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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- At the same time, voting rights were gradually granted to racial minorities, who began to support the Progressive Democrats.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.