Naomi Aberly is the chair of the Planned Parenthood Federation Board of Directors. Naomi is also a board member of SiX, the State Innovation Exchange, Battleground Texas and the Texas Future Project. She served on the National Finance Council for President Obama in 2008 and 2012 and is a former board chair of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas and Annie’s List in Texas. She is a member of the Planned Parenthood Leadership Council, the Women Donors Network, and the EMILY’s List Majority Council.
Beginnings of Battleground Texas
On November 30, 2012, half a dozen wealthy Texans—all of whom had donated to the Obama cause and were in Washington to attend the early flurry of holiday parties—gathered in Ben Barnes’s downtown office to talk about how to turn their state blue. Among them were Dallas progressive activist Naomi Aberly, Austin realtor Kirk Rudy, and Adrienne Donato, the Obama campaign’s chief Texas fund-raiser. Donato had organized this meeting. With her was a nerdily dashing and fast-talking 34-year-old named Jeremy Bird, who had found his way in life from a trailer park in Missouri to Harvard Divinity School to a job as the South Carolina field director for Barack Obama’s 2008 primary campaign to a subsequent job as the national field director for Obama’s 2012 reelection. Which is to say that standing before this group of hungry Texas Democrats were the brains behind the greatest national field organization that American politics had ever seen.
The subject of Texas had been in the back of Bird’s mind for years. Like many top Obama campaign staffers, it didn’t make sense to him that the state was so dependably red, given its demographic trends. During the summer of 2008, when the Obama campaign had literally more money than it knew how to spend, Bird had given some thought to investing in a few Texas events, but he’d lacked the time to plan them. In 2012 his field operation had the opposite problem: time but no money. Every dollar was needed in the battleground states. Nonetheless, Bird remained transfixed by Texas and its 38 electoral votes. The only state with more was solidly Democratic California. Added together, the two had 93 electoral votes, an all but insurmountable margin. While talking to field organizers or big donors, Bird would stand beside a map of the United States and sketch out pathways to victory from the West Coast to the East. Invariably his finger would fall on the Lone Star State and he would say, Someday we’re going to have a different kind of conversation about Texas. That day had now arrived.
Still giddy from the reelection, the Texans in the room swore to Bird that their state was within reach, if only someone with his field wizardry would coordinate the crusade. They told him how the state’s wealthy liberal donors were itching to spend their money back home. The effort would need a catchy name. Somebody—no one seems to remember who—blurted out “Battleground Texas!” and everyone buzzed with excitement. Bird had never met most of the attendees before, but he was impressed by their unity and enthusiasm. He walked out of the meeting thinking, We can do this.
Five days later, at an office on Capitol Hill, Bird and Donato convened a second meeting, with a much larger group of Texans. This time, Bird did much of the talking. He explained to them that a twenty-first-century grassroots operation no longer meant simply knocking on doors and making calls—it would involve heavy use of digital resources and data analytics. He also walked them through the state’s enticing population trends but said, to the surprise of some of the donors in the room, “You can’t just wait for a big demographic shift to happen. That’s not enough to turn things around.” By the end of this meeting, it was evident to Bird that Battleground Texas would be his new project. What he needed next was seed money—and he knew who to call on to get it.
On the morning of January 14, Bird and Donato arrived at the home of Amber Mostyn and Steve Mostyn. The hosts had remained big donors since the debacle of 2010—they’d given $9.8 million to Democrats nationwide during the 2012 cycle—but defeat had made them wary. Now the couple and their political adviser, Jeff Rotkoff, listened to Bird make his pitch. He wanted $250,000 to start up Battleground Texas. His hosts wanted to know how he planned to generate Obama-style enthusiasm in Texas without a candidate as charismatic as Obama.
“We’re going to do a lot of research, focus-group our own activists, and figure out what worked that we can transport to a new effort,” Bird assured them.
“When can we see a budget?” Steve Mostyn asked—by which he meant not a one-page summary but a detailed spreadsheet.
“I’ll get that to you right away,” Bird said. Less than two weeks later, the Mostyns received a lengthy itemization of anticipated expenses, right down to office supplies and monthly health insurance costs. They cut Bird a check, as did Naomi Aberly, longtime state Democratic activist Aimee Boone, and Houston attorney Carrin F. Patman, among others. In late January word went out to the state and national press: the Obamaites were coming to Texas, and they intended to stay.
Battleground Texas Advisory Board, 2018;
Board Chair Jenn Brown, Naomi Aberly, Jeremy Bird, former Dallas Mayor and Ambassador Ron Kirk, Congressman Joaquin Castro, community leader Eric D. Johnson, Austin Ligon, Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez, volunteer leader Jennifer Longoria, labor leader Marvin Ragsdale, Eddy Morales, Amber Mostyn, Carrin Mauritz Patman, Carrin F. Patman, Kirk Rudy, and Lynda Tran.
Colin Allred for Congress Campaign Advisory Board
The Colin Allred for Congress Advisory Board is comprised of leaders from across the business, political, and non-profit sectors who will offer their expertise and strategic guidance to the campaign.
- Naomi Aberly, Chair of the Planned Parenthood Federation Board of Directors.