TEXAS VIEW: Party flips don’t mean end of DemsTHE POINT — Partly labels matter less at the local level.

Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick is the latest local official to switch political parties, continuing a small but significant trend that is headed in only one direction. Branick said he is leaving the Democratic Party because he has “become increasingly uncomfortable with (its) stance on a number of issues such that I can no longer count myself among its membership.” He mentioned regulatory burdens for major projects, national security concerns, the exclusion of religion from the “public square” and the impact of illegal immigration.
County Democrats have to be embarrassed by these defections, but don’t write their obituary yet.
They still hold the majority of Jefferson County offi ces, and in November pulled off some impressive victories for sheriff and several judgeships. Switches like this don’t make Democrats the anti-values party.
They have countless patriotic and principled members too.
Yet Branick’s flip, and the intense partisanship that rules Austin and Washington, raise another point about the limits of labels.
City councils and school boards in Southeast Texas (and the entire state, of course) are non-partisan, and they function pretty well.
The Beaumont Independent School District’s board of managers appointed by the Texas Education Commissioner come from diverse backgrounds, and they have turned around a school district that was on the verge of chaos. The Beaumont City Council contains some members who disagree with each other regularly and enthusiastically, but they get the job done. These board members aren’t entangled with all the other issues that come with being a D or an R. Many voters know them personally and vote for (or against) them for reasons that have nothing to do with partisanship.
The county commissioners court can be added to that list even though its members are officially Republican or Democrat. Partisan issues almost never arise — because they’re irrelevant. The black Democratic woman who beat a white Republican man is running the sheriff’s department pretty much like he would have — and you probably could say the same if the winners were reversed. There is no Democratic way to patch a street or Republican way to clear a drainage ditch. The focus is on performance, as it should be.
One more point: Branick’s letter explaining his switch closed with a heartfelt appeal to his Democratic supporters to remain his friends and a pledge that they will “continue to be treated with dignity, respect and fairness in my courtroom.” That kind of decency and civility used to be common in Austin and Washington. We’d all be better off if it returned.