The Future of Texas Politics: The Past

This is the first in a series of posts examining the future of Texas Politics that I hope to write. I intend to examine ongoing demographic and political shifts in detail, and look to the future of statewide elections, Congressional and State Legislature elections, and redistricting.

Texas is the second largest state in the Union, after California.

Texas has been, for several years, a majority minority state.

Texas has 34 electoral votes, which will increase to 37 or 38 for the 2012 Presidential Election.

On the Presidential level, Texas has been one of the primary pieces (if not the primary piece) in the Republican Electoral College puzzle for years.

On the State level, Texas has not voted for a Democratic candidate for anything Statewide since 1994.

Yet if we can extrapolate from current trends, at some point in next decade Texas will become a bona fide purple swing state. Then it will become a blue state. Then it will become a linchpin of the Democratic electoral coalition, and as Texas flips, modern Conservative Republicanism as we know it will face mortal danger.

Contemporary Republican Dominance

A casual (Democratic) observer could be forgiven for thinking that Texas politics is nothing but bad news. After all, Texas seems to have produced plenty of bad news in recent years:

A) No Texas Democrat has won Statewide office since 1994.

B) Since 1976, Texas has consistently cast its ever increasing number of electoral votes for Republicans, constituting the key base of the GOP electoral college coalition.

C) There was the mid-decade redistricting in 2003, through which the GOP picked up 6 Congressional seats.

D) Even in a year when Democrats won a national landslide and Obama even won North Carolina and Indiana, he lost Texas by 12%, even with McCain having lost any home-state edge that Dubya might have claimed.

E) Rick Perry.

F) Of course, Texas is the adopted residence of that noted Northeastern Republican, George W. Bush.

I’ll stop the tedious litany there. Enough with the present, let’s look at the past.

A Brief History of Texas Politics

In order to understand Texas future, it is helpful to start with at least a basic familiarity with a story book version of Texas past. No, this is obviously not anywhere close to comprehensive, but very briefly:

