Texas 4th District
The Red River Valley is hardscrabble farm country along an unnavigable river. First settled in the 1830s, in the days of the Texas Republic, many counties here reached their population peak around 1900, when a large extended farm family worked every 160 acres. It includes towns like Denison, which was the birthplace of Dwight Eisenhower and has become a manufacturing center, and Sherman, which was the site of a major race riot in 1930 when a black farm worker accused of rape was trapped in the courthouse after an angry white mob set it on fire. To the east is Texarkana, noteworthy because its neat grid streets cross the Texas-Arkansas state line, which is straddled by the city’s downtown post office. This small city and its hinterland produced two presidential candidates in the 1990s: Ross Perot grew up in Texarkana, while Bill Clinton’s boyhood home of Hope, Ark., is 30 miles east. This part of Texas sent Democrat Sam Rayburn to Congress in 1912. He was the powerful House speaker from 1940 until his death in 1961, except for two terms when Republicans had the majority. The Red River Valley was one of the strongest Democratic parts of the country, with a sentimental regard for Confederate veterans and a seething hatred of Wall Street bankers. This was Rayburn’s politics, and he arguably was the most skillful lawmaker of the 20th century. He helped write the securities laws that for 75 years provided the basis for confidence in American securities markets. Today, Rayburn’s politics has almost completely vanished from the area. The cause of the Confederacy has been left behind, populist suspicion of Wall Street has been replaced by active brokerage accounts and allegiance to the Democratic Party is a thing of the past.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 4th Congressional District of Texas is the lineal descendant of the seat that Rayburn held, and still includes his hometown of Bonham in Fannin County, which houses a Rayburn museum. But it is quite a different district. In Rayburn’s time it was a farm district, separate and distinct from citified Dallas. Today, it still has its farm counties, but they are only a short hop on the interstate from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and nearly half the district’s people live in the metropolitan area. The counties at the edge of the Metroplex, Collin and Rockwall, are among the fastest-growing in the country; with 71% growth from 2000 to 2007. Rockwall ranked third among the fastest-growing counties in the nation. The two counties are home now to upwardly-mobile families, far more trusting of free markets than of government regulation, and more than 2-to-1 are Republican. In 1940, the year Rayburn became speaker, his district voted 90% for Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 2008, the 4th District voted 69% for Republican presidential nominee John McCain.