Tag: Texas politics

Reimagining the Bible Belt: Faith-based organizers in Texas are still battling ghosts of the Old South

This article by Lydia Bean (my daughter) and Danielle Ayers dominates the cover of this month’s Sojourner’s Magazine.  

By Danielle Ayers , Lydia Bean July 2015

IF YOU’RE A Christian who cares about social justice, you can’t afford to ignore Texas.

In his book Rough Country, Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow puts it bluntly: “Texas is America’s most powerful Bible-Belt state.” Texas has the second largest population in the country, home to more than 26 million people. In 2014, Texans led six out of 21 congressional committees. And more than half of Texans attend church at least twice monthly.

No other state has more evangelical Christians than Texas. Many national Christian media companies, parachurch ministries, and influential megachurches are based in Texas. That’s why Texas is called the Buckle of the Bible Belt: It’s the most populous, wealthy, and politically powerful part of the country where evangelical churchgoing is still a dominant force.

But what if we reimagine the Bible Belt? In 2005, Texas officially became a “majority-minority” state, where traditional minority racial or ethnic groups represent more than half of the population. A majority of Texans under 40 in the pews are people of color. This creates an opportunity: Demographic change could lead to cultural change. What if we cast a new vision for faith in Texas public life that puts working families and people of color at the center?

But demographic change will not translate automatically into cultural change. The dominant historical Bible Belt narrative has influenced and shaped the identities of all Texas Christians, including in the African-American and Latino faith communities.

Christians and white supremacy
In Texas and most of the South, the dominant form of evangelical Christianity has been deeply complicit with white supremacy. During the ascendency of the Ku Klux Klan, many white Christians acted as if lynching was a legitimate defense of their white Christian civilization. In the 1920s, J. Frank Norris, pastor of a 10,000-member fundamentalist megachurch in Fort Worth, kept close ties with the Klan, according to author David R. Stokes. Norris, a powerful fundamentalist leader, even invited the Texas Klan’s Grand Dragon to lead prayer from the church’s pulpit one Sunday morning and later hired him to teach at the church.

In the 1950s and ’60s, the most powerful leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention—including W.A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, the nation’s largest Southern Baptist church at the time—opposed the civil rights movement. In 1956, Criswell denounced the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision that ruled racial segregation unconstitutional. “Let them integrate,” Criswell shouted before the South Carolina legislature, according to historian Andrew M. Manis. “Let them sit up there in their dirty shirts and make all their fine speeches. But they are all a bunch of infidels, dying from the neck up.”

Read more here

Why Texas Democrats lost, and how they can win

Wendy Davis
Wendy Davis

By Alan Bean

Why were Democrats so thoroughly humiliated in the 2014 election?  Analysts have been warning for months that this would be a tough year for the Blue team, but few expected the carnage to be this bad (or good, depending on your perspective).

The question is particularly pressing in Texas where Wendy Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor, lost by twenty points despite prodigious fund-raising success and massive GOTV support from groups like Battleground Texas.

Few expected Davis to win; but twenty points?

By the numbers, Davis lost because more 80% of key demographic groups voted for Republican Greg Abbott: white males, white evangelical Christians, voters who believe government is too big and that abortion should be illegal.

But Davis also lost because voters who normally help Democrats stayed home.

Davis didn’t do well with younger voters and did really badly with older voters.  Only 6% of the electorate was between 18 and 24 and Greg Abbott received 59% of the votes of Texans between 25-29, 45% in the 30-39 category, 57% in the 40-49 group, and close to 70% support from voters 50 and older.

Only 61% of Latino woman supported Davis while Latino men actually favored Abbot, albeit by a single percentage point.  Over all, Davis got only 25% of the white vote, 92% of the black vote and 55% of the Latino vote.

Latino support for Leticia Van de Putte, candidate for Lieutenant Governor, was also embarrassingly weak. While Latino women favored Leticia 58%-40%, Latino men backed Dan Patrick, an outspoken opponent of immigration reform, 53% to 46%.  These results are particularly mystifying when you realize that Van de Putte is a Latina who switches effortlessly between English and Spanish.

If Democrats were shredded from sea to shining sea, the results in Texas were particularly depressing for a party boasting its intention to “turn Texas blue.”

So, why did it happen.

