With elections just around the corner, it helps to know the important people who are going to be leading our community in the future. Jason Byrd offers up a platform for that in this insightful episode. He has over Joseph Trahan, who is running to be the next chair of the Jefferson County Democratic Party. In this position, Joseph would play an important role in leading the party, determining the direction in how they promote and impact the level of support for their candidates. With such a crucial role as the person who will man the party and the candidates that may carry the future of Jefferson County, it is crucial to get to know what Joseph offers to the table. Hear his goals, aspirations, and motivations. Learn about the things he is passionate about when it comes to moving the community and its people forward.
Listen to the podcast here:
Running As The Next Chair Of The Jefferson County Democratic Party With Joseph Trahan
Welcome, Joseph, to the show.
Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
I’m glad to be here. To the people out there reading, we appreciate you being here. Welcome back again. I’m glad to have you in. You’re running for office and one of your opponents came in and we made the opportunity available to you if you wanted to come in. Like I told her and I told you, I don’t have a dog in the fight, so to speak. I met you both. I like you both and you’re both capable for different reasons. I’m all for giving you a platform to talk a little bit and get to know you a little better and let people know you because you are good people and assets to our community no matter what.
To the bigger, thank you for the opportunity.
It’s where law meets life. The reason I use that tagline is I’m a lawyer, but I don’t feel I’m defined by that completely. Another reason I’ll have local politicians on from time to time is they control when elected a lot of aspects of local life and local laws are in ordinances or the implementation of state laws and things like that. It’s important for people to know at least in their local community who these people are.
I agree with you 100%, make an informed vote.
Tell people what exactly are you running for?
I’m running to be the next chair of the Jefferson County Democratic Party. What exactly does a county chair do? The county chair is the leader of the party. They determine the direction, the way in which we promote ourselves, they have impacted the level of support for our candidates. I will be responsible for fundraising efforts, get out to vote efforts, building up our precinct chair list. Seeking great candidates to run in the primary and then moving on from there whomever the people choose through the democratic process. I will then be responsible for fully backing the individual that’s representing our party. It’s on the November 2020 election of the general. Besides those administrative duties, besides the traditional way in which chairs conduct themselves, it’s exceptionally important that a chair also provides a standard within the party of expectations, a standard of behavior.
For me, I’m looking to establish a long-term strategy for the party to be more inclusive of the cross-section of communities constituencies that exist throughout Jefferson County and making it a point of being as open and responsive as possible to strong supporters of the Democratic Party as well as those who may not feel included but certainly identify with Republicans. I am seeking those individuals because if we can welcome people back to our party who have felt alienated, who don’t necessarily feel that their community or their viewpoint is respected. They know that they have someone who takes their opinion seriously that invites and welcomed their perspective. That’s crucial to growing the party overall. As I said before, I’m responsible for the direction of the party organizational structure. I’m also looking to be an energizer, a motivator or someone who is out front advocating for the Democratic Party anywhere, anytime, no matter what.
The Democratic Party is important to you. Why is that? Why Democrat, not a Republican, not a Libertarian?
I’m a Democrat because I grew up in a middle-class background. I saw and experienced a lot of benefits that were traditionally championed by Democrats, collective bargaining and the ability to unionize because I come from a law enforcement family. My quality of life, the health insurance that I continue to enjoy is a direct function of our Beaumont Police Officer Association and CLEAT, which is then by extension supported largely historically by Democrats and their elected officials. Moving beyond just my quality of life that’s been provided for me by Democrats, I also am someone that considers themselves to be open-minded. I am receptive to diversity, cultural differences because that makes us better people when we are acclimated to various community groups not just our own.
I’m not interested in being a territorial or only interested in being amongst people that look and sound like me. That’s another reason why the Democratic Party attracted me because we are a big tent. We hold a number of different individuals and identities, whether they be members of the white community, the black community, and the Hispanic community. Individuals irrespective of sexual orientation, irrespective of nationality, cultural upbringing and religion. We’re a melting pot of viewpoints and people that is reflective of the United States. I’m also a Democrat because I am pro-public education. Individuals should have the opportunity to enjoy a quality education regardless of their zip code and their financial standing.Individuals should have the opportunity to enjoy quality education regardless of their zip code and financial standing. Click To Tweet
I’m thinking that your grandfather had a little influence on that.
My grandfather, Howard Trahan, was a prominent civil rights leader and one of the longest-serving school board members here in Beaumont. In fact, he was a board member at South Park Independent School District. Once Beaumont merged, he became a school board member of the Beaumont Independent School district. He was always very much an advocate for bridging the gap in racial disparities when it came to the treatment of educational facilities and the quality of that infrastructure, textbooks, electronic systems and things of that nature. Much of that has been pushed by Democrats for decades. We have to get back to those core principal values, unions and public education wanting people to have a quality life to be able to be independent and to have good-paying jobs.
That is what the Democratic Party has been about. I think that we get lost in all the messiness of politics. The news only focuses on the most extreme opinions. By default, people assume that all Democrats or Republicans are one way or another. My goal is to try and bring more people together to recognize what it is the Democratic Party is about. All of that that I explained is why it is that I identify as a Democrat. It’s not because my family has been Democrats for five generations, they’ve also lived here in Jefferson County for five generations. They made it a point of always imparting on me the importance of making an informed decision for myself. We would have debates at the dinner table. They would make sure that I was paying attention to news and not watching Fox News or CNN, I’m watching both.
