McALLEN, RGV – The more the Rio Grande Valley grows a middle class and a more sophisticated electorate, the less Democrats will be able to rely on la palanca, says Hidalgo County Democratic Party Chair Ric Godinez.

The term la palanca is Spanish for “the lever” and is used in South Texas to denote straight-ticket voting for one political party. Democratic candidates in the region have long encouraged such voting. It has helped ensure Democratic Party success in every general election race in Hidalgo County, the largest county in the region.

At a recent “Ballot Bash” event hosted by Hidalgo County Democratic Party, Godinez said Democratic candidates should articulate a more in-depth narrative when appealing for support at the ballot box.

“When you go out and tell people you are a Democrat, don’t do it just because only Democrats win in this county. Do it because you believe like we believe, that you believe in America, that in today’s Democratic Party there should be opportunity for every American, but also responsibility from each American. That responsibility is important and I think it is something we have lost. I am asking that as you go through this campaign season you please keep that in your heart,” Godinez said.

The “Ballot Bash” event at the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton in McAllen was packed with candidates, their families and their supporters. Godinez started his speech by saying he had gone to the library to check dictionaries and reference books to find a good definition of what a Democrat is. He then gave his definition.

“As Democrats we want an America that gives all Americans the chance to live their dreams and to achieve their God-given potential. We want an America that is still the world’s strongest force, but a force for peace and for freedom. We want an America that keeps us together, built around our enduring values,” Godinez said. “The Democratic Party of today is different than the Democratic Party of years past. The Democratic Party today is so important and so evident in Hidalgo County with all the veterans we have.”

Godinez said the Hidalgo County Democratic Party would hold Democratic candidates to these ideals.

“Today’s Democratic Party is determined to renew America’s most basic bargain and that is the opportunity for every American. But it also means the responsibility from every American. The responsibility to go out and vote. The responsibility to go out and get your neighbor to vote. The responsibility to go out and be able to explain that if we don’t vote we give up our power and we give up the opportunities to truly make change.”

Godinez talked about delivering a stronger message on what the Democratic Party stands for when he was running for the chairmanship of Hidalgo County Democratic Party two years ago. He said Democrats could no longer rely solely on la palanca and would increasingly have to win voter approval based on their principles and ideas, especially if Republicans start to gain ground at the local level. As part of that strategy he started to appear on News Talk 710 KURV, a conservative talk radio station in the Valley.

“I got into this position because I started to see a malaise in politics. I started to see the numbers go down, down, down. I was so frustrated with what was happening on the statewide level that I decided, you know what, in an off-year, in a non-presidential year, I am going to get involved to see if I can make a change,” Godinez said at the “Ballot Bash” event.

Godinez said that while the Texas Democratic Party did not arrest its slide in 2014, he was happy to report that Hidalgo County Democratic Party and its precinct chairs had one of the best terms they have ever had. “We raised more funds than we have in over a decade. We were able to have more (precinct) chairs than we have had in over a decade. But most importantly, we were able to win all races, including the Court of Appeals race that had been lost the last few election cycles.”

The 13th Court of Appeals race Godinez was referring to saw incumbent Democrat Dori Contreras Garza squeeze past Republican challenger Doug Norman with 50.8 percent of the vote. While Hidalgo County is the largest county in the district it does include many heavily Republican counties in the Coastal Bend. This election cycle Contreras Garza is running for the Texas Supreme Court.

Godinez then looked ahead to the upcoming primary.

“There might be some mudslinging, I hope not. But, at the end of the day, remember these ideals that make us Democrats and why we vote as Democrats in this county. Remember we need that to continue the success, so that every American will understand they have the opportunity and the responsibility. That is my charge to you.”

He added that at end of the March 1, 2016, primary, Democratic candidates and their supporters need to forget their differences in the primary come back together for the good of their party.

After the “Ballot Bash” event had concluded, the Rio Grande Guardian secured a brief interview with Godinez. He said the enthusiasm shown in the packed ballroom was evidence that Democrats were in a confident mood going into the primary season. He said that confidence is based on the quality of candidates, noting that seven Democrats from various walks of life are running for the open Congressional District 15 seat.

“We have quality individuals, quality candidates and I am very excited, looking forward to the primary. To have seven candidates vying to be our next member of Congress, to have such a cross-section of candidates, says a lot about our party. We will break records this year, I am sure of it,” Godinez said.

Asked to elaborate on the theme of his speech, that Democratic Party candidates need to explain to voters what being a Democrat is all about and not to be running as a Democrat only because it is the only game in town, Godinez said: “Our core beliefs are pretty simple, they are about equality, they are about inclusion, and they are messages of love and encouragement. We do not exclude people because of their color or religious background. We can do that safely and protect our country.”

Editor’s Note: In the main image accompanying this story, Hidalgo County Democratic Party Chairman Ric Godinez is pictured speaking on the phone with News Talk 710 KURV at the Hidalgo County Democratic Party ‘Ballot Bash’ event held at the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton in McAllen, Texas, on December 14, 2015.