GovernorRick Perry (R)
SenatorsKay Bailey Hutchison (R)
John Cornyn (R)
- 12 D, 20 R
- 1 through 32
Texas is a nation-sized state, one of four states that had been independent republics earlier in their histories. (The others are California, Vermont and Hawaii.) It may come as no surprise that Texas stuck with its independent status the longest. Today, it is a state with an international image and international impact. The nation has voted for president 12 times since 1960. It elected Californians four times, and it elected Texans four times. These two largest states have put their stamp on national politics in our time, just as New York did up from 1900 to 1960, when it was the residence of five of the winners and eight of the losers in 15 elections. Texas has been the second-largest state in area since Alaska was admitted to the Union in 1959. It became the second-largest in population in 1994, when it passed New York. (California is the largest.) A formative strain in the state’s history is that it is a society without an aristocratic past, a state not formed by plantation owners or plutocrats but by dirt farmers. Texas was founded by Southerners, particularly Tennesseans, who wanted to establish their own republic within the borders of Mexico, a republic with Anglo-Saxon freedoms and black slavery. They defended their dream to the death at the Alamo and to a bloody victory at San Jacinto. They entered the Union willingly in 1845 and left it enthusiastically in 1861. The Texas that emerged from the Civil War was still young and poor. Not until 1901 was oil discovered at Spindletop, setting Texas wildcatters on the road to riches.
Without the underpinnings and burdens of tradition, 20th century Texas produced fabulous wealth, generously rewarding success while being unforgiving of failure. It has respect for learning and style—think of its great universities and Neiman Marcus—and it revels in rough manners and western wear. Texans are prone to wild swings in fortune—think of Sam Houston and the wildcatters, or Lyndon B. Johnson and George W. Bush. As the 21st century began, Texans, for their history of slavery and segregation, proved open to immigrants and friendly with their Mexican neighbors. The North American Free Trade Agreement, the opening up of the border and the coming together of these two countries that are at such different economic levels and have such different cultures, was a project mainly of Texans of both political parties, of Republican President George H. W. Bush and Democratic Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, of Democratic Gov. Ann Richards and Republican Gov. George W. Bush. At the same time, Texas has become a high-technology powerhouse with some of the nation’s most creative businesses. But its success is not just economic. There are elements of heroism—some mythical, some genuine—in Texas history that every elementary and high school student learns.
Texas started off as a marchland on the border of the Third World with an economy based on commodities, mainly cotton, and cotton’s prices were in long-term decline. Its farmers felt like they were part of a colonial economy controlled by bankers and Wall Street financiers. After Spindletop, Texas became the nation’s—and for a time the world’s—leading producer of oil. But oil prices, too, fell in free markets and were propped up by politicians—the 1936 “hot oil” act that Democrat Sam Rayburn, as chairman of the House Commerce Committee, pushed through and the oil depletion allowance maintained for years by Rayburn when he was speaker, by Johnson, when he was Senate majority leader, and by Bentsen, when he was Senate Finance Committee chairman. These politicians also secured subsidies for cotton growers and contracts for defense plants and space facilities in World War II and through the Cold War years. Most Texas voters stayed Democratic up to 1970 because of Confederate memories, New Deal affections and the clout and competence of Texas Democratic officeholders.
