By Alan Bean
Once upon a time, the red-red state of Texas was Dixiecrat Blue. That changed at the federal level a long time ago, but as late as 2004, the State House was still controlled by Democrats. Recent elections have changed that in a big way–Republicans are now firmly in control of the Texas Legislature. Texas has always been a politically conservative state; it just took a few decades for the Southern strategy to kick in.
One quick glance at the Texas Legislature’s “face-book” and the racial implications of this political re-orientation is immediately obvious: most Democrats are black and brown and the delegation boasts a large number of women; flip over to the Republican delegation and you see lots of white males, a few white females and the occasional conservative Latino who was elected with Anglo votes.
Meanwhile, the complexion of the Texas electorate has been rapidly changing. The state population has been exploding in recent years and almost all the growth has come from the Latino segment of the population. Thanks to this growth, Texas was recently awarded four additional congressional seats. Here’s the problem; the Republican dominated Legislature is responsible for drawing up a new electoral map, but the folks responsible for creating four new seats rarely pull the red lever in the voting booth.
As this article in the National Journal indicates, the GOP initially looked to Rep. Lamar Smith for guidance. Smith suggested that they create two strong Republican districts (to ensure continued GOP hegemony) while cobbling together two heavily Latino districts a to avoid questions about fairness and possible legal challenges.
Led by Joe Barton and Rick Perry, Texas Republicans decided to ignore Smith’s advice and play for all the marbles. They controlled the Legislature, so they ought to be able to reconfigure the electoral lines in their favor. This kind of thinking produced a “Perrymandered” map designed to give the Republicans four new seats while doing absolutely nothing to increase Latino political influence. In fact, the new map was designed to frustrate Hispanic voters. The snub was obvious and intentional.
Texas Democrats have only themselves to blame for these developments. The party’s best bet (morally and politically) is to embrace ethnic diversity and market itself as “the party that looks like Texas.” Unfortunately, many older Democrats are still mired in the bad old days when Jim Crow values dominated Texas politics. What’s the use of fielding an inclusive mix of black, brown and white candidates, they reason, if conservative white voters rally around The Party of White? The idea that white voters might reconsider their biased ways if presented with a compelling new vision is beyond the comprehension for most Anglo Democrats in Texas.
Latino Texans are frustrated. For decades they have been exploited by Democrats and ignored by Republicans. Texas Latinos have a hard time getting excited about the Democratic Party (why should they), but they do want their growing numbers to translate into real political influence (why shouldn’t they). (more…)