For ages now, Texas Democrats have been living in a political drought of Darfurian proportions. Few candidates, feeble causes, little help, no hope.
From the governor’s office to city planning commissions, from members of Congress to county clerks, district judges to dogcatchers, the state has seemed packed to the rafters with Republicans.
To the rest of the country, it was a given: Texas bled red. Democrats had the blues. In fact in much of the state, putting a “D” next to your name on the ballot might as well have meant “deceased.”
Then came the transformational presidency of George W. Bush.
Like a modern-day Moses, Bush has unintentionally led Lone Star liberals out of the wilderness into what looks increasingly like a political promised land.
The whole planet may be pissed at the President, but Democrats down here might want to build him a great big statue, something even more ostentatious than the ghostly white, sixty-seven-foot figure of Sam Houston that appears to be crashing out of the woods and onto the freeway near Huntsville.
For the past seven years, while the world waited to see what sociopolitical gaffe the President would commit next, while wars were waged but not won, while defense contracts got more generous and health insurance companies got stingier, Texas held its breath–and began to turn blue.
This election year, Dallas joined Austin as a Democratic fortress. There is a sense that the city of Houston may be about to flip and a majority for the Dems in the Texas House is only a handful of seats away. Democrats throughout the state are being romanced by a dazzling presidential campaign in which their votes will at long last matter.
The state Democratic Party is partying like it’s 1959. Those were the good old days, when Texas Republicans were so rare that crowds would gather whenever one wandered into town. In presidential politics, that began to dissolve with the rise of Ronald Reagan, whose charm and Western appeal helped trigger massive changes in Texas voting.
Again and again, the state’s malleable middle has taken advantage of open voting to flip and flop between parties and personalities. First, there were Reagan Democrats, some of whom turned into Ann Richards Republicans. They then morphed into Dubya Democrats, who now appear to be in the process of becoming Tex-Obamacans.
Politicians have been every bit as volatile as the voters. It’s mostly forgotten now, but Governor Rick Perry, Bush’s successor, used to be a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat. He flipped in 1989. Even Perry, described by his critics as “dumb as a box of hair,” was bright enough to know when it was time to part ways with the Democratic Party.