  1. Starting after the end of Reconstruction, Texas was a solidly Democratic state, much like the rest of the American South. Actually, it was a one party State for up until the latter quarter of the 20th Century. The Texas Democratic Primary was THE election in Texas.
  2. Actually, that is false – there were in reality two “parties” – factions within the so-called “Democratic Party.” They were the Conservative Democratic Party (the socially dominant Bourbon Democrats), and the Progressive Democratic Party (including Populists, Liberals, and later on, racial minorities). In truth, these were the two political parties in Texas.
  3. After World War Two, new people began moving to Texas. They came from other States, like George H.W. Bush coming from Connecticut, and did not seem to realize that it was not proper to be a Republican in Texas, or that Texas had a two Party system under the umbrella of one Political Party. They moved to the booming suburbs of Dallas and Houston, as well as Midland, and started what was effectively a third party movement – the Republican Party.
  4. Gradually, the Texas Republican Party began winning the occasional election. Whenever the occasional Republican State Representative or Congressman sprouted from Texas soil, the Democratic Party did everything it could to rid the State of Texas of the blight of Republicanism. At first, when Republicans began popping up in the Dallas, Houston, and West Texas, Democrats were able to redistrict them out of power. But over time, it became unavoidable that Republicans would win some seats, both in the Texas House/State Senate and in Congress. Faced with this reality, Democrats packed Republican voters as densely as possible into strongly GOP districts, in order to limit the number of Republicans that could be elected.
  5. At the same time, voting rights were gradually granted to racial minorities, who began to support the Progressive Democrats.
  6. Seeing this, the Republican Party began to pursue the Southern Strategy, casting the Democrats as the party of Minorities. This was succesful in winning over the Conservative Democrats, mostly in more rural areas of Texas.
  7. This trend towards the Texas Republican Party reached its greatest height under the Governorship and then the disastrous Presidency of one George W. Bush. The Republican Party and the Conservative Democratic Party were as fully united as they have ever been, and they merged into one mass. In 2002 (aided by an ambitious State House gerrymander they were able to draw because of their dominance of statewide races), for the first time ever, the Republican Party won total control over the Texas government.
  8. The GOP set itself an ambitious goal – to destroy the last vestiges of the former 3 Party State, and “permanently” entrench the Republican Party in power, not just in Texas but in the Country as a whole. To accomplish this, they sought to defeat every last Anglo Democrat through mid-decade Congressional Redistricting. If the Anglo Incumbent’s district was voting GOP on the statewide level, they were thrown into a district designed to elect a Conservative Republican. If the Anglo Incumbent’s district was voting Dem on the statewide level, the GOP sought to change the district so that the Anglo Democratic incumbent would lose to a Hispanic or African American Democrat in the Democratic Primary. Jim Turner, Ralph Hall, Charlie Stenholm, Max Sandlin, Nick Lampson, Ralph Hall, and Chet Edwards were drawn into heavily GOP territory they had not previously represented.  Chris Bell, Lloyd Doggett, and Gene Green’s districts minority percentages were increased in an effort to ensure they would lose in Democratic Primaries to minority candidates. Martin Frost was a special case – his Democratic, majority-minority district was dismembered into a collection of districts that would all (and did) elect Anglo Republicans. Just as once no young (Anglo) Texan had grown up thinking it was acceptable to be a Republican, the GOP sought to ensure that no young (Anglo) Texan would grow up thinking that it was acceptable to vote for a Democrat. Texas was now a 2 Party State in line with the national norm, with an ascendant GOP pitted against a moderate to liberal Democratic Party. With the exception of an ever-dwindling number of old line rural stragglers, the Democratic Party was dominated by representatives from urban and minority areas – chiefly Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and the Rio Grande Valley. Texas was no longer a 3 Party State: the Conservative Democrats had merged with the Republicans into one united Republican Party. Texas was now a 2 Party State, with one Party (The Republican Party) holding hegemonic power.
  9. But nearly as soon as GOP predominance was put in place, the Bush Administration gradually collapsed into abject failure. Texas Democrats began making gradual gains in the State House, almost entirely in Urban/Suburban areas. In a bizarre 4-way Gubernatorial race in 2006, Incumbent Republican was re-elected with only 39% of the vote. In 2008, after a Presidential primary that energized Democratic voters, Texas voted solidly for John McCain, though much less solidly than it had voted for Bush.

This narrative of the past is necessarily incomplete and biased in what I included and what I left out – but that’s my story and I’m sticking too it.

Back To The Future

That ever-dwindling number of old line rural Conservative Democratic stragglers dwindles further still. The latest example came only last week, when rural East Texas State Representative Chuck Hopson switched from the Democratic Party to the Republicans. He now faces a difficult GOP primary fight. Ironically, many of those GOP Primary voters who may vote against him have much more historically in common with the one-time Bourbon Democrats than with the Post-WW2 Sunbelt Suburban Republicans of Dallas and Houston.

Kay Bailey Hutchison (a Dallas Republican) and Rick Perry (a Conservative Democrat until 1990) face off in a monumental GOP Gubernatorial primary. This primary cuts down a fault line in the contemporary Texas GOP. On the one hand stand the rural Rick Perry Conservative Democratic-Republicans, openly speaking of secession and other madness, as did their forebears in 1860. On the other hand stand the traditional Republicans of Sunbelt Suburbanism. As their own Northeastern forebears (like the Bush’s of Connecticut and Maine) were, the old line Republicans are more than a bit skeptical of neo-Jefferson-Davisism.

One could analogize the present day Texas Republican Party to an insane asylum. In that analogy, the inmates would be the rural Conservative Democrats, and the wardens would be the suburban Republicans who (once?) dominate(d?) the Party, heirs to the great Sun Belt Republican migration to the Dallas/Houston suburbs (The Tom Delays and Pete Sessionses of the world) and to Midland (The Tom Craddicks of the world). The outcome of that primary will be in some ways a test of just how much the “inmates” (rural Conservative Democrats) have taken over the asylum (the Republican Party) from the suburbanites who once pulled the levers. Admittedly, though this split is real, it is not absolute, and Kay Bailey Hutchison is much more the moderate Rockefeller Republican in image than in fact. But I am more than tempted to wonder whether we are coming full circle – a Conservative Democratic Party (renamed as the Republican Party) up against a Progressive Democratic Party (the Democratic Party).

