Texas’ Party History and Possible Future

Last month, the Republican Party of Texas held its convention in Houston. A lot of hay has been made out of its platform throughout national media. And yes, there were goofy and weird planks and resolutions in its platform. Ranging from the usual call for school vouchers, which is dubbed “school choice,” to the recurring silliness of secession, and rejecting the 2020 presidential results, thereby calling President Joe Biden “acting President.” As odd as they may be to the average onlooker, we must remember Republicans have controlled Texas since 2003. That is roughly twenty years of one-Party domination. When a Party controls a state for that amount of time and with that much force, its restrictions of rule may continue to go unchecked. For a time, that may work, but it will not last forever. Just ask the Democrats.

Before we get into what could be, an examination of what was and how it came about is necessary. From Reconstruction to the late 1970s, Texas — and a lot of Southern states — was ran by the Democratic Party. By the use of the word “ran,” it is meant Republicans were nearly uncompetitive in all statewide seats. Change began when Presidential hopeful and former Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower won Texas’ electoral votes in both 1952 and 1956, marking the first Republican to win two consecutive statewide races. Another big change was when John Tower won the special election for U.S. Senate, defeating appointed Senator William Blakely by roughly 10,000 votes. That election took place because Senator Lyndon Johnson resigned the seat in 1961 in order to begin serving as President John F. Kennedy’s Vice-President. Tower’s victory became a milestone in Texas history because it was the first time a Republican would hold a U.S. Senate seat since Reconstruction. Change continued as Bill Clements defeated John Hill for governor in 1978 by an estimated 20,000 votes. Bill Clements, from the private sector and riding on the shoulders of the previous statewide Republican victories, stuns not just Texas but the entire country in victory. While Clements lost reelection in 1982, he returned to victory in 1986, marking the first time a Republican winning two terms governor in Texas history.

Bill Clements in 1978. Photo credit: Houston Chronicle

The Texas two-Party interlude began its fade to Republican dominance when Kay Bailey Hutchison won the U.S. Senate special election in 1993, giving Texas two Republican Senators for the first time. Then in 1994, George W. Bush defeated a popular incumbent in Ann Richards for governor and shortly thereafter, Republicans captured control of the Texas Senate for the 1997 Legislative Session. All of the Republican victories from Eisenhower on, led to the biggest Republican sweep The Lone Star State ever saw. As Gov. Bush won reelection in a decisive 1998 reelection, every statewide seat in Texas went to the Republican nominee. This election is when Texas realigned to a Republican state. When Republicans won control of the Texas House in 2003, the trifecta of governance was set.

George W. Bush 1994 Gubernatorial Campaign. Photo Credit: Reuters/Michael Boddy

Since then, Republican governance reigns in Texas. With such dominance, a Party may feel invincible and a cleanse of membership useful. The Texas Republicans’ convention did that. They barred the Log Cabin Republicans from having a booth at the convention and added a plank in the platform labeled homosexuality an “abnormal lifestyle.” Couple that with the chorus of boos senior Senator John Cornyn received from the delegates due to his work on the bipartisan firearm bill and was aggressively called a R.I.N.O. (Republican In Name Only). It looks like the Texas GOP may be on its way to purification.

Delegates to the Texas GOP Convention booing Senator John Cornyn. Photo Credit: Dallas Morning News/Lola Gomez

Texas Republicans should learn a lesson from Texas Democrats about Party purification. Former Texas Governor Ann Richards is credited with saying how easy it was for liberal Democrats to kick conservative Democrats out of the Party because they would still win. Those Blue Dog (conservative) Democrats, by and large, became Republicans and helped the Texas G.O.P. flip the state. If Texas Republicans want to continue to purify their Party, sooner or later those exiled will find a home in the other Party and help the competition win.

Gov. Ann Richards inauguration, January 1991. Photo Credit: CBS Austin/Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders

Who is next on the chopping block for Texas Republicans? Teachers? Suburban women? Due a recent report from The Houston Chronicle on wanting to curb early voting and permanent mail-in voting for those aged 65 and over, maybe older voters are being pushed out too?

The famous quote from George Santayana comes to mind. It goes, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Texas Republicans are coming to a point where they could forget the ones who brought them to the dance.

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Drew Landry

Drew Landry

Government Prof; Baseball fan; Political junkie; @drewllandry on Twitter