But the state’s economy grew more complex. By the 1970s, it was no longer dependent on raw commodities. The “awl bidness” here became less a matter of extracting oil than it was playing host to the greatest concentration of highly skilled specialists in extracting oil and natural gas in any part of the world. Also, beginning in the 1960s, Texas became a center for technology with the critical mass of knowledge and finances needed to produce firms like Texas Instruments and Dell Computer and a university infrastructure in the University of Texas and Texas A&M to match the highway system that ties the state together. The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is rich with defense contractors and with erstwhile small firms that grew large with exports to Mexico. Houston is home to firms like Schlumberger, the global oil services company, to many of the high-tech spinoffs from the space program, and to the enormous Texas Medical Center. San Antonio, with the Air Force’s prime hospital, has significant medical technology and biotech industries. Austin, as UT doubled its number of engineering professors, became a high-tech center vying for second place after California’s Silicon Valley. Texas state courts, once a happy hunting ground for trial lawyers, have been transformed by changes in tort law passed by the Legislature in 1995 and 2003. Meanwhile, the federal court in Marshall, thanks to a fast discovery process and the willingness of juries to bring in big verdicts against patent violators, has become one of the nation’s prime venues for patent cases. Texas’ low taxes, and lack of a state income tax, helped attract corporate headquarters like American Airlines, GTE, J.C. Penney and Exxon Mobil. Oil is just a small part of the Texas economy now. As a result, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston are ahead of old industrial centers like Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and St. Louis on the Top 10 list of metropolitan areas, and they are in the process of overtaking Philadelphia and San Francisco.
Texas surged ahead despite the crash of oil prices in the early 1980s and the savings and loan crisis in the late 1980s, the defense cuts of the early 1990s and the World Trade Organization ruling against cotton subsidies in 2005. Its economy quietly boomed during the first seven years of the new century and it was hit late and only lightly by the recession that started in late 2007. Low housing prices, tight lending practices and tough foreclosure laws meant that Texas did not have much of a housing bubble. Foreclosure rates in 2008 and early 2009 were well below the national average and far below those in California, Nevada, Arizona and Florida. Texas has developed a civic culture of adaptability and resilience, as it demonstrated by taking in thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees in 2005. Three years later, Houston weathered Hurricane Ike with orderly and timely evacuations and an absence of panic and looting. While other states pass laws requiring alternative energy sources in some distant year, Texas already produces more electricity from wind power than any other state, more than twice as much as California. In July 2008, regulators approved a $5 billion wind power transmission line project that will allow production to quadruple, enough for 3.7 million homes on a Texas-hot summer day.
Texas is proud of its history and requires a year of Texas history in its high schools. In 1845, when the Republic of Texas was annexed by the United States, New Englander Edward Everett Hale wrote a pamphlet entitled “How to Conquer Texas Before It Conquers Us,” calling for emigration from the North to dilute “an unprincipled population of adventurers.” But the newcomers joining ancestral Texans—think of the Bushes—have done much to put the stamp of Texas on the whole of the United States. Texas’ vast economy has outperformed the national average and most other large states. It has some of the lowest taxes in the country and some of the lowest welfare levels. Most spectacularly, Texas has an economy that has, seemingly effortlessly, generated a massive increase in jobs. Job growth has been about double the national average—Texas has 8% of the nation’s population and generated 14% of the nation’s job growth from 1999 to early 2008. Texas also exports more goods to other countries than any other state. Growth has been most rapid in the exurban counties at the edges of its big metropolitan areas; between 2000 and 2008, the population rose 55% in Collin County north of Dallas, 50% in Fort Bend County west of Houston, 58% in Williamson County north of Austin and 41% in Comal County northeast of San Antonio. Rural counties in West Texas, like so many in the Great Plains to the north, have been emptying out, but there has been steady growth in much of East Texas and rapid growth on the Lower Rio Grande, from Laredo to Brownsville. Growth has come almost equally from internal migration—a net 711,000 from 2000 to 2008—and immigration—851,000 during the same period.
Texas has surged in part because, in vivid contrast to that other onetime republic, California, it has nurtured and profited from its relationship with its southern neighbor, Mexico. California has been relatively indifferent to Mexico and even at times portrayed its southern neighbor as a burden, generating illegal aliens that California taxpayers must pay for. Texas has taken a different course. Its border with Mexico is longer, some 1,200 miles, and more often crossed. Southern Texas along the Rio Grande is a transition zone between two very different economies. Despite a history of racial segregation, Texas has shown a friendly face to Mexicans, while Mexican immigrants have been happy to become Texans. Fewer Latinos have crossed the border here to take advantage of welfare programs, which are much less generous in Texas than in California. Political leadership has made a difference. Gov. Bush, like Gov. Richards before him, journeyed often to Mexico and invited Mexican leaders to Texas, emphasizing the positive in public and leaving negative details to private negotiations. Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who prepared for his office by taking Spanish lessons, has followed the lead of Richards and Bush, and has opposed putting up a border fence on the Rio Grande. Nearly half of U.S. merchandise exports to Mexico are from Texas, significantly more than California. The NAFTA secretariat of labor is in Dallas, the North American Development Bank is headquartered in San Antonio, the Border Environmental Cooperation Commission is in Juarez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, and the busiest truck crossing between the countries is the new World Trade Bridge near Laredo and Nuevo Laredo.
