Do you think demographics are turning Texas purple? You might want to think again.



According to his biographer, it was Samuel Johnson who described a second marriage as “the triumph of hope over experience.” The aphorism brings two other events to mind.

One is golf, as committed by hackers like me.

The other is the predictions from Democratic experts and professors I’ve heard for 20 years that Texas is about to turn blue, or at least purple.

Most of these predictions are based on demographics, mostly that the burgeoning Hispanic population will change the bright red hue of the state. The rise of the younger generations and the growth of the urban population were also mentioned.

My attitude remains the same as it has been for years. I will believe that a Democrat can win a state-wide office in Texas – something no Democrat has done since Bob Bullock was re-elected lieutenant governor in 1994 – if a Democrat wins state-wide in Texas.

But there is one recent development that seems to increase the Democrats’ chances. Let me give you a little bit of recent history.

The 2017 session of the Texan legislature was not characterized by far-reaching legislation. It focused almost entirely on hot social issues. Legislature approved an earlier Bill 8 that banned the most common surgical procedure for second trimester abortion and required clinics and hospitals to bury or cremate any fetal remains – be it from abortion, miscarriage, or stillbirth. The 2017 session also banned immigration “sanctuary” cities in Texas and required local officials to work with federal immigration officials.

Most violently of the meeting was the insistence of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on a “bathroom bill,” which requires people to use facilities according to the gender they were assigned at birth. The bill died in the House of Representatives, so Patrick introduced the call for a special session by blocking the passage of a bill needed to fund several key state agencies. Then he urged Governor Greg Abbott to add the bathroom bill to the special session.

In doing so, Abbott encountered opposition from major donors, reminding him of the economic repercussions North Carolina suffered after national corporations boycotted the state in response to their bathroom bills. Abbott told his donors not to worry that House Speaker Joe Straus would kill them. When it died again in the House of Representatives, Abbott attacked Straus publicly over the issue.

It was a session that was of very little value to most Texans, but played well for the Republican base. What was interesting was what happened next.

In the 2018 general election, the Democrats won two seats in Congress and a whopping 13 seats in the state’s House of Representatives. Beto O’Rourke, a year-old El Paso congressman, was only 2.6 percentage points off deposition of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, Dan Patrick’s soulmate on the ideological spectrum.

Patrick received just 51.3 percent of the vote, up from 58 percent four years earlier. Attorney General Ken Paxton, another culture fighter, quit with 50.6 percent, compared with 59 percent in 2014.

O’Rourke was credited with a vigorous and effective campaign, but many observers concluded that the Texan Independents and suburban voters were appalled at last year’s legislature. Among those who learned this lesson were members of the Republican leadership.

Dan Patrick announced at a press conference at the beginning of the 2019 legislature that the bathroom problem – his main focus two years earlier – had been magically resolved. “I think it’s settled and I think we won,” he said.

The legislature, still dominated by Republicans, took on a strikingly different tone. A few relatively humble anti-abortion laws have been passed protecting the extremely rare baby born alive to an attempted abortion and forbidding cities and counties from doing business with organizations that perform abortions.

The main focus of the session was on easing property taxes and providing billions in new school funding – for the first time in modern history, lawmakers addressed the issue of school funding without holding a gun to the head from the Texas Supreme Court.

Seasoned Capitol journalist Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune summed it up: “The Republicans, nervous about the progress of the Democrats, looked over their shoulders and pondered the 2020 election cycle.”

So what happened last November? Although the Democrats have spent record amounts of cash and touted the possibility of taking over the Texas House and winning several more Congressional seats, the Democrats have made no headway and have been fortunate to hold on to the gains they had made two years earlier.

So, Republicans learned their lesson in 2021, right? Your best way to maintain control of Texas was to downplay the Culture Wars and focus on the real Texas problems.

Yes, exactly.

The pandemic? Lawmakers did nothing while the governor and attorney general fought hard to prevent schools and other local governments from enforcing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for masks and vaccines.

The winter freeze that cut power across the state, killing at least 210 people, leading to $ 16 billion in electricity surcharges and an estimated $ 100 billion in economic damage? No tariff relief and only modest measures to improve the network and electricity reliability.

The health consequences of the country’s most uninsured citizens, made worse by the pandemic? Nada.

There’s a lot more they haven’t done for Texas as a whole, but they have done so much to pacify their base. They passed the most imaginative and restrictive abortion law in the country, closing most of the abortion clinics. They abolished the gun license requirement. Without a definition, they forbade teaching “critical racial theory” in public schools. They put penalties in large cities that, for whatever reason, reduced police budgets. They ordered the national anthem to be played at professional sporting events. They limited Facebook and Twitter’s ability to remove or even flag conservative posts, even if they were proven to be incorrect.

Then, in a special session, they passed an “electoral security” bill that made Texas’ electoral system, already considered the most restrictive in the nation, even more trans-children from sports teams that did not match the gender the student was assigned at birth – to offer “fairness” to female athletes. This despite the fact that the only known controversy on the subject involved a teenager who had passed over to his male identity. He wanted to wrestle with boys, but had to wrestle with girls, all of whom he defeated.

In other words, they made almost every effort to solve problems that didn’t exist – except in the case of the war on COVID-19, in which they sided with the enemy.

There is evidence that the sovereign public is not amused. Abbott’s poll numbers fell from 59 percent to 45 percent in a Dallas Morning News poll and 41 percent in a University of Texas poll. Both polls show that a majority of Texans think the state is headed in the wrong direction.

Independent voters, that is, swing voters, agree much more with the Democrats than the Republicans on these issues.

There is more passion in some subjects than in others. Parents, for example, tend to protect their children. In the survey by the University of Texas, 56 percent of those questioned support the mask requirement for students and lecturers, 47 percent support it “strongly”. Only 25 percent reject such mandates “sharply”, another 7 percent are “somewhat” against it.

Strong emotions can influence choices. The abortion law could also influence independent voters.

Still, a lot can happen between now and next year’s elections in November. Perhaps COVID-19 will recede and Texas will not be the leader in deaths and among the leaders in child deaths. The Great Freeze of 2021 may not be remembered. Perhaps discouraged Democrats and Independents won’t pay the way they did in 2018.

On the flip side, we have a million more registered voters than we did four years ago, and the majority may not like what they see.

It could be the year Texas turns purple. And it may be that it is not the demographics but the Republicans themselves that are responsible.


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