Meanwhile, it is at least conceivable that a Democrat could win the governorship if, Scozzafavalike, GOP primary ruptures the fault between the two factions of the GOP – the old GOP, and the Conservative Democrats. It is also possible that Bill White could win a seat in the US Senate. But Democrats have had many shattered hopes in statewide races in Texas over the past number of years. And redistricting looms just over the horizon.

34 thoughts on “The Future of Texas Politics: The Past”

  1. would be if the old-line Republicans start moving to the Democratic Party out of revulsion to the teabaggers.  In fact, that is the only way that the Dems will be competitive in Texas in the next decade.  Eventually, the demographic onslaught will make Texas competitive again.

  2. present superficially similar demographics. Both electorates are about 60% white, 10% black, and 20% latino. One difference is that Texas latino voters are about 10% more Republican than those from California. But the  bigger difference is found in the whites: in CA, the two parties roughly split the difference, but in Texas, 7/10 white voters choose the Republican. That’s a huge difference, because it means that Republicans are already at 45% of the vote without having to win a single black or latino. So to win Texas there are two options, not mutually exclusive. First, make the electorate look more like the population. That requires a massive citizenship drive. Second, get more whites to vote for Democrats. IMO, the second option is more difficult. These people are capital R George W. Bush Republicans.

    We’ve got a ways to go there.

  3. I know Democrats will never touch it.  They used up their severely limited quotient of ‘guts’ even discussing health care reform.  But a path to citizenship for people who already live there anyway would go a long way towards changing Texas’ demographics and pushing it towards where California is now.

  4. How many of the 3-4 new US House districts TX will have in 2012 will be won by Democrats?  I reads somewhere a while back that the GOP has already maxed out their TX seats, and that all additional seats will go to the Democrats.  Do you think this is true?

  5. By 2012 the National Popular Vote bill could guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

    The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes–that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    The Constitution gives every state the power to allocate its electoral votes for president, as well as to change state law on how those votes are awarded.

    The bill is currently endorsed by over 1,659 state legislators (in 48 states) who have sponsored and/or cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. This national result is similar to recent polls in closely divided battleground states: Colorado– 68%, Iowa –75%, Michigan– 73%, Missouri– 70%, New Hampshire– 69%, Nevada– 72%, New Mexico– 76%, North Carolina– 74%, Ohio– 70%, Pennsylvania — 78%, Virginia — 74%, and Wisconsin — 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): Delaware –75%, Maine — 77%, Nebraska — 74%, New Hampshire –69%, Nevada — 72%, New Mexico — 76%, Rhode Island — 74%, and Vermont — 75%;  in Southern and border states: Arkansas –80%, Kentucky — 80%, Mississippi –77%, Missouri — 70%, North Carolina — 74%, and Virginia — 74%; and in other states polled: California — 70%, Connecticut — 74% , Massachusetts — 73%, New York — 79%, and Washington — 77%.

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 29 state legislative chambers, in 19 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Oregon,  and both houses in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, and Washington. These five states possess 61 electoral votes — 23% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

    See http://www.NationalPopularVote…  

  6. Old line Republicans Going Dem. I think that may actually be happening, though it’s hard to tell to what extent – certainly not as much as in the Northeast.

    Longer term is waiting on Demographics alone. I don’t feel like waiting. :)

  7. CA has a 6.7% Black population, Texas has 11.9%. That helps a little by a few percentage points. The Hispanic/Latino populations are ~36.5% in both states.

    Texas does not have a Bay Area or a West LA, as you point out… The closest thing is Austin. That definitely makes things harder, and that’s why CA is Democratic now, and Texas is not.

    Increased citizenship would help on the minority side, but would take years, even if immigration reform were passed tomorrow. It is also a waiting game for kids to turn 18. Not just the Hispanic, but also the African American population is much younger than the White population.

    On the white voter side, we need to find faults within the GOP and exploit them. It is true that there are many George W. Bush Republicans, but George W. Bush papered over a lot of cleavages.