Politically, Texas is now a predominantly Republican state. George W. Bush carried it 59%-38% in 2000 and 61%-38% in 2004. In 2008, GOP nominee John McCain carried it by a lesser margin, 55%-44%, but still ran 9 points ahead of his national average in Texas. It was not always so. The Republican trend was a long time coming. One-party Democratic dominance ended in the 1960s, and for two decades Democrats had real competition, except in the cases of a few perennially popular figures like Bentsen, who was on the ballot in 1970, 1976, 1982 and 1988. Metro Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston were the first parts of Texas to go Republican, and Bentsen relied on Democratic strength in the Texas countryside to win. Now the pattern is the other way around. The counties containing Dallas and Houston, San Antonio and Austin are to varying degrees trending Democratic, mostly because of expanding Latino and African-American populations. Democratic nominee Barack Obama carried all four in 2008. Most of the fast-growing exurban counties around them are heavily Republican, but McCain carried metro Dallas with only 55% and Houston with only 54% of the vote, well below Bush’s 62% in Dallas and 58% in Houston in 2004. McCain also carried metro San Antonio with 52% and lost metro Austin 58%-42%. The heavily Hispanic border counties, which voted 52%-48% for Democrat John Kerry in 2004, voted 65%-35% for Obama in 2008. The rest of Texas, some 203 rural and small urban counties, is now the state’s Republican bastion, voting 68%-31% for McCain over Obama. But they are a declining demographic force, growing just 5% from 2000 to 2008, while metro Dallas grew 22%; metro Houston, 21%; metro San Antonio, 19%; metro Austin, 32%; and the border area, 13%.
Republicans now hold all 29 statewide elective offices, including the entire state Supreme Court. They have won every gubernatorial election but one since 1986 and every U.S. Senate election since 1990. But there are signs their dominance may be in peril. One is demographic: the seemingly inevitable increase in the percentage of Latino voters. From 1990 to 2008, more than half of Texas’ population increase was accounted for by the increase in the number of Hispanics, and the Census Bureau estimates that the state population was 36% Hispanic at the end of that period. A slowdown in immigration may mean that percentage won’t rise as rapidly as previously projected, but the number who are eligible to vote will grow nevertheless. The 2008 exit poll showed that just 20% of Texas voters were Hispanic (more than the 13% who were African-American but far less than the 63% who were white). But that percentage will undoubtedly increase, with considerable repercussions. If the electorate were 15% more Hispanic and 15% less white and each group split as they did in the 2008 presidential election, the result in Texas would have been a 50%-49% McCain victory. Bush and political strategist Karl Rove cultivated Hispanic voters with some success. Bush won 49% or 39% of their votes (depending on which exit poll you believe) in his 1998 re-election for governor and 42% and 49% in his presidential races in 2000 and 2004, respectively. Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison did about as well, 44%, in her 2006 race for re-election, but Perry got only 31% of Hispanics in the four-candidate 2006 race for governor. In 2008, McCain won 35% of Latino voters and GOP Sen. John Cornyn won 36%. In future elections, Republicans are going to have to do as well as Bush or Hutchison with Hispanic voters in order to carry Texas by anything more than narrow margins.
