OPINION

Until recently, the diverse Texas Democratic Party's 2022 lineup appeared to lack diversity

Until recently, the conversion about the Texas' 2022 statewide slate appeared limited to White men.

John C. Moritz
Corpus Christi Caller Times

AUSTIN — If Democrats had a mantra, it would probably be something like "diversity and inclusion."

So it's kind of strange that since jockeying in Texas began for positions on the party's 2022 statewide ballot, nearly all of the focus has been on white men. You might argue that there's some diversity within that group: One of the white guys is in his late 40s, one is in his late 50s, and two recently crossed into their 60s.

Beto O'Rourke speaks during the voting rights rally “For the People: The Texas Drive For Democracy” at the Texas Capitol on Sunday, June 20, 2020.

For the record, we're talking about Beto O'Rourke, who's 49 and expected to someday officially announce he's running for governor; 59-year-old Joe Jaworski, a former mayor of Galveston who's running for attorney general; and the two 60-year-olds, Mike Collier, who wants a rematch with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Matthew Dowd, the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat who also wants to take on Patrick.

The Republican side actually appears more diverse. The statewide field has plenty of white guys, for sure. But two Hispanic people are running for attorney general against incumbent Ken Paxton — Land Commissioner George P. Bush, whose mother was born in Mexico, and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman. State Rep. James White, an East Texas Republican who is Black, plans to challenge Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller. Paxton and Miller are white.

Rochelle Garza

But a more diverse statewide field appears to be shaping up on the Democratic side. On Monday, Brownsville lawyer Rochelle Garza dropped plans to seek an open South Texas congressional seat that was redrawn to give Republicans an edge and announced she was joining the race for attorney general. Dallas civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt, who is Black, has been running a low-key race for AG since July. Merritt has not been chasing headlines, but he has assembled a somewhat impressive list of small donors to his campaign.

Lee Merritt

And on Wednesday, a newcomer teased out vague plans about entering the political arena. Broadcast journalist Joy Diaz, who since 2005 has covered politics and public policy for Austin's public radio station, said she could no longer mask her biases while "covering the issues of race and inequality."

In a story posted on her station's website, Diaz said she plans to run for office. She didn't say which office, but a handful of Democratic operatives said she's been putting out feelers for a possible run for governor.

If that holds, it would pit her against O'Rourke — assuming he runs — and certainly test his strength both among Hispanic Democrats and across the party's base. In the 2018 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, before he transformed into the money-raising machine he would become in the general election contest against Ted Cruz, O'Rourke vastly underperformed in several heavily Hispanic border counties against little-known opponent Sema Hernandez.

Joy Diaz

Statewide, O'Rourke's margin of victory in the primary was a bit better than 60-40, which might be considered modest for someone who at the time was a three-term congressman running against a political novice.

The common notion is that for Democrats to do well, they need to present a diverse slate of candidates to generate excitement in the sundry subgroups that make up the party's base. Even though they have not fared well in statewide elections for a generation, the statewide slate can help pump up turnout in down-ballot local races.

With the recently completed redistricting process, which appears to strengthen the GOP's grip on the state House and Senate as well as the state's congressional delegation, and with Democratic President Joe Biden's anemic favorability ratings heading into next year's midterm elections, Democrats in Texas cannot afford to let any chance for excitement generation to slip from their grip.

John C. Moritz covers Texas government and politics for the USA Today Network in Austin. Contact him at jmoritz@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @JohnnieMo.

John Moritz