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For approximately 100 years, from the end of Reconstruction until the 1980s, the Democratic Party was dominant in Texas politics. However, since the 1950s the Republican Party has grown more prominent within the state, and became the state's dominant political party in the mid-1990s. This trend mirrors a national political realignment that has seen the once solidly Democratic South become increasingly dominated by Republicans.
The traditional culture of the state was heavily influenced by the plantation culture of the Old South as well as the patron system once prevalent (and still somewhat present) in northern Mexico and South Texas. In these societies the government's primary role was seen as being the preservation of social order. Solving of individual problems in society was seen as a local problem with the expectation that the individual should resolve his or her own issues. These influences continue to affect Texas today. Indeed in their book Texas Politics Today 2009-2010 authors Maxwell, Crain, and Santos attribute Texas' traditionally low voter turnout to these influences.
From 1848 until Richard M. Nixon's victory in 1972, Texas voted for the Democratic candidate for president in every election except 1928, 1952, and 1956 (it did not vote in 1864 and 1868 due to the Civil War and Reconstruction). In the post Civil War era, the Republican Party was virtually nonexistent in much of the South, including Texas. What little Republican support there was in Texas was almost exclusively in the free black communities, particularly in Galveston, and the so-called "German counties" – the rural Texas Hill Country inhabited by German Americans who had opposed slavery in the antebellum period. Some of the most important American political figures of the 20th Century, such as President Lyndon B. Johnson, Vice-President John Nance Garner, Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn and Senator Ralph Yarborough were Texas Democrats. However, the Texas Democrats were rarely united, being divided into conservative, moderate and liberal factions that vied with one another for power.
Two of the most important Republican figures of the post-Civil War era were George T. Ruby and Norris Wright Cuney. Ruby was a black community organizer, director in the federal Freedmen's Bureau, and leader of the Galveston Union League. His protégé Cuney was a freed Texas mulatto who had been educated in Pennsylvania. Cuney settled in Galveston and became active in the Union League and the Republican party and eventually rose to the leadership of the party. He became influential in Galveston and then Texas politics and is widely regarded as one of the most influential black leaders in the South during the 19th century.
The rebirth of the Republican Party in Texas can be traced back to 1952, when Democratic Governor Allan Shivers clashed with the Truman Administration over the claim on the Tidelands, which subsequently led to his work in helping Dwight D. Eisenhower carry the state. Beginning in the 1960s, Republican strength increased in Texas, particularly in the growing suburbs around Dallas and Houston. The election of Republicans like George H. W. Bush and John Tower to Congress during the 1960s reflected this trend. Nationally, Democrats became increasingly liberal and Republicans became increasingly conservative. During the late 20th century, conservative Southern Democrats began to leave the party and join the Republicans. Unlike the rest of the South, however, Texas was never especially supportive of the various third-party candidacies of Southern Democrats, and was the only state in the former Confederacy to back Democrat Hubert Humphrey in 1968. The 1980s saw a number of defections by conservative Democrats to the GOP, including Senator Phil Gramm, Congressman Kent Hance, and current GOP Governor Rick Perry, who was a Democrat during his time as a state lawmaker.
John Tower's 1961 election to the U.S. Senate made him the first statewide GOP officeholder since Reconstruction. Governor Bill Clements and Senator Phil Gramm (also a former Democrat) followed. Republicans became increasingly dominant in national elections in Texas. The last Democratic presidential candidate to win the state was Jimmy Carter in 1976. Previously, a Democrat had to win Texas to win the White House, but in the 1992 election, Bill Clinton won the Oval Office while losing Texas electoral votes. This significantly delined the power of Texas Democrats at the national level as party leaders believed the state had become unwinnable.
Despite increasing Republican strength in national elections, after the 1990 census, Texas Democrats still controlled both houses of the State Legislature and most statewide offices. As a result, they were able to direct the redistricting process. Although Congressional Texas Democrats only received an average of 40 percent of the votes, Democrats consistently had a majority in the state delegation, as they had in every election since at least the end of Reconstruction.
