Steve Mostyn grew up in the East Texas town of Whitehouse. He was the first in his family to earn a college degree, and then was graduated from South Texas College of Law in 1996. Mostyn established his eponymously named law firm in 1999 and “found success by representing people who wanted to sue their insurance companies, such as those who had mold or foundation problems in their houses or who were denied coverage by their health carriers.”
Steve Mostyn died in 2017 of suicide, after an attack of mental illness.
When Hurricane Rita swept through Texas in 2005, Mostyn and his law firm aggressively snapped up the cases of homeowners who believed their insurance companies had underpaid them for damages. Mostyn quickly became the premier hurricane lawyer in the Lone Star State, filing 1,200 Rita claims. His strategy was to flood the zone, filing such a torrent of cases that insurance companies would be overwhelmed and decide to settle instead of litigate.
Mostyn followed up on his victories when Hurricane Ike struck Texas on Sept. 13, 2008. At its most powerful, Ike was classified as a Category 4 hurricane while over the ocean. Ike was the costliest hurricane ever to strike Texas. The Insurance Council of Texas reported that “insured losses as a result of the storm totaled $12 billion—$10 billion caused by wind damage and $2 billion caused by flooding.” Ike hit Galveston with 110 mile an hour winds, sending “a 20 foot wall of water over the Bolivar Peninsula and created a rising tide that flooded most of Galveston and many nearby communities along Galveston Bay”.
Ike gave Mostyn a chance to repeat his shock-and-awe approach to litigation that worked so well with Rita. Mostyn’s law firm proposed a $189 million settlement with the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA)—the insurer of last resort in vulnerable coastal areas—in a class-action lawsuit on behalf of 2,400 Galveston County homeowners. When the $189 million settlement was accepted, he earned the nickname “Hurricane Mostyn.” His law firm took $86 million in fees for its efforts.
Three million registered African-American and Latino voters stayed home 2010, not to mention the 2 million who were unregistered. Following the crushing Republican victory in 2010, Texas Organizing Project launched an ambitious project to discover, as Crystal Zermeno put it, “who was not voting, and why.”
Texas Organizing Project embarked on a series of intensive focus groups, which were largely financed by Amber Mostyn and Steve Mostyn, a pair of progressive Houston claims attorneys. (Their string of lucrative settlements included some with insurance companies who had balked at paying claims for Ike-related house damage.) Year after year, the Mostyns had loyally stumped up hefty donations to middle-of-the-road Democrats who doggedly pursued existing voters while ignoring the multitude who sat out elections all or most of the time. When TOP asked these reluctant voters about their abstention, the answer was almost always the same: “When I have voted for Democrats in the past, nothing has changed, so it’s not worth my time.” There was one telling exception: in San Antonio, voters said that the only Texas Democrat they trusted was Julian Castro, who ran for mayor in 2009 on a platform of bringing universal pre-K to the city, and delivered on his promise when he won.
On the passing of Steve Mostyn
- “We are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Steve Mostyn, and send our deepest prayers and condolences to his beautiful family.
- “Steve Mostyn was a man who committed his life to advancing justice in all its forms, and truly lived his values. He believed in the power of ordinary people coming together to exercise their rights — whether it be through the courts, at the ballot box, or in their neighborhoods. He had a huge heart and backed up his beliefs with action. His personality, his sense of humor, his heart and his generosity were the size of Texas— so much was made possible because of him.
- “He was an early, generous supporter of the Texas Organizing Project, and helped catapult the organization’s work forward when it came to community organizing and political action, particularly in disenfranchised communities of color. He was willing to back big ideas when many others would shy away because he deeply cared and believed in people.
- “Steve had our back. He was a friend, mentor and backer of so many of us who have been swimming upstream against powerful political forces in Texas that are hurting working families.
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.
Texas Future Project
High-powered Democrats from Texas and California have joined with national labor unions in an effort to mobilize out-of-state donors and raise millions of dollars to build a progressive majority in the Lone Star State that could change state policy and national elections.
The Texas Future Project - that also will seek to convince Texas Democrats to donate here - wants to direct funding to groups that it has identified as working to effect change, from Battleground Texas to Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas.
The project has commitments for close to $1 million, said Houston lawyer Steve Mostyn. He and his wife, Amber Mostyn, are top Democratic donors and part of a small core group of members of the project, which also includes a key California-based supporter of President Obama.
"The main thing ... when we talk to people from out of state, or folks in this state about keeping your money here, is the fact that it's possible - and that if the work is done, and the money is spent, that it's probable, it's actually probable -that you now become a battleground state in 2016 for the presidential race," Steve Mostyn said. "And the long-term effect - once you get a voter to vote once, then twice, then they are pretty much to be there."
Mostyn said the group would "like to raise as much as we can. If it's not doing a few million a year, then it's not really doing what it was designed to do."