The other threat to Republican dominance is the fact that they have been visibly and sometimes controversially in control of the state for some time now, time enough to accumulate political baggage and to inspire creative campaigning by the opposition. The congressional redistricting plan that then-U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, state House Speaker Tom Craddick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst slammed through in October 2003 made Texas’ House delegation more reflective of the party’s popular vote majorities but also set in motion a chain of events that resulted in DeLay’s resignation from the House under an ethics cloud. Craddick’s heavy-handed leadership sparked a move for his ouster in 2007 and fueled Democratic gains in legislative races in three successive elections that reduced the Republicans’ House majority to 76-74 and resulted in the election in 2009 of a new Republican speaker, Joe Straus, supported mostly by Democrats. Perry won re-election in 2006 against three opponents with only 39% of the vote and in early 2009, he and Hutchison were preparing to fight each other in the 2010 gubernatorial primary. Hutchison has said she will resign her Senate seat before that race, which would allow Perry to name a successor. But it would also trigger a special election, in which two Democrats with strong moderate records, Houston Mayor Bill White and former state Comptroller John Sharp, could be strong contenders. Texas politics, like the Texas economy, doesn’t stand still.
2008 Presidential Vote
2008 Democratic Presidential Primary
2008 Republican Presidential Primary
In 2008, Texas was, for the first time in 20 years, a pivotal state in presidential politics, more so in the two parties’ nomination contests than in the general election, although the result there was notably closer than many people had anticipated. In 1988, Texas’ presidential primary was moved to March, for Super Tuesday. Then, Democrats dominated the Legislature and far more Texans chose to vote in the Democratic than in the Republican primary. That year, 1.7 million voted in the Democratic primary, and Michael Dukakis led with 33% of the vote, Jesse Jackson got 25%, ahead of Al Gore, running as a Southern moderate, with 20%. Dukakis had support from urban liberals and Hispanics, Jackson from African-Americans, Gore from the dwindling number of rural and small-town yellow dog Democrats. Just over 1 million votes were cast on the Republican side, most of them for Texas’ own George H. W. Bush. In 1992, turnout was lower in both parties’ primaries. And in 1996, 2000 and 2004, both parties’ nominations were determined by the time Texas voted.
Not so in 2008. After Democrat Barack Obama in February won 14 straight primaries and 11 caucuses, Texas and Ohio, both voting on March 4, were must-wins for Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton. On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee was still campaigning against John McCain. So Texas got a lot more attention than it would have if the Legislature had chosen to set the primary for Super Tuesday on February 5. Obama and Clinton debated and campaigned hard in Texas. Democratic turnout was nearly 2.9 million, more than triple the 839,000 who voted in 2004 and 70% above the peak in 1988. The primary was a closer contest than Ohio’s. Clinton won by just 51%-47%. As in other states, Clinton carried women, older voters, downscale and rural whites and Latinos by wide margins. Obama carried men, younger voters, upscale and urban whites and blacks by wide margins. Clinton won 61% to 70% of the vote in San Antonio and border state Senate districts. (For some reason, Texas Democrats elect delegates by state Senate districts.) Obama won 73% in heavily African-American state Senate districts in Houston and Dallas. Rural districts, except for one which includes exurban Austin—Williamson County—voted for Clinton. Obama carried metro Dallas with 56%, metro Houston with 55%, and metro Austin with 60%. Clinton carried 18 Senate districts to Obama’s 13, but Obama won more delegates overall because one-third of them were selected in caucuses held on primary night and more Obama voters apparently showed up.
Turnout on the Republican side was much lower, 1.3 million, less than half the Democratic turnout and only slightly above the 1.1 million Republicans who voted in the not seriously contested primary in 2000. McCain beat Huckabee 51%-38%. Huckabee carried only one U.S. House district, the 4th, which includes Texarkana, right on the border with his native Arkansas. Half the primary voters were white evangelical Protestants, and Huckabee won more than 40% of the vote in the northern more Baptist half of the state, including the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. He won less than 40% in most parts of the southern half of the state. McCain’s biggest majorities were in the border areas and in the most upscale districts in Houston and Dallas.
