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Is Texas Turning Democratic?

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The Economist has a story out positing that Texas might just be swinging to the Democrats. They’re calling it a “Special Report on Texas.”

The subhead reads, “Whisper it softly, but Texas looks set to become a Democratic state.”

Lots of bloggers and journalists have written similar Democrat-comeback stories over the past few years (and I’ll admit that I’m in that group.) But I can’t remember seeing anything like this in the Economist (hat tip to Burnt Orange Report).

So why is Texas turning blue? Here’s the lead:

THE elected sheriff of Dallas County is a lesbian Latina. The leading candidates to become mayor of Houston in November include a black man and a gay white woman. The speaker of the House of Representatives is the first Jew to hold the job in 164 years of statehood and only the second speaker to be elected from an urban district in modern times. In this year’s legislative session, bills to compel women to undergo an ultrasound examination before having an abortion (to bring home to them what they are about to do) and to allow the carrying of guns on campus both fell by the wayside; a bill to increase compensation for people wrongly convicted sailed through. Lakewood, in Houston, the biggest church not just in Texas but in America, claims to welcome gays. As Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” might have said, we’re not in Texas any more.

If you’re rolling your eyes at this point, then you had the same reaction I did. Yes, Texas is more diverse and urban than the cowboy stereotype. But does that foretell a Democratic resurgence? I don’t think so.

Let’s add some context. The lesbian Latina sheriff of Dallas County — Lupe Valdez — was first elected in 2004 (when the state was very much Republican) and is now in her second term. The Jewish speaker of the House is — all together now — A REPUBLICAN, albeit more moderate than his predecessor. And I fail to see the correlation between a Jewish leader rising to power and the imminent resurgence of Texas Democrats. Quite of a few elected Jews in this state are conservative Republicans (looking at you, Florence Shapiro). And, yes, the mayoral candidate field in Houston — now a thoroughly Democratic city — is diverse. But before they can win a statewide race, Democrats will have to expand their influence beyond the cities and inner suburbs. That’s the real challenge. 

Then there’s the legislation that failed and passed this session. Does the death or survival of any of these bills hint at a larger cultural/political shift in Texas?

The ultrasound bill has died for several sessions in a row. Not surprising that it expired again, especially in a closely divided House.

I’m not sure the failure of the guns-on-campus bill is indicative of anything except it’s hard to squeeze a bill through in the frantic final days of the session. I suspect a large majority of people in this state, including many Democrats, have no problem with the guns-on-campus idea.

Lawmakers did increase compensation for the wrongly convicted, largely because of the tragic story of Tim Cole. In fact, the bill bore his name, and many Republicans supported it. This is how reforms get done in Texas. There’s a long history of high-profile scandals leading to reform — from conditions in state prisons to the Tulia scandal to parole reform to TYC. Those efforts were also the product of the hard work of dedicated criminal justice reform advocates and a handful of enlightened state lawmakers (John Whitmire, Jerry Madden, Chuy Hinojosa, former Rep. Ray Allen). Texas is still a lock-em-up state and probably always will be.

Finally, the Economist mentions the Democratic victory on voter ID. Well, a voter ID bill has died every session since at least 2005. They died due to clever legislative maneuvering by Democrats, which few people outside of Austin know of or understand.

None of which is to discount the steady gains that Democrats have made in Texas since their low-point in 2003.

But they’re still heavy underdogs in every statewide race and remain the minority in both chambers of the Legislature. 

Their long-hoped-for return to power still seems a few years off.

Dave Mann has been with the Observer since 2003. Before that, he worked as a reporter in Fort Worth and Washington, D.C. He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He thinks border collies are the world’s greatest dogs, and believes in the nourishing powers of pickup basketball.