessions and listen to speakers of various experience levels, while learning about what offices could be a good fit for them. Some members are former candidates and even former office holders. One candidate has already emerged from the system: Carrollton lawyer Karen Guerra has announced her intention to run for 16th District Court Judge. Another goal of Project Farm Team is to prepare a coordinated campaign for Denton County in 2008. The 2006 coordinated campaign in Dallas County resulted in a clean sweep of every contested judicial seat. A similar attempt may be made by Denton County in the 2008 election cycle to pool resources and make a run at taking back at least some, if not all, of the seats up for grabs.

Aside from the pomp and circumstance of the party structure, several groups have formed in the county to provide a social outlet while at the same time promoting Democratic ideals. One of the largest and most active groups are the Flower Mound Democrats, which welcomes residents of Flower Mound, Lewisville, Highland Village, and other municipalities in southern Denton County. Local Democrats meet once a month at a bar & grill just south of Lake Lewisville to discuss activities in the area. "The Flower Mound Democrats are excited about growing membership and enthusiastic participation in the upcoming election year," said FM President Jennifer Giles. "With our upcoming GPAC status, we look forward to being a true force in grassroots campaign efforts and for long-term political change in Denton County and Texas." FM Democrats also hosts a book club and a very active discussion group on Yahoo.

Another very active group is the local Democracy for America meetup. Activists from Denton and other areas of the county meet in Lake Dallas for monthly grassroots action. The DFA group was instrumental in providing 2006 Attorney General candidate David Van Os with his largest attended courthouse tour stop in the state, as well as collecting money to get a Van Os billboard erected in Interstate 35 in Denton.

Newer groups are sprouting up every day in Denton County. In July of 2006, the Young Democrats of Denton County were formed by charter members of Denton and Dallas. The Young Democrats have worked to become one of the best outlets for Democrats aged 14 to 40 to serve the county. “We have big plans for the upcoming year! We always have some sort of community service project going on," according to DCYD President Lauren Molidor. “It is going to be a challenge to match our accomplishments from last year since we achieved so much, but we are excited about it all.” Members were able to hold a successful canned food drive at Thanksgiving, a winter coat drive, and a school supplies drive for area school districts. The Young Democrats also have adopted a local highway for cleanup and conservation.

Another national organization with a new local chapter is Stonewall Democrats. The Stonewall Democrats of Denton County will provide an outlet for GLBT Democrats to promote gay rights in the conservative county, as well as help Democrats get elected. Since I moved to Denton County in 2005, I realized that more and more GLBT people were coming to the county from Dallas and other areas, and the Democratic Party needs the community’s support and vice versa. Starting a Stonewall chapter in the county will help show the people of Denton and other cities that we do exist, and we do support progressive ideas. We will be completing an alliance that encompasses chapters in Dallas, Collin, and Tarrant counties. The first meeting of the new Stonewall chapter turned out 21 supporters from Denton County, as well as the other local Stonewall chapters. Acting officers were recently determined and all four of us are Denton County activists: I will serve as President, former county chair Edra Bogle will be Vice President, precinct chair Jillian Baxter will be Secretary, and Carrollton Project supporter Dave Wozniak will be Treasurer. Upcoming events will see Stonewall members at Dallas Gay Pride and the Denton County Democratic Party's Donkeyfest. The seeds have been planted for a vibrant club to emerge.

Local liberal bloggers comprise an integral part of Denton County’s grassroots action. Three renowned blogs have hit the web in recent years. Whosplayin? is commanded by Steve Southwell and provides an opinionated look at Denton County politics, as well as local random occurrences. The blog’s main target, conservative GOP Congressman Dr. Michael Burgess, became a regular reader and even agreed to be interviewed. North Texas Liberal is another blog, created by members of the Flower Mound Democrats. Six local activists regularly contribute to the blog, providing an outlet for local political news, as well as news from around the Texas blogosphere.

And as you the loyal reader know,The Texas Blue is the newest progressive publication based in Denton County. The Texas Blue is the brainchild of former Congressional candidate Curtis Clinesmith, his law partner Karl Lynch, George Nassar, and Josh Berthume, all of whom were founding members of the local Young Democrats group. Regular podcast interviews from local, state, and national leaders let us all know Who’s Blue. Many of the Texas Blue's staff writers, such as myself, have experience in other journalistic endeavors, as well as a history of contributing to other blogs such as the popular Burnt Orange Report.

Democratic candidates in Denton County have a lot to look forward to in 2008. Upbeat activists are ready to support them. Hopeful donors are ready to open their check books. And together, Denton County can turn blue with the help of a surging grassroots movement.

If you would like to support the Denton County Democratic Party, please consider donating via ActBlue by clicking here.

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