Texas Dems Grapple With Their Own Alvin Greene
By Hilary Hylton / Austin Sunday, Jun. 20, 2010
Kesha Rogers, winner of the U.S. Democratic Party primary election in Texas's 22nd congressional district
South Carolina's unexpected Democratic nominee for the US Senate, mystery man Alvin Greene, says he wants to play golf with Barack Obama. But in Texas, another surprise Democratic primary winner, congressional nominee Kesha Rogers, wants to impeach the President. So while South Carolina party officials are still unsure of what to do about Greene's success at the ballot box, Texas Democrats have no such reservations — they wasted little time in casting Rogers into exile and offering no support or recognition of her campaign to win what once was Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay's old seat.
Rogers, 33, told TIME she is a "full time political activist" in the Lyndon LaRouche Youth Movement, a recruiting arm of the LaRouche political organization that is active on many college campuses. The LYM espouses LaRouche opposition to free trade and "globalism" (the UN, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund) and it also calls for a return to a humanist classical education, emphasizing the works of Plato and Leibnitz. On her professional looking campaign website, kesharogers.com, she touts the LaRouche political philosophy — a mix of support for the economic policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the impeachment of President Obama — and calls Obama a "London and Wall Street backed puppet" whose policies will destroy the Democratic Party. During the campaign, she was photographed carrying an oversized portrait of the President with a Hitler-style moustache penciled on his lip.
Texas' 22nd district is a relatively conservative, primarily suburban area west and south of Houston that includes — thanks to DeLay's redistricting efforts — the NASA Johnson Space Center and surrounding aerospace industries, where residents have expressed concerns about cuts in manned space programs. Another major LaRouche-inspired plank in Rogers' platform is support for the colonization of Mars. "Help send me to Congress, and we can send our grandchildren to Mars!" was a Rogers' slogan during the campaign.
Unlike South Carolina's Greene, Rogers ran a high profile campaign, staking out a corner on a major intersection in the district to appear almost daily with a large sign: "Save NASA. Impeach Obama." She garnered 7,467 votes, 53% of the vote, in a three way race that included a local information systems analyst Doug Blatt, who gained endorsements from local Democratic clubs and labor groups, and Freddie John Weider Jr., a preacher and onetime Libertarian candidate; Blatt came in second with 28% of the vote and Weider won 20%. "The people of the 22nd district voted for me," she said. "They recognized the party is not acting in the interests of the people."
"There wasn't a lot of money in the race," Anthony Gutierrez, deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party said. "We probably could have done a better job of educating the voters on what the candidates' positions were." All three candidates raised similar amounts, according to Federal Election Commission reports. Rogers raised $16,000, mostly from individual contributions, while Blatt received $2,600 from the Democratic Party and spent $12,650 of his own money. Unlike in South Carolina, the TDP can't really claim it was blindsided. Rogers' LaRouche connections and banner-waving activities were detailed in the local media and she ran for the state party chair in 2006.
Gutierrez knows the 22nd well — he was the campaign manager for Nick Lampson, the last Democrat to successfully hold the seat following DeLay's mid-term resignation. In 2008, the popular Lampson even outperformed Obama in the district, as Democrats poured major resources in an attempt to hold it, Gutierrez said. But Lampson still lost in a three way race to Congressman Pete Olsen, the Republican who currently holds the seat — 52% to 45%, with the Libertarian Weider pulling a little over 2% of the vote. Lampson did as well as any Democrat could hope to do in the district, given its configuration, Gutierrez said, and party resources this year were better spent in more winnable races. Democrats have their eye on state races this year, hoping former Mayor Bill White will oust Gov. Rick Perry and Democrats can retake the statehouse and control the redistricting process.
Meanwhile, the state party has adopted a resolution denying any party support for Rogers, citing the alleged racist and discriminatory views of the LaRouche movement — allegations that Rogers, who is African-American, firmly rejects. District 22 has also been stricken from the party's official online list of congressional races. "No, I can't explain the result in CD 22," Houston progressive blogger Charles Kuffner wrote on his blog, Off the Kuff. "Stuff just happens sometimes, especially in races where not much attention is being paid."
One theory, according to a Democratic Party insider, is Rogers benefitted from her name being in the top position on the Fort Bend County ballot, where African-American Democratic interest was high in two local races. But Rogers rejects that notion. "I went to senior citizens centers. I was knocking on doors everywhere — everyone knew my positions, " she told TIME. "I don't think the Democratic Party leadership is getting it. The people continue to see more and more economic devastation and they don't see any real leadership." And for now, the party leadership will pretend that it can't see Rogers.