Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Texas Parties Vie for Family-Values Title

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Texas Parties Vie for Family-Values Title

Article excerpt

ONE Saturday every month in Lake Highlands, a Republican-saturated neighborhood of Dallas, 80 Democrats gather to "undemonize" themselves.

That is the word used by Ed Martin, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, to describe what Texans can expect to see more of: Democrats engaged in civic-spirited, publicity-generating activities like litter collection in public parks - especially if GOP lawmakers have just cut spending on the environment.

The idea is to get noticed by voters so Democrats can define themselves as the party of strong community values. As it is, Republicans have done a good job of depicting Democrats as "non-Christian, non-ethical no-goods," admits state Rep. Tom Ramsay, a Democrat from East Texas.

Now Democrats are taking the offensive - and taking seriously the stated GOP goal of capturing both houses of the Texas legislature for the first time in 120 years in next year's elections.

The fight for control of the pink granite statehouse here is symbolic of a struggle going on throughout the South. Despite the Republican realignment in the region last fall, the GOP has yet to take control of many state and local offices in the region.

These often serve as the bullpen for candidates who go on to run for higher offices, and thus the fight going on in Texas, as in other southern states, will help shape the balance of power nationally in the years ahead.

"Nineteen ninety four served as a wakeup call to a lot of our folks," Mr. Martin says. "We've got to make it clear that we're walking our talk."

That message was preached to more than 200 party leaders from around the state on a recent weekend at a Democratic training session in Austin. And it will be emphasized when Democrats take the sessions on the road prior to elections, Martin says.

"In my district, it's important to be a Democrat and to be responsive to Christian values," Mr. Ramsay says. "That's what gets you elected." It was Ramsay, rather than a Republican, who amended a recent school reform bill to establish a two-minute opportunity for prayer.

It may be natural for a rural conservative like Ramsay to take a stand associated with the GOP. …

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