They made it a point of pushing me on foreign and domestic policy and why it is that I believe something not because my mother believes this or my dad believes that, which is what people traditionally do. I’ve made an informed decision for myself. I am a Democrat. I don’t identify with the Republican Party. I don’t identify with the tax structure. I don’t identify with what I perceive to be marginalization. This tendency to be very egocentric and homogenous in terms of a voting base. I am more comfortable with political parties and individuals that have a cross-section of support because that means that you’re willing to have tough conversations, be more inclusive and then by default, have more voter participation, engagement and support to be an effective public servant.
I told you this before, I said you’re a well-educated, articulate and capable young man. You’ve got in a lot of ways, life right ahead of you. Why choose politics?
I chose politics because I believe that that is the best way to make an impact on people directly, in their homes, in their places of business and the places in which they work and go to school. I’ve always been attracted to the social work field. Making a positive difference in the lives of people who have not been able to experience the same privileges that I have is someone who comes from a supportive family background, who comes from a financially stable family. When I look at youth, especially those who are experiencing homelessness, who are victims of human trafficking or who are runaways. They may be in the system, their parents may be addicted to drugs, all of those things that have to do with socioeconomics.
The assistance that people receive whether that’d be rehabilitative programs or that be a shelter, food, clothing and all of that. The funding for those things is directly impacted by the elected officials in which we put an office, which is about politics. That’s another thing is that I reject the notion of, “That’s just politics.” People are going to be messy. They’re going to be duplicitous, they’re going to stab you in the back one day and the next day they’ll shake your hand and smile. I don’t participate in that because for me, it’s a cop-out. Politics is about people and that’s what we have to get back to. Once we make it personal, once we are consistent with our values, once we are consistent with authenticity and being upfront and transparent, we can then try and provide some credibility to the democratic and political process.
We engage people who are not engaged, which includes young people who are in their 20s and 30s, includes members of the Spanish community. It also includes apathetic voters who don’t necessarily identify with one political party because they don’t feel that either one actively seeks to make a difference in their lives, which comes down to community relevance. I believe in a community-centered leadership approach by going out in the community and not just knocking on people’s doors two weeks before an election but being consistent in community affairs prior to, during and after every election cycle.
Don’t get me wrong, we have phenomenal leaders in the Democratic Party who walked the walk and talk the talk. I have a lot of respect for Sheriff Zena Stephens. I have a lot of respect for individuals like Representative Joe Deshotel, Carolyn Guidry and you name it, but those are individuals. We have to make a point of prioritizing community-centered leadership and activism from a party perspective. The entire party apparatus being in complete alignment with that viewpoint by building up our precinct chairs, by establishing permanent standing committees for fundraising, event planning and candidates scouting, which is crucially important but also volunteerism.
Making sure that even when it’s off-election years, our volunteers are engaged in community affairs, whether that be helping out at a soup kitchen or going and advocating on behalf of the constituents that vote us in in school board meetings, city council meetings, commissioner court meetings. Doing more than the traditional role of electing Democrats, which is important, that’s priority one, but also living, practicing and preaching the values we purport to support. By having that balance, by pushing that out front, we can become more effective. We can start making a difference in people’s lives, which I’ll roll it back, which is the very reason why I’m interested in politics.
It sounds like a lot of work.
It is a lot of work.
This is an unpaid job.
This is an unpaid thankless position.
What do you want to do it? A reasonable question because you’re mid-twenties, obviously very capable. It sounds like you’re going to buy it off a lot of work.
The reason I’ve stepped up and decided to do it and I speak it into existence when I am elected is because I have the energy, the fortitude, the stamina, and the belief to move forward. I can’t do all this alone. I’m no Messiah. We have to make sure that while we are elected into a position, we bring people up behind us. I’m going to be out front. I’m putting my neck out on the line, I can take the hate, I can take the love, I prefer with love.
If you put your face and ideas out there, you’re going to have a certain amount of hate no matter what you do.
Certainly, especially if you don’t fit someone’s mold or answer to one faction over another, people get heated and they start throwing rocks and stones, but you can’t let it faze you. The point I was trying to make was I need people to my left and right. We are only as effective as leaders if our followers are also engaged and willing to participate. That’s what it comes down to. You could have a chair who can have all the energy in the world, the ability to effectively fundraise, the community support to get them into office. If you don’t have a cohesive executive committee, if you don’t have an active volunteer base, you can’t move your vision forward.
You can advocate, you can grab people’s attention, you can get through the door but you need people to help keep it open. People say, “Why are you doing this? It’s unpaid.” It’s because I have the time. I’m uniquely positioned. My life is getting started. I am not married right now. I have no children. I want to find something to give back to my community. I want to find something that keeps me pre-occupied and makes me feel like I’m doing something bigger than myself. That’s what I think this position is about. It’s leading the party, doing something greater than yourself and trying to bring up a new generation of leaders to be inspired and motivated to say, “He did it, so can I.”
Since I’ve announced, I’ve had several messages from people who are in their 20s and 30s inquiring about how they get involved in the political process. What does it take to run? Can I get them in contact with key fundraisers? That would not have happened had I not stepped up to run. I also think that I’m uniquely positioned. Another reason why I decided to run is that I am someone that can bridge the gap between the establishments, the more senior members of our party who have carried the party on their backs for decades and individuals that are young who are interested in getting involved in the political process but need some mentorship. They need some support. I’m that person.
I might do this with everybody and I’ll throw things out there. It’s cynic and I’d say, Joseph, this sounds all great. I like your spirit. I like your attitude but you have the experience. You’re 24, 25 years old. Do you have the experience to run a party in a county this size?
