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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

On The Record: Clifton Walker

For this installment of On The Record, I spoke with Clifton Walker, Legislative Director for Texas State Representative Joe Farias.

How did you get started in politics? Did you come to it in your youth or later on?

I would say it started with a perverse interest in C-SPAN. I watched a panel discussion for the 2004 elections in which all the chiefs of staff were present, and I was very interested, to say the least.

Howard Dean was a hot potato at the time, and it looked like the people involved were on the edge of something amazing. The energy was there, especially with Dean, before the infamous speech that turned the media cold to his efforts. I wanted to be involved in something that could make a difference.

I became involved with Dean locally and ended up in Iowa knocking on doors for him in freezing temperatures. The Dean campaign didn’t work out in the end, but despite the 18% showing we received, a friend of mine and I were pumped up by the excitement of it all. My friend convinced me to hitchhike to New Hampshire where we worked in Berlin, New Hampshire, a rural area, for our cause. We became campaign tourists, in a way, and then headed back to San Antonio where we became involved in the Kerry campaign.

What was your personal progression from the role of activist to Legislative Director for Representative Farias?

I worked for Congressman Henry Cuellar doing district work, which is not the glamorous side of politics by any means, but I can’t complain. I dealt directly with the voters, which is sometimes hard when you deal with complaints. However, I feel this process is an important aspect in navigating democracy through giving the voters a voice with their representatives, and I am proud I could learn from the experience. I then worked on Representative Farias’ campaign, which led to working for him now as his Legislative Director.

What would you say are the primary issues concerning your area?

I am originally from San Antonio, and in the areas of District 118, the needs are very pronounced. The district is as diverse as they come, ranging from poor and fairly liberal in some areas to more affluent and conservative in others. The district has a wide range of needs which need to be attended.

Each area requires different attention from the government. In the southern part of the district, the needs range from Medicaid assistance to improving the quality of education in the area. School vouchers, which pull money from public schools, are an issue because of shared concerns about privatizing education, and fear that the money taken will lessen the quality of the public schools available.

Toll roads are important all over the area, however. Roads, which are traditionally a state service, are becoming a private equity for the companies involved in the dealings. The Trans Texas Corridor travels through District 118, and there are cities which could be cut in half or disappear completely if the project continues as planned.

Information over the issue of private companies supplying the toll roads has been made impossible for the public to see. A 75 year contract has been signed, and the public is not sure about the details of the agreement. The state has made an agreement, by waiving their sovereign immunity, in order to not to be able to compete with the Trans Texas Corridor. This agreement states the state will not be able to improve any existing roads near the new toll roads being placed. The state is also not allowed to build any new roads near the tollways in order to keep away competition and to give the people no other alternative but to use the new tollways.

Do you have plans to run for any party office, or possibly even public office?

I was Regional Director Chair of the Texas Young Democrats, and I am currently the Vice Chair of the San Antonio Young Democrats. I have thought about running, but I enjoy working behind the scenes.

Who are some of your political heroes?

I have great affection for Lon Burnam. He may be one of the more liberal members of the party, but I really admire his approach to making a point. His position is not always the most popular, but he is insistent in voicing his opinion on the matter, even in the face of adversity.

I also feel Howard Dean has transformed the party in a great way. He is not the perfect candidate, but who is? His vision of the “50 State Strategy” has given Texas the ability to become a viable party when most had counted us out of the picture completely.

John Edwards has an interesting message and tone in the race, and I am interested to see where it goes.

I am currently reading about Abraham Lincoln, and even though he was a Republican, I would like to think he would be a Democrat now under current situations.

What are you looking forward to in the coming cycle?

I am looking for true, progressive candidates that understand the priorities of their constituents. I would like to see real progressives, not crazed liberals, but people who can articulate a reasonable progressive idea and who can find ways in which to achieve their ideas and ideals.

Hopefully, we can achieve minimal compromise on our agenda, since we now have the majority in D.C. We have had to concede so much in the last years due to the Republican majority, and we now have a chance to change the current settings with our ideas.

Also, I am looking forward to a transformative candidate. Our Presidential candidates are diverse, and they can transform things by who they are or by their message. I think it is a time for big ideas in our country. We are at a major pivot in the direction of our country, and Democrats can take things in the right direction now that the voters have said that they are ready for a change.

I believe we will have interesting House primary races here, and we have a chance to capitalize on our gains from the previous years and pick up more seats. We might be able to pick up enough new seats to elect a new speaker, if not in 2008 then in 2010. I hope for interesting, new statewide candidates to emerge, and maybe someone to challenge Cornyn. I think we will be able to make a good showing of it, anyhow.

I think it’s time to outraise the Republicans and start the shift in the mechanics of the way we do campaigns. The shifting of power is noticeable, and we won the House; Democratic investment is the way to go in 2008. The hope for new public opinion about Republican leadership is one thing I hope for as well. Watching the Republicans' failed leadership has given us an opportunity to rise to the occasion. Hopefully we will be given a chance.

What one thing would you say a political organization never has enough of?

Obviously money is important, because more money is always helpful in spreading the message, but in Texas we need young, competent political operatives. I do not equate professional with cynicism. Cynicism is sometimes appropriate, but having people who are idealistic and are running strong races with money behind them allows for training opportunities for more people to become professional in the field, which is what Texas needs.

The “50 State Strategy” is very important and is helping further the party in a positive direction. I believe it has been a success here in Texas. Because we had the professionals available, we were able to keep Democrat Pete Laney’s seat in a very Republican area. It is very important to further these types of professionals and give them opportunities to run successful races.

Tell us a little bit about being the Legislative Director for a Texas State Representative, and what roles you feel like you fulfill in that, official or otherwise.

Officially, I help articulate the legislative package and translate it into bills we can file. I draft, file, and usher the bills. Safeguarding is good but tough, and since my boss is a freshman in the minority party, there are obstacles to overcome. Representative Farias stood against the Speaker, which doesn’t necessarily help get our bills pushed forward. It doesn’t stop them, though. Also, keeping an eye out for other bills to co-sponsor or stand against is important in order to assist Representative Farias’ view. We also look for bills which can be amended.

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