In 1994, Democratic Governor Ann Richards lost her bid for re-election against Republican George W. Bush, ending an era in which Democrats controlled the governorship all but eight of the past 120 years. Republicans have held the governorship ever since. In 1998, Bush won re-election in a landslide victory, with Republicans sweeping to victory in all the statewide races.
After the 2000 census, the Republican-controlled state Senate sought to draw a congressional district map that would guarantee a Republican majority in the state's delegation. The Democratic-controlled state House desired to retain a plan similar to the existing lines. Not surprisingly, this created an impasse. With the Legislature unable to reach a compromise, the matter was settled by a panel of federal court judges, who ruled in favor of a district map that largely retained the status quo.
However, the Republicans dominated the Legislative Redistricting Board, which draws the lines for the state legislative districts, by a majority of four to one. The Republicans on this board used their voting strength to adopt a map for the state Senate that was even more favorable to the Republicans and a map for the state House that also strongly favored them as Democrats had before.
In 2002, Texas Republicans gained control of the Texas House of Representatives for the first time since Reconstruction. The newly elected Republican legislature engaged in an unprecedented mid-decade redistricting plan. Democrats said that the redistricting was a blatant partisan gerrymander, while Republicans argued that it was a much-needed correction of the partisan lines drawn after the 1990 census. The result was a gain of six seats by the Republicans in the 2004 elections, giving them a majority of the state's delegation for the first time since Reconstruction.
In December 2005, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal that challenged the legality of this redistricting plan. While largely upholding the map, it ruled the El Paso-to-San Antonio 23rd District, which had been a protected majority-Latino district until the 2003 redistricting, was unconstitutionally drawn. The ruling forced nearly every district in the El Paso-San Antonio corridor to be reconfigured. Partly due to this, Democrats picked up two seats in the state in the 2006 elections. The 23rd's Republican incumbent was defeated in this election—the first time a Democratic House challenger unseated a Texas Republican incumbent in 10 years.
|2012||57.19% 4,555,799||41.35% 3,294,440|
|2008||55.48% 4,467,748||43.72% 3,521,164|
|2004||61.09% 4,526,917||38.30% 2,832,704|
|2000||59.30% 3,799,639||38.11% 2,433,746|
|1996||48.80% 2,736,166||43.81% 2,459,683|
|1992||40.61% 2,496,071||37.11% 2,281,815|
|1988||56.01% 3,036,829||43.41% 2,352,748|
|1984||63.58% 3,433,428||36.18% 1,949,276|
|1980||55.30% 2,510,705||41.51% 1,881,148|
|1976||47.97% 1,953,300||50.08% 2,082,319|
|1972||66.20% 2,298,896||33.24% 1,154,291|
|1968||39.87% 1,227,844||41.14% 1,266,804|
|1964||36.49% 958,566||63.32% 1,666,185|
|1960||48.52% 1,121,130||50.25% 1,167,567|
Republicans control all statewide Texas offices, both houses of the state legislature and have a majority in the Texas congressional delegation. This makes Texas one of the most Republican states in the U.S.
Despite overall Republican dominance, however, there are some cities and regions with strong Democratic power. Austin, the state capital, is a Democratic stronghold and a center of progressive political activism. El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley also remain loyal to the Democratic Party. In addition, the mayors of most major Texas cities, though running in "nonpartisan" races, are affiliated with the Democratic Party. The cities of Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, and El Paso all presently have elected mayors with Democratic ties, and have voted Democratic in recent statewide and federal elections. However, the suburbs of these cities remain heavily Republican.
While historically the Republicans first broke Democratic Solid South dominance in Texas by making inroads in urban areas like Dallas and Houston, today the key to Republican strength in the state is winning sweeping majorities across rural and suburban Texas, overcoming the Democratic urban vote.
During the 2006 election cycle, the Democrats scored major successes by winning six state House seats (five in the general election and one in an earlier special election), cutting the Republican majority in the House by half. They also gained two federal Congressional seats. The Democrats failed to win any statewide offices, however. 2008 saw further Democratic gains. Although the Republicans regained a congressional seat they had lost to the Democrats in 2006, the Democrats gained six state house seats (reducing the Republican majority there to a single seat) and one state senate seat.