In general elections, Texas has not voted Democratic since 1976, when it narrowly backed Jimmy Carter of Georgia. The best the Democratic ticket has done here since then was 43% in 1988, when Texas Democratic Sen. Lloyd Bentsen was on the ticket as Dukakis’ running mate, and 44% in 1996, as Texas businessman Ross Perot split the opposition to Democratic nominee Bill Clinton and Republican nominee Bob Dole carried the state with 49% of the vote.
In 2008, Obama got 44%, which left him well behind McCain’s 55%, but not so far behind as to banish Democrats’ hopes that they may once again be competitive for what are expected to be Texas’ 38 electoral votes in 2012. Obama carried the central city counties including Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin, something no Democrat has done since Lyndon Johnson swept his home state in 1964. Republicans led in party identification by only 34%-33%, but conservatives outnumbered liberals 46%-15%. Whites voted 73%-26% for McCain. He also won 83% among white evangelical Protestants and 69% among white voters under 30. African-Americans voted 98%-2% for Obama. Hispanics voted 63%-35% for Obama. Hispanics and upscale white voters were the most likely to have switched from Bush in 2004 to Obama in 2008. As a result, the coalitions supporting each candidate were very different in hue. More than 80% of McCain’s votes were cast by whites. A little more than one-third of Obama voters were whites with a little less than one-third black and about the same share Hispanic.
|111th Congress: 12 D, 20 R|
Before 2001, redistricting in Texas had always been the prerogative of Democrats. For many years, it was not particularly partisan; there weren’t enough Republicans to matter. By the 1990s, there were, and in 1991, the Democrats produced their masterpiece. Modified slightly by a 1996 court ruling, it clumped heavily Republican areas into hugely Republican districts, and then carved out, with convoluted lines, three new districts for Democrats. Starting in 1994, Republicans outpolled Democrats in House races and Anglo Democrats found themselves increasingly imperiled. Still, Democrats held a 17-13 majority in the delegation after the 2000 election.
Texas gained two new seats after the 2000 census, and Republicans like then-U.S. House Majority Whip Tom DeLay predicted that their party would pick up six to eight seats. But that didn’t happen. The Legislature was unable to agree on a map in 2001, and a three-judge federal court in Tyler, with two Democratic judges and one Republican judge, later took control and came up with a plan that protected all the incumbents and created two new Republican districts. But in effect, the partisan Democratic plan of 1991 was given new life, with the Republicans given two new seats as a consolation prize. The result was, predictably, a 17-15 Democratic delegation.
In 2002, Republicans won big majorities in the Legislature, and DeLay, by then one of the most powerful people in the state, lost no time in urging the Legislature to pass a new plan. Senate Republicans balked. But DeLay continued to press newly installed Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick, a longtime ally. As the legislative session neared adjournment, the House Redistricting Committee approved a new map on May 6, 2003. The disciplined Republican majority ignored Democrats’ protests. On the eve of the House’s scheduled debate on the plan, 51 Democrats fled the state and secretly settled in a Holiday Inn in Ardmore, Okla. to prevent the Republicans from getting the two-thirds required for a quorum. The stunt attracted national attention. The state police were dispatched to track down the “Killer D’s.” Once their location was revealed, the Democrats insisted they would not return to Austin until after May 15, the final day the House could take up the bill in its regular session. The maneuver worked only temporarily. Republican Gov. Rick Perry convened a special session on June 30, and in late July, the House approved the redistricting plan and sent it to the Senate.
Once Republicans hammered out details of the plan, with lines drawn to satisfy Craddick and DeLay, the pro-Republican plan passed. Twenty-two of the 32 districts had voted Republican in statewide races, and two others came close to doing so. The 2003 plan also shuffled around counties, so that Democrats who had been representing districts carried by Bush suddenly found themselves running in unfamiliar territory. The drafters attempted to comply with the Voting Rights Act by drawing safe districts for Texas’ two African-American and five Hispanic incumbent Democrats. The new map in fact added a third heavily black district, in the Houston area, and increased from seven to eight the number of districts with Hispanic majorities. But it pointedly made what Texans called WD-40s—white Democrats over 40—an endangered species. There were 15 of them in the Texas delegation who were elected in 1992, 11 in 2000, 10 in 2002 and only three in 2004.
