Former Texas congressman discusses ‘watershed election’

Pundits and prognosticators have jammed the airwaves and the blogosphere in recent weeks with predictions about today’s presidential primaries in Texas and Ohio. But the seemingly endless buzz notwithstanding, members of the Yale College Democrats took a moment to listen last night when the guest at their weekly meeting, Martin Frost, told the audience that he thinks Sen. Barack Obama will win the Texas contest.

That’s because Frost, currently the president of America Votes, a grassroots coalition that organizes voter turnout in swing states, served from 1979 to 2005 as a Democratic congressman from Texas.

“If [Sen. Hillary Clinton LAW ’73] loses Texas, even narrowly, there will be enormous pressure on her not to continue with the race,” even if she carries Ohio, said Frost, who has not endorsed either candidate.

“Of course, I’m not a seer,” he added, acknowledging that if Clinton takes both Texas and Ohio, she will be gather a head of steam as the fight for the nomination heads into the handful of states yet to vote.

Frost — who as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the 1996 and 1998 election cycles fought to retake the House from the Republicans — spoke to the Dems about the 2008 election last night in the Branford College common room.

The Texas primary may well prove to be decisive in choosing this year’s Democratic nominee, Frost said, as Clinton’s campaign made a “strategic mistake” by not recognizing that the Democratic Party in Texas has become increasingly liberal.

But regardless of who represents the party in November, Frost sees 2008 as a “watershed election,” as important as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s creation of a Democratic coalition in 1932 or Ronald Reagan’s mainstreaming of conservatism in 1980.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Frost, who said he was motivated by his central and eastern European heritage, led a special task force that helped nine post-Soviet nations transition to democracy. In 1996, the abduction and murder of a nine-year old girl in the Dallas-Fort Worth area prompted Frost to create the Amber Alerts, a community action program that helps locate missing children.

During his time in Congress, Frost served as a member of the Committee on Rules and as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking position in the Party leadership.

Frost intimated these opportunities had fallen into his lap — they came along at the “right place, right time,” as he put it to those in attendance. But Frost knows no one can jump straight to the top.

“I have a feeling about half of the people in this room want to run for office someday,” he said, smiling.

The laughter in the room suggested he was not far off his mark, and the crowd was appreciative when Frost extolled the virtues of the college campaign volunteer who starts at the bottom, going door to door, stuffing envelopes, making phone calls.

Attendees described Frost as “refreshing,” both because of his perspective as a Texas Democrat and because of his emphasis on the importance of getting involved in politics.

The Dems frequently host local politicians but do not often have contact with southern Democrats, who offer an important perspective on the party, Yale Dems President Ben Shaffer ’09 said.

Yale Dems Membership Coordinator Sarah Turbow ’10 said she was impressed by Frost’s optimism and enthusiasm after so many years of public service.

“He saw politics as a calling,” she said. “It was clear that he got a lot of joy out of it.”

Reflecting on his three decades in politics, Frost seemed to corroborate Turbow’s words. His career path is not one for those with thin skin, Frost explained.

“You wouldn’t do it if you didn’t love it,” he said.

In addition to Texas and Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont will hold presidential primaries today.

Comments