A love letter to Texas women in politics, for Grace Garcia

Let’s set aside for a moment all the women in Texas politics who already reaped the fame that came with the office. They already have their walls full of photos, shelves packed with awards, and reams of newspaper clippings documenting countless achievements. Governor Richards. Congresswoman Jordan. Comptrollers Strayhorn and Combs. Senator Hutchison. Mayors Whitmire, Miller, Strauss, Parker, and Cockrell. State Senator Zaffirini, the first Latina ever there. We salute you all. Your trail-blazing is well-documented.

This piece isn’t about them. It’s about the other women essential to Texas politics. The ones whose names aren’t as well-known. They’re the driven ones who pay attention to the details, work themselves to exhaustion, and really get things done. They may not be elected themselves, but they’re the ones who work to elect others, and keep the trains running on time. They’ve often had to be twice as good as a man to get noticed, and half as much headache as other staff to get ahead.

A few prime examples: Mary Beth Rogers, Ann Richards’ chief of staff. Cecile Richards, founding Executive Director of Texas Freedom Network, and now President of Planned Parenthood. Samantha Smoot, former Executive Director of Texas Freedom Network. Deirdre Delisi, Rick Perry’s former chief of staff. Sarah Floerke, field director of Greg Abbott’s campaign for governor.

I bet if you put these five women, and another ten just like them, in a room, they would agree on very little – they’re in different political parties and hold varied ideologies. But I know all of them well, and take my word for it – they’re all deadly smart, driven women in politics, policy, and government who are very, very good at what they do. Each of them not only demonstrates that women earn their seats at the table, but also that it wouldn’t be just a horrible damn thing if women were at the head of that table from time to time. Few work harder to achieve political and policy objectives, and they have all met with success.

In other words, they all remind me of Grace Garcia.

Grace Garcia

Grace Garcia

In fact, my personal gold standard for “highly successful woman in Texas politics” is “wow – she reminds me of Grace Garcia.”

I’ve known Grace for 22 years. We first met early in Bill Clinton’s upstart campaign for President, and at the time I was much more terrified of Grace than I ever was of Clinton. Grace was a driven, focused, opinionated, serious, smart workaholic.

I’m not entirely sure Bill Clinton would have been elected President but for Grace’s efforts. Later on, I’m fairly certain Grace’s efforts were one key reason Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s tenure in the State Department was so successful. And I bet Senator Leticia Van de Putte would not have answered the call to run for Lt. Governor but for Grace, since it was Grace who was making most of those calls in the first place.

For the last year or so, Grace was the Executive Director of Annie’s List, the organization dedicated to electing more women to public office in Texas. The organization was already successful when Grace came home from Washington to Texas to take the helm, and she expertly positioned Annie’s List to improve on that success.

Grace put together her team at Annie’s List, and together they seemingly know only one speed: pedal to the metal full blast. They raise money, recruit candidates to run for office, raise more money, train those candidates, raise more money, recruit top-notch campaign staff and train them too, and raise more money. And then they break for lunch.

Tragically, Grace Ann Garcia was killed yesterday afternoon, in a senseless car wreck. She was on her way to attend a Dallas event featuring Van de Putte and Wendy Davis. They took her away, and nobody who knows her can believe it. I know I can’t believe it; I’m crushed. Hell, it’s only in recent years that I learned how not to be terrified of her, and now she’s gone.

But here’s what I can believe: I believe that because of Grace Garcia and political women like her, there will be a lot more women who see public service as a viable and attractive option. I believe that it’s Texans like Grace Garcia that you could put in front of a classroom full of ten year old girls, and by the end of the talk it would dawn on those girls – some for the first time – that there isn’t anything they can’t achieve if they’re willing to work hard enough. I believe that because of political women in Texas like Grace Garcia, more and more women will involve themselves in politics, and will be successful at it. And I believe that some day, because more women will be in charge around here, we’ll all be bickering about a higher class of stuff than the low-rent crap we bicker about in Texas politics today.

My phone was ringing all evening. Late last night, I talked with my friend Amber Mostyn, who is the Board Chair of Annie’s List. Shortly after midnight this morning, I hung up the phone from a painful call with another friend of mine named Emmy Ruiz, who is Annie’s List’s political director. We were talking about Grace, and the events of the day, and emotionally leaning on each other a bit.

After the calls died down, and as I plugged my phone into the charger as I was getting ready for bed, I thought, “both Amber and Emmy sure do remind me of Grace Garcia.”

And that’s why I’m pretty sure things are going to be alright.

Rest in peace, sweet Grace.