    Winning Texas is definitely hard, but has great rewards.

  8. Rather, I mean the people who show up to vote. There’s very little racial difference between the states in that respect.

    Texas, like the rest of the south, would be far more competitive if its whites were a little less Republican. But having seen the kind of “Democrats” one typically needs to run to get them to vote for you, at this point I’m really not so interested. Make the electorate 10-15% more Latino and we’ll actually have something to talk about.  

  9. are weird. I think that in reality there is probably more of a difference between TX and CA particularly in the black electorate, than was shown in the exit polls in 2008. There certainly was in 2004:

    TX 2004 TX 2008 TX Change TX PerInc
    White 66% 63% -3% -5%
    Black 12% 13% 1% 8%
    Hispanic 20% 20% 0% 0%
    Asian 1% 2% 1% 100%
    Other 2% 2% 0% 0%
    CA 2004 CA 2008 CA Change CA PerInc
    White 65% 63% -2% -3%
    Black 6% 10% 4% 67%
    Hispanic 21% 18% -3% -14%
    Asian 4% 6% 2% 50%
    Other 4% 3% -1% -25%

    It seems implausible that the black portion of the electorate increased 67% in CA but only 8% in TX… I can believe that the Hispanic portion didn’t really increase much in TX, but not sure about it declining in CA… ? In both of these states, there is certainly a marked contrast to what happened with Hispanic/Latino turnout in Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado, where the Obama campaign made an effort to turn out Hispanics/Latinos.

    I think that the answer is that you get error with exit polls when you are quibbling on the level of a handful of percentage points. I’m skeptical that they really give you that precise or accurate read on the % of people that voted by race, especially in a state as large and diverse as Texas (or California), with a small sample in only whichever precincts they polled.

  10. A difference of 3-5% in the African American component of the electorate alone is highly significant for Texas. E.G. the difference between an electorate that is 10% African American and one that is 15% African American is very large and enough to make up a 5-8 point net margin, if African Americans vote ~90-10 Dem.

  11. The Dems asked for too much and let it die.  If you pass even a limited bill, it is much much easier to expand such a bill later when it is clear that more and more Latinos will vote.

  12. No way they get by without making 1 new Dem district out of D/FW.

    The other 2-3, a bit depends on how republicans feel about Chet Edwards, give him a safe seat (right down I-35, Waco to North Austin) they can hold the rest This also means giving Ciro a better district as well. They can push TX-10’s McCaul out of Travis County (which may not happen since he lives there) while withdrawing TX-25’s Lloyd Doggett to be only Travis County to make them both safe and squeeze another GOP seat in the area between Houston and San Antonio. Seat 3 should be South of Forth Worth, rural land; highly conservative.  Houston is . . . I dunno; need more info on how voting rights laws work.

    As it stands right now, if the map had 0 changes for another decade, Sessions (Dallas), McCaul (Austin/West Harris County), and Marchant (Dallas/Tarrant County border) would definitely be gone, Burgess (Denton/Fort Worth), Olson (Sugarland/Pasadena/North Galveston County), John Carter (Williamson County), and Culberson (West Houston) would be in very dangerous situations.

  13. I’d be skeptical about giving Edwards a safe seat.  Do that and Edwards will vote like a liberal.  Keep him in a tough seat, and he is forced to vote more like a Blue Dog, and even if you lose two more Dems because of it, they are still forced to show independence from the party.

    I guess the question is whether you’d rather have 1 liberal and 2 Repubs or 1 Blue Dog with the possibility of 2 more.

  14. This is the first time that a Democratic administration has been in charge of the Justice Department, responsible for pre-clearing plans. 36% of Texas’ population is Hispanic, but only 7/32 (22%) seats are Hispanic voting rights seats. If 4 new seats are added and only one is Hispanic, the percentage stays right at 22%. That despite the fact that no new Hispanic seats were added in 2000 after most of the growth was Hispanic fueled, and most of the growth responsible for the 3-4 new seats TX is getting in 2010 is also Hispanic.