Yes, I do. Some examples are some leadership experiences that I’ve had. When I was at the University of Texas in Austin, which is a very large school, we have the constituency of over 50,000 people. I was chosen elected to be the Communications Director of University Democrats as well as our campus director. We were the largest political organization on campus. We had a strong support system with the Travis County Democratic Party. There was no candidate that could win in Travis County without coming and speaking to University Democrats. I was the chair of a procedure’s organization known as the Student in Dallas Centennial Lectureship with a $250,000 budget.
We were responsible for hosting campus-wide events, getting prominent speakers, whether they be the Dalai Lama. At one time, we had Bill Nye and George Takei, other people to come and speak, engage students and thought leaders. That took the money, that took organizing, that took marketing efforts and that took collaborating with campus administration. It took engaging with the various student organizations but also outside of the student organizations including the community at large. That was very fulfilling for me. I was also involved in student government. I was on the University of Texas Police Departments’ Oversight Committee, working directly with the UTPD’s Police Chief. I was also on the Counseling Mental Health Center Advisory Board.
I had a lot of unique experiences early on overseeing high-level budgets, overseeing organizations that had memberships of over 500 people. Keep in mind, Jefferson County is large but the Democratic Party’s overall consistent membership is not that high. I would say it’s comparable in terms of volunteerism and participation to the University Democrats at the University of Texas at Austin. In addition to that, I had worked for the City of Austin’s Community Engagement Division. I worked with their communications manager to learn more about the various constituencies that existed, helping facilitate community round tables, documenting things for city council there that would inform their policy. I also was involved here with the City of Beaumont Event Facilities Department.We get lost in all the messiness of politics. The news only focuses in the most extreme opinions. Click To Tweet
Lenny Caballero is no longer here, unfortunately. He got a better position. He’s up near Waco I believe. I’m seeing a lot of the work that he did with the City of Beaumont Event Facilities. Upon graduating from the University of Texas, I then was charged with being the field director and communications director for Nick Lampson’s County Judge Campaign who was a former Congressman of ours, who entrusted me, who saw potential in me to say, “This is your shot.” We lost, but we only lost by 949 votes against a multi-year incumbent during a very divisive time in our country. I’m proud of the work that I’ve been able to participate in a very short period of time. Moving forward from that, I’ve also been entrusted by the Children’s Center, which has been around since the late 1800s to help lead their effort to grow here in Jefferson County. There are thirteen other counties along the Gulf Coast. They see my leadership abilities and my relationships in the community where they wanted me to be their liaison to open doors for them.
You worked for the Children’s Center.
I have a full-time position.
Tell people what you do.
I would say it’s a mixture of being a case manager and a community liaison all wrapped into one. The Children’s Center is a nonprofit organization that is federally funded by a grant that provides assistance and resources to youth. Those infants on up to what we consider forgotten youth, the forgotten children, people in their early twenties who are the age of assistant but have no backing whatsoever, who are highly susceptible to criminal activity because it’s a cycle. We’re responsible for assisting those people that are victims of human trafficking, who are experiencing homelessness which we also consider couchsurfers to be homeless by that federal standard and also runaways. Youth that is trying to get away from a bad situation. We’re trying to steer them away from the system, give them some dignity and some agency to recognize that it’s not too late. They can make a positive impact on their life and there are resources that exist to help assist them to stay on the straight and narrow, to complete their education and to go on to do something productive with their life.
Do you all do that through counseling or workshops or how do you work with these kids?
One of the things we do is work with local school districts. We’ve already started a relationship with the Beaumont Independent School District. I’m working towards the Port Arthur Independent School District as well where we work to educate the educators as well as the lead counselors on the services we provide which include behavioral health assistance. We can provide a short-term shelter until we can find someone long-term living and transportation. Let’s say there is a youth that’s walking on a street. An example of something I’ve had to experience where there was a student at Westbrook whose father had died. He’s not from here. He’s gone all over the country because his dad was in the military. His mother is MIA. He has no family backing. He was couch surfing. He’s staying at his girlfriend’s parents’ house and then going from there to Beaumont staying at a buddy’s house in Port Arthur. His buddy is not the best of role models.
He’s involved in drug use and things of that nature. He called our hotline. He communicated with his counselor and they gave him my number and he contacted me and said, “We had this conversation about what I need to do to stay on the straight and narrow, about being empowered. If I ever needed something you can call me.” He was walking on the street trying to get away from a friend because it was a bad situation. He was afraid and we were dispatched out to go pick him up and get him to a place to stabilize him. We’re very much engaged with the youth, that individual who becomes on our caseload. We are a connector of resources. We don’t provide all the resources in-house necessarily but we build relationships with local orgs and even orgs outside of the County that where we can facilitate assistance whether that be behavioral health, lodging or educational assistance. If there is an issue with finding employment, connecting them with someone that can get them a job and things of that nature.
That’s laudable. We’ve talked about this off-air before about the women’s shelter and so I applaud your work there. Moving back towards politics, we know that’s what we’re going to talk about. I want people to see that. That’s all this is. We’re talking and this too gives people a chance to hear what you’re talking about. That’s not all about being party chair because part of me doing this show, it’s not for money. It’s not for fun. It was for fun but it’s a way for me to broaden myself because I’m a lawyer but I’m not defined by that. I like to see how we all interact and talk to people about that. When I have lawyers on, it’s more obvious and we try those things in, but I have all types of people. I’ve had insurance agents who were used to be MMA fighters. I’ve got a boxer coming on who is a three-time world champion just because I love boxing.