On December 19, 2003, the Justice Department ruled the plan was in compliance with the Voting Rights Act. And a federal court, after Democrats sued, ruled that it was permissible to redistrict more than once in the 10 years between censuses. On January 6, 2004, the court approved the plan 2-1. In September of that year, three DeLay associates who pushed the redistricting plan were indicted by Austin District Attorney Ronnie Earle on campaign finance charges related to the 2002 state House elections. And in October, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the three-judge court to reconsider the case in light of its decision in a redistricting case in Pennsylvania, in which the high court upheld a Republican plan as egregiously partisan as the Texas plan. In June 2005, the federal court again rejected the legal challenge.
But by then, an election under the new map had already been held and the new House members had taken office in 2004. George W. Bush carried Texas 61%-38%, and in the 32 House races, Republicans won 58% of the votes to Democrats’ 39%. Five WD-40s were defeated. Only three survived: Chet Edwards of Waco and Lloyd Doggett and Gene Green in majority Hispanic districts. The Texas delegation, 17-15 Democratic under the old map, was 21-11 Republican under the new map. Nationally, Republicans gained three seats in the House, with the help of Texas, to bring their total to 232, the most won by Republicans in any biennial election since 1946.
In December 2005, the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal, and in June, the Court upheld the basic plan, rejecting 7-2 the charge that it was “an unconstitutional political gerrymander.” But it also ruled, 5-4, that the fact that the 23rd District, held by Republican Henry Bonilla, had a population that was only 55% Hispanic violated the Voting Rights Act, and it suggested that the 25th District, stretching from Austin to the Rio Grande and 69% Hispanic (represented by Democrat Doggett), might also have to be redrawn. The three-judge district court adopted a new plan that gave a larger portion of San Antonio to the 23rd District and kept the 25th District within easy driving distance of Austin. Filing was reopened for the five altered districts with primaries to be held on Election Day and runoffs between the party nominees later in December.
The overall result was a victory for Republicans but with two offsetting losses. Democrat Nick Lampson, ousted in the 2nd District in 2004, came back and won in DeLay’s old 22nd District despite its heavy Republican leanings. And Bonilla, running after the Republicans had lost the House, lost his 23rd District seat to Democrat Ciro Rodriguez. That left Republicans with a 19-13 majority in the delegation. In 2008, Republican Pete Olson beat Lampson, raising the Republican advantage to 20-12.
Texas is expected to gain four House seats from the reapportionment following the 2010 census, although demographers suggest it may gain only three if the recession slows population growth. Control of the redistricting process is uncertain. In early 2009, Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison was preparing to challenge Perry in the 2010 Republican primary, setting up what could be a bitter contest and possibly leaving an opening for a serious Democratic candidate. The Republicans’ 19-12 advantage in the state Senate seems unlikely to be overturned. Democrats would have to win four of the nine Republican Senate seats up in 2010, and in only one did the Republican receive less than 69% of the vote in 2006. The state House is another matter. In 2008, Democrats reduced the Republican advantage there to 76-74, and Democrats provided most of the votes that enabled moderate Republican Joe Straus to oust six-year Republican Speaker Craddick in January 2009. The Texas Legislature traditionally has been less strictly partisan than those in most other states. Speakers and lieutenant governors routinely appoint House and Senate committee chairmen of the other party.
So, while it is possible that Republicans will have the absolute control over redistricting that they exercised in 2003, it is far from certain. Demographically, the most rapid growth in the state has been in exurban counties, almost all of them heavily Republican. But the prevailing interpretation of the Voting Rights Act will probably result in the creation of at least one more majority-Hispanic district and presumably a Democratic seat. All of this suggests that there may be only a minimal increase, and perhaps not any, in the current party split in the state’s House delegation. But changing demographics and the changed political balance make it unlikely that the Democrats can hope to restore something like the 1991 plan.