    You’re right about DFW, there is gonna have to be another Democratic seat there, and it will be Hispanic majority. I’d expect the other stuff (Another Hispanic South Texas District?, Chet Edwards?, Lloyd Doggett?, Another Houston Dem seat?, the GOP incumbents you mentioned) is going to be a mess.

  15. It seems to me, the GOP is probably too extremist to think that way anymore, and that they want extremist Republicans or nothing. But when presented with that kind of choice in redistricting, I don’t know what they’ll do, and the result could be what you say, but I’ll suggest that it would be based on a different rationale. Instead of giving themselves more safe seats, they can make more closely-divided seats and hope to defeat the Democrats in those districts.

  16. of such extremist Repubs in the Texas House to pass that sort of plan.  And if KBH is elected, she may not go with that either.

    But if they do go for the most aggressive redistricting and proceed to nominate teabaggers for all the seats, then they will go down in a bloodbath.  

  17. As I recall, the Hispanic organizations that went to court against the DeLaymander came out the whole thing feeling cheated. They said they were ‘owed’ one or two more seats then. I expect that they will feel ‘owed’ more than just one or two more after the next Census. The Obama Administration, and possibly a shade of difference in the courts by then, could give them a good shot at grabbing all four new seats.  

  18. which the Court and Congress have been flighting over for some time. If I were Texas, I would seriously consider skipping preclearance and sue for a declaratory judgement in the D.C. Circuit. That’s what Georgia did in 2002 in the face of the hostile Justice Department. But the Texas Republicans are likely to get a more favorable result there–the DC Circuit is packed with Republican appointees.  

  19. wouldn’t that be appealed to the Supreme Court? Then there would be a very real chance that SCOTUS would say more Hispanic seats have to be added. At that point, since the normal preclearance process is skipped over, wouldn’t it get remanded straight to a panel of judges?

    At that point you would have a panel of judges drawing the map rather than the (likely GOP controlled) legislature. Having a court draw the whole map, like in 2000 in TX, seems like it would be a very bad scenario for the GOP. That’s a big risk to take, and I’d think they would want to try and avoid that.

    But I am not completely clear on all the intricacies of the law here…

  20. as the DC Circuit. I would expect them to affirm. And even if cert were granted, I would expect that in the meantime,  the maps would be allowed to go into effect.

    But I’m not 100% sure.  

  21. Too many people in this country think the Constitution is infallible and written in stone.  There will be a lot of talk about this common sense measure and nothing will be done about it as usual.

  22. I remember when California tried this…I was horrified.  Not on principle, of course, but because it was such a nakedly partisan power-grab by the CA GOP.  The only way would be a simultaneous 50 state move.  Otherwise…it’s unilateral disarmament.

  23. They wanted to do a Maine/Nebraska system where 2 votes go to the statewide winner and then the winner of each congressional district would get 1 vote. The promoters of this move (all of whom seemed to have some ties to the GOP at one level or another…hmmmmm) claimed to be advocating democracy (just ignore the fact that there’s nothing democratic about California’s uber-gerrymandered congressional districts).

  24. I thought this took a constitution amendment requiring 2/3rds of legislatures to pass it, regardless ofthe size of the state.  Why does the number of EV matter?

  25. They agree to collectively vote elect an EC slate for the candidate winning the national popular vote.  

  26.  Republicans have still been sucessful in other congressional initives. So in California, there was Prop. 11 which now has the State legislatures redistricted by an independent comission. I heard that people are planning to put an independent comission for Congressional Redistricting in California on the ballot for 2010. Schwarzenegger tried that in 2005 and failed but then again, so did his other propositions. Prop 11 passed only by 200,000 votes and in California, that is really close.

    The funny thing is that in Marin County, an extremly Liberal county in California that voted 78% for Obama also voted 57% on the Republican side for Prop 11. I am wondering if they were worried the Republicans would control legislative redistricting or they did not like the Democratic establishment. Maybe they just thought that the people should have a larger say in redistricting.  

  27. I seriously doubt Marin folk worried about GOP redistricting control, but I suspect there was, and still is, a heavy segment of liberal good-government types who didn’t get it through their heads that this was a naked power-grab.  That and they might have been in revolt against those in power ever since the Burton plan.

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