Monday, July 09, 2007
Texas turning blue http://www.opinionjournal.com/cc/?id=110010309
Democrats haven't won a statewide contest since 1994, and Republicans hold comfortable majorities in the state House and Senate. Both U.S. senators are Republicans. And even with the loss of two tight congressional races last year, Republicans hold 19 of 32 congressional districts.
There are, however, signs of trouble for the GOP. While Gov. Rick Perry won re-election in November, he achieved only a plurality in a four-way race that featured a Democrat and an independent as well as a former Republican turned independent (State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn). And Republicans lost two heartbreaking races in the past year. Rep. Henry Bonilla, a seven-term incumbent and the only Mexican-American Republican in Congress, lost to Democrat Ciro Rodriguez, who ran a haphazard campaign. George Antuna, a rising star who had worked for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Mr. Perry (when he was lieutenant governor under Mr. Bush), lost a race for an open state legislative seat.
In Dallas, moreover, Republicans imploded. Democrats ended decades of GOP dominance last fall by winning the county judge's seat, the district attorney's office and 41 out of 42 contested judicial races--election results the Dallas Morning News dubbed a "Democratic deluge."
Perhaps the biggest shoe to drop on Republicans came in the legislature. In January a clutch of disgruntled members tried to depose House Speaker Tom Craddick. They failed, but in May, tried again and this time the fight turned very ugly when Republican members were blocked from calling for the speaker's ouster by the speaker himself, who refused to grant them time to speak on the floor.
The result was raw politics: When members tried to force the issue, Mr. Craddick declared that his power to decide which members can bring motions to the floor was "absolute." In response, the House parliamentarian along with her deputy resigned in protest, and two Republican committee chairmen have appealed to GOP Attorney General Greg Abbott. His decision will likely come later this year. This is just the kind of parliamentary fight that most voters never understand, but will nonetheless perceive as evidence that Republicans can't be trusted with the levers of power.
Overall, the trend is more of a long-term one, and of course hinges partly on the alienation of the Hispanic vote. But it also seems inexorable:
"There's a certain inevitability in demographics," he told me. "We knew that if we could win 40% of the Hispanic vote," as Mr. Bush did in 2004, "we'd control Texas until 2030." But in 2006, the number of Texas Hispanics who voted Republican fell to between 30% and 35% (depending on the poll).
This shift alone spells trouble for Republicans. Many conservatives may not want to hear it, but Mr. Masset puts the blame on talk radio and cable TV reaction to immigration reform. He says an uncompromising attitude toward comprehensive reform and appeals to fear sometimes carry a whiff of racism that alienates Hispanics. "Houston is no more than six years behind Dallas," he warns.
And if the demographic shift continues to gain momentum, there's a real possibility that Democrats could achieve a majority in the Texas House by 2010. In 2003, Tom DeLay helped redraw the state's congressional districts to give Republicans six new seats in Congress. In just a few years, Democrats could turn the tables. Mr. Masset sums it up this way: "This thing with the Latino vote is deadly serious."
Last month, an Austin-based polling and political consulting firm decided to quantify the GOP's standing in the state. "We were frustrated by people talking about how bad things are for Republicans in Texas," says Marc DelSignore, vice president of Baselice & Associates Inc. What his firm found dovetailed with the national polls and Mr. Masset's political forecast. Older and white voters who predominate in suburban and rural communities continue to have positive impressions about the Republican Party, but there's an image problem among the state's growing number of younger voters and Hispanic voters, who are more numerous in urban centers. "When we looked at the numbers," Mr. DelSignore says, "this grew into a compelling narrative."
And why not? A similar flip happened in California in the 1990s. What was once Reagan Country became a Democratic stronghold. GOP Gov. Pete Wilson's get-tough approach to immigration was an undeniable factor.
In many ways the Texas GOP platform drove the agenda of the national party; now the national party's woes are contributing to dragging the Texas GOP down. It's kind of fitting.
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Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.