Liberty Expose: Understanding Texas Politics
Let’s take a quick look at the politics of what might be the most misunderstood state in America. Aside from the Homeric history, growing economy and low cost of living, Texas is notable on the political scene for being the Mecca for Republicans. The state has not sent a Democrat to the Governor’s Mansion since Ann Richard’s 1990 electoral victory, and Texas has not thrown its support and electoral votes since it has done so for Jimmy Carter in 1976. Since then, Texas has become synonymous with conservatism – which is not to say Democrats aren’t fighting an insurrection to regain power.
Though typically solid red in election maps, like most states, the large cities of Texas – Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin – are deeply blue, especially, and ironically, the capital of Austin. Fort Worth, in North Texas, remains the only consistently Republican large city in the country. Democrat strongholds an also be found along the border with Mexico. However, this does not stop Texas from being decidedly red – and it does not stop Democrats from working to take those valuable 38 electoral votes away from the GOP.
Democrats that challenge the status quo in Texas achieve a degree of martyrdom from the media. Texas Monthly recently published a long, if not glamorous, article on the most prominent Democratic to challenge Cruz for his Senate seat – US Rep. Robert “Beto” O’Rourke of El Paso. The article, which is the cover issue of the current edition of Texas Monthly, outlines O’Rourke’s Hurricane Harvey relief efforts and paints a portrait of the El Paso Democrat as a charismatic, attractive, and concerned former punk rocker. The piece continues by laminating O’Rourke’s electoral chances, by going as far to say that “O’Rourke could have the personal appeal of Jesus, J.J. Watt, and Sam Houston, but would still be a Democrat running in Texas.”
The most prominent example comes from the 2014 Texas gubernatorial race, when Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot faced of against Democrat Texas Senator Wendy Davis. Davis, already widely known in Texas, came to national prominence in 2013 when she filibustered on the floor of the Texas senate for more than 12 hours to prevent a vote on a bill that enacted measures such as the banning of abortions after 20 weeks, amongst other issues.
To many, this made Davis a hero, and precipitated her 2014 gubernatorial campaign. Despite the fame acquired during the filibuster, and appearances on national programs aired by networks such as Comedy Central, Davis was met with resounding defeat in the election with a loss of more than 20 points. Last November it was announced that a film commemorating the pro-abortion filibuster was being made into a film titled Let Her Speak and will be starring Sandra Bullock as Wendy Davis. When Davis ran for governor, she did so by sacrificing a reelection bid for her Senate seat – one that went to avid pro-lifer Konni Burton.
Aside from resting on charismatic candidates, the Texas Democrats have had to find alternative means to turning Texas into a swing state. Not surprisingly, they are trying their hand with identity politics. Democrats hope that the demographic future of Texas will lead the state back towards the center. Hispanics, who primarily vote Democratic, are expected to become the most populace ethnic group in Texas. Democrats have tried to capitalize on this by taking measures such as promoting former San Antonio mayor and Obama cabinet official Julian Castro to prominence. However, the efforts so far are in vain as Hispanics have a notoriously low electoral turnout rate. This leads to Texas remaining a GOP stronghold.
Despite what many may believe, Texas is not the lockstep unified-GOP powerhouse that outsiders might perceive it to be. Just as the GOP is divided by bitter infighting on the national level, so too is the GOP in a state of inner conflict in Texas – and it is reflected in the politicians serving the state. The Republican profile spectrum is vast: there are centrists, or so-called “establishment” figures such as Land Commissioner George P. Bush, the son of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and grandson of former Presider George H.W. Bush. There are Republicans who are almost unflinching in representing conservative philosophy, such as Senator Ted Cruz. And then there are the absurd characters that one can find serving at the state and local level of any polity. Texas has Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who represents the populist wing of the party.
Power is divided amongst the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate. The Former is controlled by the more moderate Republicans who serve as a check on the Texas Senate, which is controlled by more conservative members. Democrats serve in both houses, but their voice is typically drowned out, unless given a microphone by the national media.
The balance of power between the Texas House and Texas Senate is the force that prevents Texas from personifying the polices supported in the GOP party platform. When a staunchly conservative policy is supported by the Senate, such as school choice programs and vouchers, it is usually the House that shoots down such aspirations. This reality might be the most evident in that the Texas governor, Greg Abbot, was an attorney, and the lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, was a talk show host. In Texas, most legislative power belongs to the lieutenant governor.
This dichotomy drives Texas to be a center-right state, albeit lowercase “c” on “center” and capitalized “r” in right. Like many state governments, there is a degree of corruption within the Texas government – the downside of the “anybody can be elected” mentality of state politics is that, well, anybody can be elected.
Some concluding thoughts: despite the best efforts of journalistic outlets to prop-up Democratic political figures, they will almost certainly, despite whatever charisma they may possess, lose. Not only because they have a “D” next to their name. No, because most Texans do not agree with them. When Wendy Davis took to the Senate floor to filibuster the anti-abortion bill and, to use pro-abortion advocate’s supremely Orwellian term, to defend “women’s health or reproductive rights,” she was doing so in contrast to the beliefs of many Texas women who find abortion to be appalling.
As it turns out, the political nature of Texas is not a malady that can be eviscerated via a Democratic enlightenment assisted by the media, as Texas Monthly has clearly done. Rather, Texas may be red because most Texan’s epistemological, cultural, and ethical understanding of the role of government in society has led them to favor conservative policies.