Texas

By Jeanna Smialek

Texas hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since the state helped elect President Jimmy Carter in 1976. As the 2012 election day approaches, “it’s a foregone conclusion here in Texas,” said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones, that Republican Mitt Romney will continue the string of GOP victories.

According to the most recent poll by non-partisan policy research group Texas Lyceum, Romney has a solid 58 to 39 lead on Democratic President Barack Obama. If Obama’s already dismal support wanes, however, Jones said it could affect down-ballot races — though Republicans are expected to capture most of those, as well.

Republicans currently have a majority in the Texas congressional delegation and control the state legislature, and the GOP is expected to retain its majorities. Texas added four U.S. House seats following the 2010 Census, the most of any state, bringing its total to 36. Of the 32 existing seats, 9 belong to Democrats while 23 are Republican.

The drawing of the new seats have engendered considerable redistricting controversy. The state’s population has grown by 4.3 million people since 2000 largely because 2.8 million Hispanics and more than half a million African Americans moved in, but Texas lawmakers redrew maps that added four Republican-dominated districts and no minority-majority districts. As a result, Texas maps have bounced among federal courts, including the Supreme Court, for the past year. The Supreme Court ruled in September that the current districts can be used temporarily in the November election. According to Texas Tribune columnist Ross Ramsey, “The new redistricting maps being used for this election made some of the marginal legislative districts safer for Republicans, sometimes by ceding some safe seats to Democrats.“

In Congressional District 23, the race between U.S. Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco, R-San Antonio, and state Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine., is expected to be close. But the districting has most contests predetermined.

Republican U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison opted to retire rather than run for re-election in 2012, and Republican Ted Cruz is running against Democrat Paul Sadler for her seat. For months, polls have shown Cruz as a clear front-runner.

The economy and the budget deficit top Texans’ list of national concerns, according to a University of Texas Austin/Texas Tribune poll from May. Of those polled, 26 percent were concerned about the national economy, 18 percent about federal spending and the national debt, 14 percent about unemployment and jobs and 10 percent about political corruption. On the state level, immigration tied the economy as the most important problem for Texans – 12 percent cited these concerns.  Unemployment, border security and education tied with 11 percent of voters picking them as their top concern.

 

State and Local Politics

In the state legislature, 31 seats in the State Senate are up for election as are 150 seats in the state House. Most seats in the state House aren’t competitive – 88 candidates don’t have major party opponents in November. The Senate only has one close race, a Fort Worth showdown between Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis and Republican state Rep. Mark Shelton.

Governor Rick Perry, who assumed his post in 2000 when George W. Bush resigned to become President, won the 2002 election and was re-elected in 2006 and 2010. His presidential  bid faltered early in the Republican primary season. Still, the governor has been effective at passing sweeping legislation in the Republican-dominated legislature: during 2011, for instance, he cut billions from the state budget and defunded Planned Parenthood, though his Trans-Texas Corridor plan stalled.

 

General Political Atmosphere

Republicans continue to dominate Texas, but the interplay of demography and politics in Texas will influence party strength in years to come. Texas is one of five minority-majority states, with 55.2 percent of its population minority, according to demographic data released in May by the U.S. Census Bureau. An estimated 38 percent of the population is Hispanic, but only 43 percent of Texas Hispanics are eligible to vote, compared to 77 percent of their non-Hispanic white counterparts, according to Pew Hispanic Center data. The Texas Tribune reported that about 2.15 million voting-age Latinos in Texas who are U.S. citizens are not registered to cast a ballot, according to a report released by the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based policy research institute. In 2008, Hispanics made up only about 15 percent of the state’s total vote.

Though comparatively few Hispanics are eligible to vote in Texas and even fewer actually turn out, that profile could change soon. Children of minority race and ethnic groups out-numbered white Texans under the age of 5 by 2.2 to 1 in 2011, according to U.S. Census data. The median age of native-born Hispanics in 2010 was 19, compared to 26 for all Hispanics, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey. If Hispanic youth become politically active as they age, they could change the face of Texas politics. Jones said some Republicans are becoming concerned about anti-Hispanic rhetoric within the party as the cohort ages and crystallizes their political views.  “They’re doing so in a context in which the Republican Party is viewed as the enemy,” he said.
For more on Texas, here are links to informative sources on government and politics:

 

Who’s Who

Rick Dunham’s Texas on the Potomac blog, a look at Texans in national politics, provides in-depth reporting on what’s happening between the Lone Star State and the nation’s capitol. He also compiles a twitter list of many of the major politicians in the state.

Ross Ramsey, executive editor of the Texas Tribune, also works as editor of Texas Weekly, a newsletter on government and politics in the state. He writes data-packed news analysis on Texas politics.
Irreverent and funny, Eileen Smith’s recently-famous In the Pink blog offers a sarcasm-infused commentary on Texas politics.

A recent piece on redistricting in The Atlantic gives good background on that controversy.

 

Politicians

Rick Perry, Governor
Republican, 2000-
website

David Dewhurst, Lt. Governor, Senate Contender
Republican, 2003-
website

John Cornyn, Senator
Republican, 2002-
website

Kay Bailey Hutchison, Senator
Republican, 1993-
website

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Republican Party Website
http://www.texasgop.org/

Democratic Party Website
http://www.txdemocrats.org/

Libertarian Party Website
http://lptexas.org/

Legislature Website
http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/