I noticed from the magazines in your lobby.
The fight magazines up there. It’s not enough because I’m a lawyer. It’s just that I like combat sports. It’s good to hear these things. Driving you back a little bit more to the race you’re running. This last cycle, you alluded to it but we had two big countywide races that traditionally Democrats have won that were won by Republicans. I believe that was a District Judge race and the County Judge, which is arguably the highest elected office in the county. I don’t know that Republican has ever held those positions as elected on a regular psych. They’ve held them by appointment. I know the District Judge spots have been held by appointment.
I know for that particular seat, the Judge Floyd seat, there has never been a Republican.
Judge Floyd has been there since the ’80s. He is a good friend. I hadn’t seen him in a while but he’s a good guy. That being said, what would you say to people who say, “We’re proud of you for running for Democratic Party chair but maybe the county has shifted and the ideology of the County shifted. Maybe it’s more purple or it’s become more Republican in ideology as a whole.”
I will certainly agree that if you look at our countywide races over the last few years, there are no landslide victories for the most part. We are at a point in our County where things are not as blue as they once were. As you stated, they’re more purple. Even the incumbents that do win, they don’t win by much. I don’t necessarily believe that it’s a change in ideology. It’s a change in how people feel about the local Democratic Party and their place in it. We have had the tendency to focus on only certain parts of the County.
We push harder to get out the vote efforts in certain precincts. In order for us to win countywide, we have to expand into South County. We have to be willing to be open and inclusive to people that are not at one faction or one racial group. We also have to be cognizant of the Hispanic community, which is the fastest-growing community here in Jefferson County. Certainly, the majority enrollment at Port Arthur Independent School District and it’s fast-growing at Beaumont Independent School District. All of those children have parents and most of them can vote.
We had talked once about how that population has grown from many years ago 5% of the overall population to over a quarter pushing 30% now. That’s a lot of people. That’s a big change in a short period of time.
In particular in Texas, we’re starting to see as demographic changes that exist specifically within the Hispanic community. By having these individuals win and positions as Republicans, it’s multifaceted. As I said before, it has to do with people no longer feeling included in the Democratic Party because there are certain people who want to keep a stranglehold. By default, it’s not you can’t grow from that. There’s also the fact that we had a natural disaster that occurred prior to an election for both the District Court seat and the County Judge seat. Thousands of people were displaced, especially in Port Arthur.
Many of them were democratic voters and they’re more focused on getting their lives in order, trying to get back in homes. The last thing they’re thinking about was an election. I do think that Republicans did have an advantage when it came to that. I also believe that, for example, in the County Judge race, Judge Jeff Branick, he was a Democrat. He switched parties and because he switched parties, there was still that familiarity that traditionally democratic voters have of him. Because he wasn’t Republican from the get-go, at least not an out of the closet Republican I should say, he had some appeals. There were different dynamics that existed for sure.
I get that. I like Judge Branick and frankly, he’s done a great job. I don’t think it’s a job that a lot of people realize what it all entails. It’s quite a bit of work to be a County Judge in a county this size or larger. It’s an interesting dynamic. I do disagree with his choice to change party midstream. What I mean by that is if you run under a party to get elected and then in the mid-term then change your party. That’s a little disingenuous. It didn’t solve me. Frankly, at the end of the day, I’m fine with it because I’m worried about who’s going to be down there and do a good job. That being said, I don’t like that change. If you do it, do it in the next election cycle.
There’s also frustration within the black community when it comes to individuals who choose to run as a Democrat, off the backs of the minority-majority community that existed while they are a Port Arthur. To get that name recognition and notoriety and then switch. Already benefiting from Democrat votes, Democrat donors, Democrat volunteer in times. It’s not necessarily directed at one individual, overall, historically, anytime we’ve had individual switch parties, it’s insulting. To keep constituencies that feel as though they were used.
I can see that and I don’t remember all these justifications but I certainly see that perspective. I hadn’t thought of it from that perspective but that makes sense. The flip of it is someone could say, “I felt like I was no longer included because you talked about it.” There are a lot of people in this County who don’t feel included in one party or the other. You don’t feel included in the Republican Party for more ideological reasons.
I don’t feel that I’m barred from that. It’s just that I can’t see myself as a Republican.
That may change in 40 years, you may have a bunch of money and say I’m Republican now. I’m just messing with you. I don’t think you’ll ever get there. Things change over time too. You talk about racial issues. There’s a painting over there. When I first got it, I put it online. I said, yes, I got this for the conference room. It’s my favorite Republican. It’s Abraham Lincoln. You could argue that Republican ideas in 1860 may not be with the same as they are in 2020. Things change over time.
That’s a good point because Abraham Lincoln was called a liberal and his entire party was called liberal as a pejorative. Now things have switched. The tides have changed and I don’t think the Republican Party is the party of Lincoln any longer.We are only as effective as leaders if our followers are also engaged and willing to participate. Click To Tweet
I mentioned it to say let’s be careful in all of us who say I’m always this or I’m always that. Our County Judge felt like he wouldn’t include it in the party. I have to guess. That’s probably some of it. We talked about and I don’t remember if it was earlier in the show or before we talked for a long time in the office. There are certain portions of the population and at least let’s say Jefferson County who don’t feel included in the Democratic Party. Although in the past times, they did feel that way. Within the wider Caucasian community, there’s some concern in that community.
