On The Record: Molly Beth Malcolm
Sun, 03/04/2007 - 11:05am
For this installment, I talked with Molly Beth Malcolm, former Texas Democratic Party chair and current member of the Texarkana College Board of Trustees.
How did you get started in politics? Did you come to it in your youth or later on?
I grew up in a family where my parents taught me to always vote. When I was an elementary school counselor in Arkansas, I had a student who came to me because she had been sexually molested by a neighbor. After receiving no help from the Department of Human Services I called our state senator, and after talking to him, the student was removed from the home. The senator wanted to know what to do to change the system, so I worked with him to get the law changed. It was then that I had an "ah ha" moment that it was about more than voting. If you really wanted to make a difference, you should get involved in the process. My family moved to Longview, and I knew that I wanted to get involved but I didn't know if I was a Democrat or Republican.
At the time, Republicans were doing a good job of recruiting people. It took me a while to find out that what they say and do are two different things. The deeper we got involved, the more we realized that it was rhetoric versus reality with them. On the night of the 1992 precinct meeting, there were 32 people attending. They passed some of the most frightening resolutions I had ever heard. I stood up for the public schools because I knew the things they were accusing them of were not going on. Even so, the resolutions passed. After we left, I told my husband I would never again have anything to do with the Republican Party. That night I called some of my Democratic friends, switched parties and became an RR, a "Recovering Republican". I then became a die-hard Democrat; I even have a 12-step program for Recovering Republicans!
What was your personal progression from the role of activist to the role of a leader?
I was a volunteer who started Bowie County Democratic Women in 1994 and was taken under the wing of some wonderful Texas Democratic women leaders who encouraged me on a regular basis. I worked for Max Sandlin as his field director in 1996 and then as his District Spokesperson from 1997-1998. I was on the State Democratic Executive Committee beginning in 1995 as well as President of the Texas Democratic Women from 1997-1999. John Sharp asked me to run for Party Chair in 1998 and then others started calling. I was elected unanimously in June 1998 as the first woman to chair the Texas Democratic Party. I was reelected unanimously in 2000 and 2003.
What would you say are the primary issues concerning the area in which you live?
They are very much the same issues that concern the rest of the state: education, health care, and the environment. Locally water issues are huge in East Texas. We are constantly fighting to reserve water rights and protect people's property. Higher education is also important.
How do local politics affect your family?
It is a tremendous sacrifice to be a public servant. I have the most wonderful family in the world, and my husband is a saint. While serving in Austin I wasn't home a lot, and I don't know how many husbands are as understanding as mine. Sometime I only saw him once every two weeks. During the 2000 elections I rarely saw him. The impact on your family is tremendous. When you become an elected official, you have a responsibility to your family and state. Ultimately, family must come first. There were two major things that helped me decide to step down from State Party Chair. I had a son about to go to Iraq, and I had a daughter getting married. Bruce and I had been to see our son and when we left him, the last thing he said to us was "I knew when I went to Afghanistan, we would all come back. I know we won't all come back from Iraq." Flying home, I thought to myself that if something happened to our son while in Iraq, I needed to be home with my husband. And every time I would come home to work on wedding things, I would be caught up on cell phone calls with political work. That helped me to realize that I did not want to miss being a part of every moment of Rendi's wedding plans. It was then that I decided that it was time to step down.
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 ran for and was elected last May to the Texarkana College Board. I beat an 18 year incumbent. I do not presently have plans for higher office at this time, but you never close the door. You never know when an opportunity will arise.
Who are some of your political heroes?
Lyndon Johnson is a great hero and great president because of his willingness to sign the Civil Rights Act, even though he knew it would kill the Democratic Party in the South for years to come. But he knew it was the right thing to do. Also Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Jordan, for being great role models to Democratic women.
What would you say has been the single most defining moment in your political life?
The "ah ha" moment when I helped the fifth grader and realized you can make a difference, and that elected officials can change things for those who have no power. All it takes is one person to get involved and help people. I would also say the 2000 presidential election. Early in 1999, we knew that George Bush was going to be running for President and the media was talking to me as State Party Chair because I was very willing to be honest about George Bush. I was asked by the Democratic National Committee to attend the Republican National Convention to serve as moderator for the daily Democratic press conferences. The last ten days before the election I was with the National Democratic Chairman wherever George Bush was. When I came back to Austin on Election Day, I felt confident that Gore would win. It was a frightening moment to watch us win that election and not assume the Presidency. Watching what has happened in our country with George Bush as President is very sobering.
What are you looking forward to in the coming cycle?
On a national level, this group of Democratic candidates is the most qualified that we have had in a while. It's going to be an exciting presidential primary. In Texas, I look forward to us gaining more Legislative seats and winning statewide in 2010.
What advice would you give to young people just getting into politics?
Always be honest with yourself and the people you work for. Find someone you admire and ask them to be a mentor to you. We need young people in everything that we are doing, and it's also important for younger people to find older people to learn something from. You should get involved in a campaign that you're interested in, and be willing to get up the earliest, work the longest, and take initiative to do things without being asked.
What one thing would you say a political organization never has enough of?
Money and volunteers; you absolutely have to have both. You must have enough money to stay competitive, especially in a state the size of Texas, and you always need volunteers.
What has been the most valuable lesson you've learned in politics?
This is inspired by a cartoon I have that says, "No matter how hard you work, no matter how right you are, sometimes the dragon wins." But I say never give up, even when he does win. Always keep fighting for what you believe in.