The big story is that only 28.5% of eligible Texas voters showed up at the polls.  Texas has always been a low-voting state, but 28.5% suggests an alarming level of disengagement.  White evangelicals showed up in droves, comprising 30% of the Texas electorate (according to exit polls), and 84% of them voted for the Republican.

Even if every single evangelical voter had stayed home, Davis would have eked out a narrow victory.

When you can’t win 30% of the white vote, it doesn’t matter how well you do with young people and Latinos.

Election results make it clear that Latinos who care about immigration and young people generally stayed home.

It is tempting for Democrats to castigate their supporters for sitting this one out, but that’s precisely the wrong approach.  What did Democrats do, in Texas or nationwide, to give young people and non-white voters a reason to vote?

As things presently stand, the Democrats are a party without a message,  And no, “the Tea Party is crazy and we’re not” doesn’t count.

When Obamacare survived a horrendous roll-out and registered a series of smashing successes, Republicans doubled down on their criticism.  When Democrats failed to defend their leader’s signature policy success, the only story in town came from Republican politicians and pundits: “Obamacare is horribly, shockingly, disgustingly awful!!!!”

Democrats begged Obama to avoid action on immigration until after the election.  The result: low turnout from frustrated Latino electorate and the loss of a hot campaign issue.  Sure, immigration is controversial, but the majority of American support both the Affordable Care Act and immigration reform.

A party without a message can’t compete with a party sporting simple talking points and a high degree of message discipline.  It doesn’t matter if most Republican positions are demonstrably wrong–if no one beats the drum for the alternative, Democrats will stay home and Republicans will score lopsided wins.

Texas Democrats won’t win 40% of the white evangelical vote in the foreseeable future, but if they can’t do better than 16%, the Republican hegemony could extend into the second half of the twentieth century.

White evangelicals see Democrats as the party of secularism, and if we restrict our attention to white Democrats a case can be made for this proposition.  But the anti-God label is hilariously off-target if Latino and African American voters are taken into account.

Show up at a Black or Latino church and you will realize that Republicans have no corner on spirituality; but too many white Democrats, in my experience, have come to see religion as the enemy.  That needs to change.

Wendy Davis was doomed form the outset because abortion rights, in Texas, is a political loser.  Greg Abbott’s position on abortion is surprisingly moderate, but the “abortion Barbie” label killed Davis in the heartland.

Unfortunately, much of the political money that flooded Texas came from people determined to make the abortion issue front and center.  The only way to protect women’s access to health care, long term, is to vote moderate candidates into positions of power.  In the end, Davis was forced to run away from abortion rights, gun control, immigration reform and virtually every other progressive issue.  She was a candidate without a message and her plight presented an egregious example of what ails Democrats across the nation.

Here’s the bottom line: democrats will become competitive in Texas the minute they give young people and Latinos a reason to vote.  That didn’t happen in 2014 and it won’t happen in 2016 unless we see dramatic change.

Republican Lite or Moral Vision, Texas Democrats Must Choose

Nobody is excited by Republican Lite (especially Republicans)
Nobody is excited by Republican Lite (especially Republicans)

By Alan Bean

Texas Democrats are confused.  For generations we were the party of Dixiecrat populists; defending the interests of the little guy from corporate elites, while beating the drum for white supremacy.  But when the Democratic Party became associated with civil rights, Texas politics shifted from Blue to Red.  A handful of urban districts remained dependably Blue, but the suburbs, small towns and rural sections of the Lone Star State are decidedly, triumphantly, Republican.

As a consequence, the Texas Democratic Party now consists of educated white liberals, African Americans, Latinos, and an aging cadre of white “Yeller-dogs” longing for the return of Dixiecrat hegemony.

Texas Democrats have identity issues.  We all want to “turn Texas blue”, but that’s where the agreement ends.  In the interest of party unity, we kick the vision question down the road, defining ourselves negatively, in terms of what we aren’t.

Specifically, we aren’t Tea Party conservatives.

That ain’t good enough.

There are two conflicting strategies for turning Texas Blue: we can get out the minority vote; or we can persuade moderate Republicans to abandon a party dominated by Tea Party extremists.  But we can’t pursue both strategies at the same time without garbling our message and blurring our vision.  Here’s why.