There certainly are. For me, Democrats here in Jefferson County, in order to win, have to have a cross-section of support. You can’t rely on one key constituency. You have to have a cross-section. We have to have members of the white community, members of the black community voting for us. My perspective based on my experience in meeting with people and having private meetings or whatever else with individuals that were Democrat who are more independent but still lean Democrat. It’s not necessarily that ideologically that they’ve changed. It’s so much their feeling of inclusion and welcomeness into the party, being a volunteer, being a precinct chair because there have been divisive personalities. It pushed people away. One of the reasons that I want to get into this position is because I’m looking to address that.
I do not want anyone to feel that they cannot be a part of the Democratic Party. I don’t want anyone to feel that they aren’t able to run for a primary without being attacked. I don’t want anyone to feel that they can’t come and volunteer without being belittled or demeaned by someone else who thinks that they’ve been there longer and therefore, they are at the party. I reject that. We set in our earlier conversation that people have to recognize that I’m not interested in answering to three or four people. I’m not interested in giving favor to one faction over another. I’m not participating in the messiness that has plagued politics here in Jefferson County for years. I’m interested in growing the party. I’m interested in increasing participation within the executive committee and if there are individuals that have an issue with that, they can move on.
I’m going to tell you, this is from life experience. You’re going to see some of that especially this day in 2020. People can get their feelings hurt quickly and easily. To some degree, people are also driven by fear. I don’t feel included. What actions have you taken to bring yourself to inclusion? The first step in something new has to be taken by me. If I want to get into something new, I have to take that step and recognize I may be the new guy in the room and be a little tougher than I want to be and maybe even get my feelings hurt a little bit. When and if I liked it, I’d say I’d caution you. You can’t coddle everybody.
You’re right about that. My biggest thing is about what actions can we take to broaden participation and to welcome back members of our party who feel alienated. Either by ill-treatment at the headquarters or by the messiness of a primary election. It’s unfortunate and we have to recognize as a party that going after one another is not conducive to unity. I’m someone who doesn’t back down from a fight.
You’ve got a little fire and I see it. People can hear it.
I was raised by strong-willed people who have committed themselves to our community. They were able to make a difference because they spoke up when necessary but also had enough sense to remain silent for the sake of moving forward. I’m aware of that. There are many things that I could say that I don’t because it’s not conducive to unity, it’s not productive. People also have a hunger for authenticity where they know where someone stands. They know how someone feels about something. You don’t have to wonder.
That’s true. That’s lacking particularly in politics. I did not agree with you but I sure will respect you if I know what you are saying. I may not agree with you and say, “I don’t agree with you. I can tell you why you’re wrong. You could tell me why I’m wrong but the fact that I can have that conversation with you and do it in a respectful manner, I can respect that.”
Without throwing you under the bus or trying to demean your character or anything, I experienced that myself. I apologize if this has happened where they may feel put on the defensive or that I’ve been rude in some manner. That’s not my intent. My intent is to have honest but sometimes difficult conversations about things that have got to be addressed. Solutions had to be brought in order for us to move forward as a party because if you want a responsible party chair, you can’t be someone that is complacent and that only goes along to get along for the sake of not ruffling feathers because you’re going to be stagnant. You haven’t got to provide leadership. The chair is the leader. You don’t need a backseat driver who is being told what to do by a small subset of people.
You have to have someone that have integrity. They have a moral compass that’s been informed by a strong family but is also willing to answer to the executive committee. If there is a vote that’s taken about a certain direction did you respect that in terms of party policy. Even personally, you may like one person at a primary over another but he’s the chair, you can’t be engaged in that. Whoever wins the general nomination, I support them. Irrespective of my personal beliefs because my personal beliefs are inappropriate to inject that into the position of chair and try and negatively impact the democratic process. I can hold my tongue and I can hold my perspectives, but when it’s necessary to speak, I will.
You talked about an action plan. You said you have an action plan and people can find that on your website.
It’s JosephTrahan.com, but I’d give a little bird’s eye view if you’d like. It’s threefold. One has to do with improving the organizational structure of the party. Secondly is strengthening our community’s relevance. Thirdly is providing more transparency and authenticity to politics. That first that I talked about has to do with improving the structure of the party. What I mean by that is making sure that we have as many precinct chairs that are qualified and committed to being the eyes, ears and face of the party in their respective community. They have pride in the Democratic Party and are willing to roll their sleeves up and get to work. I want to welcome anyone willing to come to a precinct chair to consider putting their name in the hat.
We’re past the time where you can file to be a precinct chair. If there’s an open position, it’s the prerogative of the executive committee to appoint someone to a position as chair if there is no chair there. I alluded to it a bit, but for those of you that aren’t too familiar with precinct chairs, they’re the eyes, ears and face of the Democratic Party. They’re the ones that are crucial and get out the vote efforts in their respective communities, neighborhoods within their precinct. They are able to put their ear to the ground and get a perspective that not all of us are able to have because they live in those areas.
They can better inform the chair and the rest of the executive committee on what policies and direction we have to take in order to have our constituencies heard. We have over 100 precincts in Jefferson County, I believe less than 40% are currently filled. The majority of which are in Beaumont. Already there’s some tension that exists in terms of the direction of the party and where we have our events and the sorts of candidates that we promote because there’s the majority of the influence in the executive committee as Beaumont base.
These are precinct chair positions. Do we have about 40% of them filled in the Democratic Party?
The vast majority of those are filled from the Beaumont area. That’s probably who’s driving decisions in the day-to-day stuff. What does a precinct chair even do? If I’m just some guy walking down the street, I don’t know what that is.