The 2010 elections saw a reversal of this trend, with the Republicans taking a 101 to 49 supermajority in the State House. Republicans also captured 3 house seats, one central-Texas seat and two Hispanic-Majority seats in south Texas (one being the 23rd district lost in 2006).
Texas, like California, is now a minority-majority state. This means that non-Hispanic whites no longer make up a majority of the population. This is predominantly due to the booming Hispanic population, which accounted for 38.1% of the state's population as of 2011[update] (compared to 44.8% for non-Hispanic whites).
The state's changing demographics may well result in a change in its overall political persuasion. With Hispanic and Latino voters currently overwhelming supporting the Democratic Party, Texas may eventually become a tossup state in presidential elections and turn blue for the first time since 1976. This said, in a recent article, Mark Yzaguirre questioned this assumption through highlighting Governor Rick Perry's courting of 39% of Hispanics in his victory in the 2010 Texas Gubernatorial.
Texas has a reputation for strict "law and order" sentencing. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, of the 21 counties in the United States where more than a fifth of residents are prison inmates, 10 are in Texas. Texas leads the nation in executions, with 464 executions from 1974 to 2011. The second-highest ranking state is Virginia, with 108. A 2002 Houston Chronicle poll of Texans found that when asked "Do you support the death penalty?" 69.1% responded that they did, 21.9% did not support and 9.1% were not sure or gave no answer.
Texas has a long history with secession. It was originally a Spanish province, which in 1821 seceded from Spain and helped form the First Mexican Empire. In 1824 Texas became a state in the new Mexican republic. In 1835 Antonio López de Santa Anna assumed dictatorial control over the state and Several states openly rebelled against the changes: Coahuila y Tejas (the northern part of which would become the Republic of Texas), San Luis Potosí, Querétaro, Durango, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Yucatán, Jalisco, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, and Zacatecas. Several of these states formed their own governments: the Republic of the Rio Grande, the Republic of Yucatan, and the Republic of Texas. Only the Texans defeated Santa Anna and retained their independence.
Many Texans believe that because it joined the United States as a country, Texas retains the right to secede. However, neither the ordinance of The Texas Annexation of 1845 nor The Annexation of Texas Joint Resolution of Congress March 1, 1845 included provisions giving Texas the right to secede. Texas did originally retain the right to divide into as many as five independent States, and as part of the Compromise of 1850 continues to retain that right while ceding former claims westward and northward along the full length of the Rio Grande in exchange for $10 million from the federal government. Some scholars claim it was implied that Texas had the right to secede. It had broken away from Mexico, and could also separate itself from the United States if necessary.
The United States Supreme Court's primary ruling on the legality of secession involved a case brought by Texas involving a Civil War era bonds transfer. In deciding the 1869 Texas v. White case, the Supreme Court first addressed the issue of whether Texas had in fact seceded when it joined the Confederacy. In a 5-3 vote the Court "held that as a matter of constitutional law, no state could leave the Union, explicitly repudiating the position of the Confederate States that the United States was a voluntary compact between sovereign states." In writing the majority opinion Chief Justice Salmon Chase opined that:
When, therefore, Texas became one of the United States, she entered into an indissoluble relation. All the obligations of perpetual union, and all the guaranties of republican government in the Union, attached at once to the State. The act which consummated her admission into the Union was something more than a compact; it was the incorporation of a new member into the political body. And it was final. The union between Texas and the other States was as complete, as perpetual, and as indissoluble as the union between the original States. There was no place for reconsideration or revocation, except through revolution or through consent of the States.
However, as the issue of secession per se was not the one before the court, it has been debated as to whether this reasoning is merely dicta or a binding ruling on the question. It is also worth noting that Salmon Chase was nominated by Abraham Lincoln and was a staunch anti-secessionist. It is unlikely that he or his Republican appointed court would have approved of the Confederacy and Texas' choice to join it.
While the state's organized secessionist movement is relatively small, a notable minority of Texans hold secessionist sentiments. A 2009 poll found that 31% of Texans believe that Texas has the legal right to secede and form an independent country and 18% believe it should do so.