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Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa fends off two challengers, wins another term

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa fends off two challengers, wins another term” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Gilberto Hinojosa won reelection as chairman of the Texas Democratic Party on Saturday, defeating two challengers who sought to tap into members’ simmering frustrations over a lack of progress in the state, especially after their disappointing 2020 election.

Hinojosa, who first took over leadership of the state party in 2012, was up against Kim Olson, a former statewide and congressional candidate, as well as Carroll Robinson, chairman of the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats.

Hinojosa’s victory took two rounds of voting at the party’s convention Saturday in Dallas. After the first round, Robinson bowed out and backed Hinojosa, who then got 58% on the second ballot to 40% for Olson.

In his victory speech, Hinojosa recognized both his challengers, saying he listened and learned from their campaigns.

Hinojosa had argued he had grown the party immensely over the past decade, putting Democrats in a position to capture statewide office as soon as November. But his challengers said he has had enough time to deliver on turning Texas blue.

“Ten years ago, you elected me to be your chair, and I promised you that we would rebuild this party,” Hinojosa said in his final pitch to delegates. “Well, I’ve made good on our promise. We are now the biggest battleground state in the United States.”

The race went to a second round of voting after no candidate captured a majority on the first ballot. Hinojosa got 45%, Olson 37% and Robinson 18%.

In somewhat of a surprise, Robinson offered his support to Hinojosa after the first round.

“I think Kim Olson is a great person, and we’ve been on the trail together, but the folks who have stood with me, come this far, want us to stand together with Gilberto Hinojosa,” Robinson said from the convention stage, standing alongside his state senator, Borris Miles of Houston, as well as Hinojosa.

The 2020 election loomed large in the leadership race. Democrats had hoped for a historic breakthrough up and down the ballot but vastly underperformed, leading to some recriminations targeting the state party. Hinojosa convened a committee to look into what went wrong, and it produced a 29-page report citing Democrats’ suspension of in-person campaigning amid the coronavirus pandemic, among other things.

One of Hinojosa’s supporters alluded to the post-2020 discontent while introducing Hinojosa to the delegates Saturday.

“I know many of us wish the pace of change was faster, but true lasting leadership and change is steady and intentional,” said Dyana Limon-Mercado, executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes.

While Hinojosa faced serious opposition, the election on the convention floor was largely uncontentious. Olson did not criticize Hinojosa in her closing speech, instead pitching the need for a “four-year plan” for the party, more localized messaging and an ability to “throw a throat punch every once in a while to those Republicans.”

Robinson told delegates the reason Democrats do not win is because some “do not understand that Black voters are the backbone of the party.”

Olson, a retired Air Force colonel, was the 2018 Democratic nominee for agriculture commissioner and then an unsuccessful primary candidate for a battleground congressional seat two years later. She seemed to pose the most serious threat to Hinojosa, garnering the support of nearly 70 county party chairs, including in some of the state’s most populous areas. Hailing from Palo Pinto County, she also enjoyed particular support among rural Democrats who have felt written off under Hinojosa.

But Hinojosa retained the confidence of most of the state’s top elected Democrats, and he persistently reminded delegates of how far the party had come in a decade — even if Democrats still do not hold statewide office. Earlier in the race, he and Olson clashed over allegations that she shoved a party staffer during a 2018 bus tour for statewide candidates.

The Texas GOP held its convention last month in Houston, where it reelected former state Rep. Matt Rinaldi as chairman. He did not face any opposition.

Hinojosa had said that if reelected to another four-year term, it would be his last.

Disclosure: Planned Parenthood has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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