Precinct chairs are those individuals that are crucial in engaging with voters in their neighborhoods, informing people of democratic events, block walking, letting people know who they are and what they’re about and by extension what the Democratic Party is about. They have voting power within the executive committee of the Jefferson County Democratic Party. Any major decision that we make that requires a vote that individual has direct influence over that. The precinct chair is also the one that is an ally. They’re the ones that are able to provide us key information about the mood and direction of the various constituencies that we represent. By informing us, we can then become a better party. Our candidates who are running, it better informs how they run and what they have to say and the issues that they advocate to optimize and voter participation.
They’re the head person in a neighborhood for lack of a better expression.
In addition to that organizational structure, I propose creating permanent standing committees on fundraising, event planning, candidate scouting and volunteerism. By creating those permanent standing committees, we have more buy-in among people who are interested in participating in the Democratic Party aren’t necessarily a precinct chair. They don’t feel that they could win a position or if there’s someone already in that seat that represents them. If they live, they don’t want to go against them. It provides another avenue for someone who’s a Democrat supporter, to have direct skin in the game.
One of the reasons that it’s crucial that we have permanent standing committees is because it continues a conversation that oftentimes evolves in politics about the direction of the party, the way in which we fundraise, the sorts of candidates that we’re looking for. As well as what we need to do to get more involved and engaged in community affairs outside of electing Democrats but also applying the values of the Democratic Party into our neighborhoods, into our city council meetings, into our commissioner court meetings and also in the school board and school districts. Using that influence to be change agents in our community to increase that validity and relationship building that we have with voters both who are diehard Democrats and those Democrats but need a little bit more of a push.
That brings me into the second area that I talked about, which is strengthening our community relevance. We have to make it a point of being engaged with voters, with community issues prior to, during and after every election. It’s not enough for individual candidates to go out and be community leaders and to be involved year-round because we have phenomenal Democrats to do that. Sheriff Zena Stephens, Representative Joseph Deshotel and others. Those are individuals and they can’t do it all alone. They’re one person. They’re extraordinary people but again, we’re all human. Making it a point of making that a party standard of community engagement and activism in helping bring to light issues that our voters want to have addressed.
It’s providing some backing or some feeling of comfort in terms of numbers and people showing up to meetings. Having that feeling of support from the party did they vote for because then word gets out. Those apathetic voters then recognize, “Did you see that the Democratic Party, their chair or one of their precinct chairs or someone was there speaking on behalf of our issues in our neighborhood?” It balances feelings of, “I’m not big enough to be in politics. I’ve not had enough money. I’m not smart enough,” which is ridiculous. All people should have an opportunity to engage because if all people in politics were intelligent, I don’t think our country would be the way it is.
Balancing that with people who are working day-in and day-out who don’t have time to pay attention all day, every day who do vote but they expect some support if there is an issue. Even something that people don’t think about infrastructure issues, drainage, school district. Using the influence of the party, its elected officials that gravitas to help further dialogue and progress in the community. It’s that balance between voting for Democrats was his priority but also instilling those values in our community so we can grow our support. People would appreciate that. The third aspect has to do with providing more transparency and authenticity in the position as chair.If you don't have a cohesive executive committee, an active volunteer base, you can't move your vision forward. Click To Tweet
As a chair, I’m someone that I don’t like making promises to people because promises are made to be broken. I’m not interested in making promises to people so they’ll vote for me. One of the promises that I will make is that I will be removed from a primary process in the sense that if we have candidates that are running in a primary, it is unethical of me to then try, either go behind their back or directly be engaged to effect or off put the balance of one candidate over another. Thereby poisoning the well the democratic process to where it calls us further division and people get frustrated.
Let’s say you’ve got three people running for judge and you’re the party chair, and there are three people who generally meet the qualifications, you’re out of it.
Yes. If there’s an opportunity to have a discussion with individuals that are considering running and trying to look at their qualifications and things of that nature, yes, I will have discussions with those individual people who were considering running. I will provide advice and give them some input on whether that’s a good idea or if their best position for that. It’s an individual file and they make a decision to run, that is their right. As chair, it is unethical to then say this Democrat is not my choice, I’m going to push the other one because then you’re causing rifts within the Party.
That sounds good in theory. Let’s say, the general filing requirements are met and all three candidates meet on its face, the age or experience requirements for whatever position. Being a member of the community, you know and you believe and most of your party members believe that one is a standout and would be the best person. One person would be the best not only a person to hold that position but the best person to likely win in the general election. Do you still stay on?
Yes, because here’s the logic. If it’s so clear that the individual is the most qualified. If they have the most support and they shouldn’t have an issue getting out of a primary.
That’s not always the case as you know. Other things drive those issues.
I agree with that and that’s why one of the reasons that I proposed creating a permanent standing committee on candidate scouting is that if there are individuals that are interested in running for a position, they have to make it a point of being acclimated to the various constituencies that vote Democrat in advance. It’s the fault of the individual candidate if they decide to go into a race thinking I’m known in the white community or I’m known in the black community and then you’re playing catch up trying to get the cross-section of support. If you are a serious candidate and you truly want to run, I recommend that you plan in advance. You start to make it a point of going places where you don’t traditionally go, talking to people that you don’t identify with, either racially or religiously and setting that foundation. Our people would go to a primary, there are people that are more qualified but at the same time, they’re always playing catch up.
I don’t disagree with that. I honestly wasn’t specifically talking about any race because I generally watch what happens but I’m not too engaged.
