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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

On The Record: Deborah Angell Smith

For this episode of On The Record, I spoke with Deborah Angell Smith, chair of the Democratic Party of Collin County.

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

I was the Young Democrats president in junior college in Corpus Christi. My boyfriend at the time was interested, which sparked my interest as well. I had planned to join and went to the first meeting. I was elected Secretary/Treasurer at the meeting. The vice president and president were elected as well, but they turned out not to be qualified, and by default I became president. I was president during the Jimmy Carter election and was able to help coordinate an event on campus with Carter’s son. I enjoyed it very much, and it was a fun event to organize.

My high school government teacher, Sandy Watts, who is now a judge, was very inspirational to me. I got the “political” bug in her class and wanted to be involved.

What was your personal progression from the role of activist to the role of County Chair?

I was fairly active with my teachers and helped in state Democratic Party meetings. Texas was solidly Democratic then and a schism had formed between the conservative and liberal Democrats. I became frustrated with the internal fighting and quit participating after junior college. I continued to vote but I didn’t attend the local political events.

I later moved to Dallas, and my neighbor there had been a political consultant previously and she began to peak my interest in politics again. Her daughter was involved in the Democratic Party of Collin County, and I went to a few meetings. I was asked to help with organizing and volunteers. I became involved there, even though I didn’t actually live in the county. I chose to move there when I relocated, after I developed the relationships. I had new energy around 2002 at the county convention where there was a need for my personal skills. I helped with block-walking and it was a good effort. I was elected county chair in 2003, after the former chair stepped down. I had been involved in organizing and I seemed to be the logical person to step into the role, and I had time to devote to the position.

What would you say are the primary issues concerning Collin County?

The issues are common to other counties in Texas, like air quality and transportation issues. The TxDOT agenda is to use toll roads in Collin and Denton County to pay for roads elsewhere. We end up paying the toll for the other roads.

Specific to Collin County, we have an entrenched county structure. We were able to run a candidate for the County Commissioner named Baumbach, and were able to bring issues with the government to the forefront in his election.

There wasn’t much involvement locally in politics until then. Many people are interested in national issues due to the media, but there is more opportunity to make a difference at a local level. The Democrats had not had a county commissioner candidate in 20 years and we found the incumbents had developed an attitude of entitlement. The incumbents had been receiving longevity pay, which was a huge issue. They were also receiving other benefits, like health coverage and car allowances. Our candidate, Bill, addressed these issues and was able to do away with the longevity pay. The fact he was in the race made him able to address these issues, which had been unaddressed for years.

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

I haven’t really focused on that at this point, but we should all think about it farther down the road. I moved to Allen recently, and I haven’t been able to be involved locally yet.

Who are some of your political heroes?

Ann Richards is one that I admire greatly; her ability to connect with the voters and speak truth to power is very admirable. She certainly was a trailblazer. Molly Ivins; she is somebody that I love. Her writing was unique, and she had the ability to identify problems and get to the point of an issue without much fuss. She was very similar to Ann in that she could communicate in a way that voters could understand the problems and solutions. Democrats have a problem with getting mired in detail and we often don’t communicate effectively, but these ladies found a way.

Rafael Anchia has an opportunity to do great things. I have been very impressed so far.

What are you looking forward to in the coming cycle?

It’s an exciting cycle because of the opportunity for Democrats to take advantage of the Republicans. There are always fractions in parties, but the Republicans’ problems are very obvious right now, and we have several candidates that would make wonderful presidents.

Locally, we are focusing on finding as may credible and qualified candidates as possible. In 2006, we found having options and talking about our issues has an effect on the policy politicians address in office.

What would you say the political breakdown of your family is? Is it mostly Democratic or are you somewhat unique?

My immediate family is Democratic. My mother always referred to herself as a Yellow Dog Democrat. However, I have a problem with people that assume, when they find that out from a person’s background, that you don’t think for yourself when choosing your preference. When I look at the issues and policy, I don’t see an option. The Democratic Party, to me, is the only one that represents my values. I feel very fortunate that my issues correspond with the Democratic Party. When I look at the Republican issues and views, I am scared of their stance on issues.

What advice would you give to young people just getting into politics?

One thing would be to actually get involved locally through a campaign or precinct, which allows you to make a difference on a local level. Often, we sit and debate issues as opposed to actually doing something. I think that’s one of the reasons Democrats have lost ground. We used to be known for being close to the people and having a great structure.

I think it’s important for young people to get involved, and it gives you a chance to broaden your horizons and think for yourself. Talking to other people gives you perspective on why they believe the way they do.

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

Money comes to mind, but even more importantly are activists that are willing to take a leadership role. I think Collin County has been fortunate to significantly increase out potential volunteers, but it’s hard to find people to step up and organize and take responsibility.

What has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in politics?

Think before you speak. That’s a challenge for some, especially extroverts. Most extroverts speak as they are processing and don’t stop and think. Especially in a potential situation where it can be important, you have to think and speak in a different manner. I’ve found the more you speak publicly, the more comfortable you become in the position. Public speaking is a learned art, but it has to be effective.

Tell us a little bit about the Democratic Party of Collin County, and what roles you feel like you fulfill in that group, official or otherwise.

Officially, I have the responsibility of dealing with setting up elections. I am responsible for the funds that the state issues to conduct the primary elections. The first year was a shock for me, when I received a check for enough to buy a small house, and I realized I was responsible for that large amount of money. I realized fines could ensue if not handled correctly. There are a number of statutory requirements: holding meetings, posting information for the public, and retaining records. It’s like a club, but it comes with even more responsibility, and you have to take it very seriously and it is a challenge.

Informally, I deal with internal personalities and keeping the peace between members. Most people realize we are working toward the same goals, so it’s easier to get people to set aside their own differences to improve the party.

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