Progressive group NextGen America targets Texas with young voter registration drive

WASHINGTON — A national group focused on registering young voters is turning its attention to Texas ahead of the midterm elections, planning to spend millions in the state as it aims to get hundreds of thousands of new voters on the rolls.

NextGen America, a progressive group that claims to have registered 1.4 million 18- to 35-year-old voters since 2013, hired longtime Austin labor organizer and former U.S. Senate candidate Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez as its new president and says it wants to register 150,000 new Texas voters by November 2022 and another 350,000 by the 2024 elections.

The group, founded by billionaire hedge fund manager and 2020 presidential candidate Tom Steyer, is the latest left-leaning organization to home in on Texas as Democrats continue to push to make the state more competitive, despite a disappointing 2020 election cycle for many Democratic candidates. NextGen’s announcement comes as the state’s marquee races, including for governor and lieutenant governor, are still taking shape.

NextGen argues young voters will be key to a Democratic resurgence in the state. One-third of the state’s eligible voters are under the 30, and 411,000 Texans turn 18 each year. And young Texans are so far not registering to vote at the same rate as older Texans. In 2018, 60 percent of eligible young Texans registered to vote compared with 79 percent of the state’s overall eligible voters.

The group says it plans to spend $32 million in eight states — Texas, Arizona, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada. Much of that will be spent in Texas, where NextGen has set its most ambitious registration goals of any of the states, though the group could not say how much exactly it plans to spend in the state.

“As any Texan would tell you, whoever determines the future of Texas gets to determine the future of this country,” Tzintzún Ramirez said. “Texas is representative today of what minority rule looks like and what it could look like for the rest of the country. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We believe young people in Texas hold the power, with the power of their vote, to determine a new direction on every single major issue and challenge our country faces.”

Texas Democrats agree. NextGen rolled out its plan with an open letter to young Texans signed by dozens of Democratic elected officials and activists, including a slew of congress members, Beto O’Rourke, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro and his brother, former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, Mayors Sylvester Turner of Houston and Ron Nirenberg of San Antonio, and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

“Young Texans are the life, the vitality and the future of our state,” the letter says. “Unfortunately, not everyone sees it that way — least of all a certain class of Texas politicians whose power in Austin and Washington D.C. far exceeds their actual support in our communities.”

NextGen is launching its effort with voter-registration events on Thursday at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg and on Saturday at the University of Houston, where Steyer, Tzintzún Ramirez, Hidalgo, Julián Castro and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston are expected. The group plans to send text messages to 300,000 unregistered Texans in its first week.

From there, NextGen’s efforts will include paying a team of canvassers in Texas, as well as partnering with existing voter outreach groups in the state.

The effort comes after national progressive groups poured millions into Texas in 2020 in hopes of electing Democrats and came away with scant results.

Democrats lost every statewide race, even as President Joe Biden came closer than any of the party’s presidential candidates in decades, losing to former President Donald Trump by 6 percentage points. The party also fell short of claiming control of the state House, giving Republicans the power to redraw political boundaries for the next decade, and did not claim any new seats in Congress, even as vulnerable Democratic incumbents held seats they flipped in 2018.

Still, NextGen is undeterred, pointing to record youth turnout in 2020 — and plenty of new voters they say they can get to the polls.

“Young people are turning out like never before to reject a status quo that refuses to work for them,” Tzintzún Ramirez said. “We can build a democracy that represents all of us — but demographics aren’t destiny, and change won’t come easy. It requires the hard work of organizing, registering and mobilizing young people to overcome the toughest vote-suppression laws in America.”

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