The reason why I take that position is that as chair, it’s a balancing act. You have moderated, you have conservative Democrats and you have liberal Democrats. They all could all have candidates running in a primary. If I start pushing one over another, you are then dividing the Party internally to the point where there’s this feeling of alienation. People don’t want to volunteer at the headquarters anymore. They think that things are set up against them. I don’t want that to continue to occur. I’m not a dictator. That’s why I want to have this long-term strategy of things like having committees where we have people who okay with, “I heard through the grapevine that John Doe was thinking about running in a year. We’ll get John Doe in front of us.” What are his qualifications and what recommendations can we provide? We will be willing to provide those recommendations equally if there are two people considering running. Coming up to us in the committee, not together clearly because that’s suspicious but fielding them. What are you doing in the community?
You’ve got a great degree but what is your community relevance? Are you involved in the Rotary? Do anything about the NAACP? You’re involved in NAACP. Do you know anything about the Rotary or the Chamber? Getting them thinking because that’s what produces great candidates. It helps people feel more prepared going into a primary. If you’re jumping into a primary and you don’t already have that community support, if you don’t have that cross-section of support, you’re setting yourself up for failure. We have to be willing to talk about that and say, “You want to run. I’m not discouraging you but here’s the reality. If you’re going to put this much money into it, if you’re going to put your name on the line, here are the things you’re going to have to deal with. Are you ready? Are you prepared?”
A lot of people run for something and then they start realizing, “Crap.” It hits them. I hear it all the time, “I had no idea.” That’s where pre-planning comes in. The chair and the party should be able to help people get ideas churning, get them thinking, be self-reflective and say, “If this is something you want to do and you are an actual Democrat. We have to also look at their voting record as well. If that’s a decision that you want to make, here are our recommendations. If you could follow through with these, we think that you could have a good chance.” If you can’t do this, it’s going to be a lot harder for you to make it out of a primary and just being straight forward and open.
People will appreciate that because even if they decide not to run, they won’t feel like they were targeted or thrown out and make it personal. It’s a function of time where people if they’ve been in a position for a long time, if they represented something for a long time, their individual identity and the actual organization or position gets blurred. They think they are the union or they are the Democratic Party or I am this. That’s messy because then it alienates people. Whenever we’re having conversations with people about inclusion, about growing our volunteer base with the party, some people like to call the shots to tell people what to do.
For example, when I was in Nick Lampson county judge race and I was at the headquarters every single day for months. I would look at the dynamics and I think, “Does this individual not realize that there’s talking down to someone that’s the same age as them treating them like a child, “You’re doing this wrong. Let me tell you.” I’ve witnessed that. I’m thinking to myself, it is not appropriate. As chair, it’s your responsibility, you have to talk to those people individually and say, “I understand you’ve been around for a while. I understand that you have your opinion.” They have just as much of a right to be here, to volunteer, to voice their opinion as you do because they’re a Democrat voter just like you whether they be a Democrat for 1 year or 100 years, they matter.
They are a vote, they have a place here. There are interesting dynamics. It’s interesting because I have a lot of establishment support but I also consider myself an outsider in a number of ways because I’m able to see some things that don’t work that they themselves don’t recognize are a problem if that makes sense. When you get out of the party bubble, the perception is different from those four or five people. It’s that mass perception that I get priority over. That’s how we’re going to grow the base. That’s how we’re going to grow the Party. That’s how we’re going to win elections.
I want to see our Democrats continue to be elected. I want new blood in the race. I’m not saying those who are more seasoned who’ve been in office for a while should go away. No, but start helping mentor people so when you choose to retire, we have people that can step up and continue that legacy of service that he or she has work so hard to build. It’s not being usurped by someone of a different party with different values and it seems like all those years of service and commitment are out the window.
You’ve got three little brothers. What do they think about all this politics?
I have three. My parents are divorced. From my mom and dad, I have two siblings, Jacob and Jeshua and then between my dad and my stepmother, I have a brother and his name is HJ. He’s a little Howard Joseph Trahan IV. We have a lot of Howard’s in the family. They skip me because my mom was like, “Look,” so I took the middle name, Joseph, because she didn’t want Howard.
My grandfather, my mom’s dad, his name was Norman Waldo Thompson and he tried to convince mom to name me after him and she laughed.
Jacob is not interested in politics.
He’s the police officer.
We’re only 14 to 15 months apart. We buttheads a lot but we also love the heck out of each other, and we’ll always have each other’s back. He’s a Marine. He’s a third-generation Beaumont Police Officer. I’m very proud of him. He has to get out of his comfort zone a little bit but he does it because he’s proud and he knows my values. He knows what I’m capable of doing and I respect that. Jeshua is very much politically inclined. He’s in high school in Senior Westbrook. He is all about getting out to vote, youth inclusion and diversity. He’s gung-ho. He gets a lot of his friends to help me block walk. Many of them, it’s their first election ever voted and they’re stoked. HJ is a basketball player. He goes to St. Anthony’s and he’s not interested in politics. He’s like, “Can I vote for you?” I’m like, “No, not legally.” The family has come together. What’s interesting too is even though I have divorced parents and by default, their families and the separation and all that, for the first time in years, they’ve all been able to be in the same room together, working towards the same goal. That’s electing me as chair of the Democratic Party.
On top of that, time heals.
That’s another thing. I’ve had to deal with trying to dodge landmines in my own family because of divorce and the difficulty that is involved in that. I’ve learned how to balance conflict. I’ve learned how to approach people based upon their personality.
You’ve had to deal with that in different communities too. You’re in certain parts of Port Arthur and you’re just not black enough and when you were in high school, you just weren’t white enough.
