Texas 25th District
Austin is the capital of the second-largest state in the United States and the site of the largest Capitol building, if not the most rambunctious state legislature in the country. It is one of many capitals with a first-rate university, but one of only two with its own musical tradition (Nashville is the other). Not long ago, Austin was laid-back and countrified. There had never been much commerce here, and state government provided much of the local employment. Its skies were untainted by industrial smoke, its landscape unpocked by oil rigs, and its downtown streets lined not with business offices but with buildings holding a few lobbyists and the antique Driskill Hotel. Its biggest industry was the University of Texas, with 50,000 students and an endowment of thousands of west Texas acres that turned out to sit on top of oil. The university has long had a distinguished faculty and some of the world’s great scholarly collections, including the LBJ Presidential Library and its 35 million documents. The university has been a shelter for liberal intellectuals since the 1940s, and it helped spark Austin’s high-technology boom in the 1980s and 1990s. Half a century ago, in Lyndon Johnson’s time, Austin had a metropolitan population of 132,000. The compact Austin that was Johnson’s headquarters in 1948, when the Duval County returns came in and gave him the 87-vote Senate victory that made his national career, is a very different Austin from the metropolitan center of 1.2 million that waited up in the rain to hear the results of the election of Texas native son George W. Bush in 2000.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Growth has also brought political change. For many years, Austin was the central focus of Texas’s hardy but almost always outnumbered liberals, based in the university, state government and the Texas Observer magazine. They supported the New Deal and generous social programs and mocked the business lobbyists who called the shots when the “Leg” (pronounced lej) was in session. But as the Austin area grew, it became more conservative, especially as its private sector made up a larger share of the local economy. The techies who settled in the Silicon Hills from Austin’s Travis County to once-rural Williamson County have tended to vote Republican. Some businesses cater to the old liberal bastions: the upscale organic-food chain, Whole Foods Market, is based in Austin. The city core and the university area are still Democratic, and Texas liberals still are potent in the media. But this is a state capital where Gov. Bush could feel at home, perhaps more so than he did 30 years earlier when his application for admission was rejected by UT’s law school. Bush lost Austin and Travis County 59%-41% when he first ran for governor in 1994, but he carried the county 60%-38% in 1998 when he ran for re-election and 47%-42% in 2000 when he ran for president (10% went for Green Party nominee Ralph Nader). In 2004, Austin’s liberal community registered large numbers of new voters, and Bush lost Travis County 56%-42%, even as he increased his margin statewide. Democratic nominee Barack Obama carried Travis County with 64% of the vote.
The 25th Congressional District of Texas, a new seat created by the 2003 redistricting and revised significantly by a federal court in August 2006, encompasses nearly half of Travis County, including most of the east side of Austin and the city’s heavily Latino and African-American neighborhoods. The increasingly settled Hispanic community includes many people moving toward the middle class. The Capitol and the UT campus are just outside the district, in the 21st, while the 10th District takes in most of the Republican northern part of the city and county. Seven rural counties that extend to the south and east now account for 40% of the 25th district. The largest of them are Hays and Bastrop, both of which are among the fastest-growing in the state, having increased more than 25% from 2000 to 2007. The district was 37% Hispanic and 9% African-American in 2007. In 2008, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama carried the district 59%-39%, taking a 71% share of the vote in Travis County, which cast 59% of the total vote. Republican nominee John McCain carried all the other seven counties, three of them by 2-to-1 or better.