I will never forget and I had many good people that I went to school with, but there were a few that clearly had some elements of racism and bigotry within them or at least within their families. I had a couple of fathers that didn’t want me to go out with their daughters because of I had black in me. People that didn’t realize that my family history, Papa would go into people’s homes and they’d start letting out the N-word or they’d start making comments and I’m like, “Wow.” You start to see.
At least they showed their true colors. There’s still ignorance out there, at least now and you don’t want to go out with those girls anyway. It’s gotten better though over time. The reason I believe that it was because my oldest daughter is a junior at Westbrook over there with her little brother. Her and her friends, I’ve never picked up on an inkling of it. They may be joking here and there but it goes all four, it goes all ways. They’re respectful at least in this generation. They may lack in other areas but I see that.
I see that with my brother’s generation. There certainly has been progress.
I’m 43 years old and one of my best friends, we’ve been friends for many years. He invited me over his mom’s house several years ago for his sister’s birthday. I say, “I’ll go.” We had a great time. I and him and a couple of his sisters and brother-in-law got all beered-up and had a big time. A couple of days later, I said, “Thanks for having me at moms. It was fun.” He goes, “You’re the first white guy I’ve ever taken to my mom’s house.” He’s my age too. I’m like, “That’s weird.” He’s like, “I didn’t grow up here. That’s not how it was growing up.” Partly, I don’t have that perspective because I wasn’t around those ideas a lot. Number two if I said, “It’s not like that when all the kids are around.” It looks like a rainbow coalition. You see all colors, all shades, all sizes and all backgrounds. That’s what makes our country strong and beautiful. Don’t forget those ideas from the past, but don’t let them give you prejudice back towards someone else.
My thinking was even though I’ve been blocked walking a lot in Port Arthur and I went down. I’ll never forget, I was walking my brother Jeshua and a few other volunteers. There was a group of gentlemen and they said, “You’re not welcome here.” They thought we were Donald Trump’s supporters and automatically out of the gate. I approached them and I said, “I’m not here for Donald Trump. I can’t stand the man.” It immediately disarmed and it’s vice versa. It doesn’t matter what community you’re in. There are feelings of uncertainty that exists that you have to be willing to walk into that, irrespective of race, sexual orientation or religious identity. Once you’re able to pierce that, that’s where you’re able to get in to have honest conversations about the issues in our community and you’re able to bring people in. That’s my goal for the Democratic Party. I want to be able to go to events and see America. I want to see my family because my family is a melting pot and I want to see that in the Democratic Party here locally.
Joseph, I’m going to say this. I’m glad I’ve met you. I’m happy to have you on the show. We’ll get on that here. One last bit and one last plug. Tell people where do they find out more about you and tell them when to vote?
My name is Joseph Trahan. I’m running for Chair of the Jefferson County Democratic Party. I’m proud to say that I have the endorsements of former Congressman Nick Lampson, County Clerk Carolyn Guidry and the Beaumont Police Officers Association. To learn more about me, my platform and my qualifications, you can go to JosephTrahan.com. There’s also an option to donate because I’m not Mike Bloomberg, so I can’t sell fund my campaign. I need all the support I can get. Early voting starts February 18th through the 28th, 2020. There’s no excuse. You can vote on a weekend during the early voting. The Election Day is March 3rd, 2020 and I want to drive this home. There is no general election for me. This primary is my election and I hope that you will choose me. My race is towards the bottom of the ballot, but I’m number one in the race. I hope to be number one in your heart.
Thanks again for coming in and best of luck.
About Joseph Trahan
Joseph is a proud graduate of Hamshire-Fannett High School and the University of Texas at Austin. He has served in numerous leadership roles over the last nine years and remains politically active. He is the former assistant to Congressman Nick Lampson and currently spearheads the expansion of the Children’s Center, Inc. into Jefferson County. He serves on the Land Manor Drug Rehabilitation Program’s
Board of Directors, is the Program Chair of the Freedom Fund Banquet for the NAACP, and is a member of the Young Professionals Organization of Southeast Texas and Leadership Beaumont Class of 2020. He was the communications and campus director of University Democrats at UT Austin, chairman of the distinguished Student Endowed Centennial Lectureship, and appointed as a board member on the Counseling and Mental Health Center’s Advisory Board and UT Austin Police Department’s Oversight Committee.
He is a fifth-generation Jefferson County resident with deep ties in the community and strong organizing skills to lead the Democratic Party into its next chapter. Joseph is the son of Sgt. Howard J. Trahan, III of the Beaumont Police Department and Dr. Fonda Woodsmall, Ed.D. His paternal grandparents are Howard J. Trahan, Jr. and Loyce Trahan. Howard was a prominent civil rights leader and politician who served on the Beaumont Independent School District’s Board of Trustees for over 20 years. His maternal grandparents are Ed and Faye Woodsmall. Ed is a retired captain from the Beaumont Police Department and Faye is a retired sergeant as well as the city’s first female police officer. It is because of his family that he is a staunch supporter of unions, public education, and the Democratic Party.
It’s clear Joseph is rooted in the community and uniquely positioned to lead the Jefferson County Democratic Party. He is committed to fundraising on the party’s behalf, better organizing its internal activities, and strengthening its credibility among the various constituencies it represents. The three words that describe his leadership style are principled, progressive, and inclusive. It’s time to pass the torch and show the county that the Democratic Party is in fact a big tent with values rooted in humanity. Will you join us? #TeamTrahan