For approximately 100 years, from the end of Reconstruction until the 1970s, the Democratic Party was dominant in Texas politics. However, since the 1970s the Republican Party has grown more prominent within the state, and is now the state's dominant political party. This trend mirrors a national political realignment that has seen the once solidly Democratic South become increasingly dominated by Republicans.
Early Democratic Dominance[edit | edit source]
From 1848 until Richard M. Nixon's victory in 1972, Texas voted for the Democratic candidate for president in every election except 1928, 1952, and 1956 (it did not vote in 1864 and 1868 due to the Civil War and reconstruction).  In the post Civil War era, the Republican Party had hardly any influence in the entire South, including Texas politics. Some of the most important American political figures of the 20th Century, such as President Lyndon B. Johnson, Vice-President John Nance Garner, Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn and Senator Ralph Yarborough were Texas Democrats. However, the Texas Democrats were rarely united, being divided into conservative, moderate and liberal factions that vied with one another for power.
1960 to 1990 - Increasing Republican Strength[edit | edit source]
The rebirth of the Republican Party in Texas could be traced back to 1952, when Democratic Governor Allan Shivers clashed with the Truman Administration over the claim on the Tidelands, which subsequently led to his work in helping Dwight D. Eisenhower carry the state. Beginning in the 1960s, Republican strength increased in Texas. Nationally, Democrats became increasingly liberal and Republicans became increasingly conservative. Starting with the Dixiecrat movement in the 1950s and 1960s conservative Southern Democrats began to leave the party and join the Republicans. This trend continued through the 1990s. For example, current Texas Governor Republican Rick Perry became a Republican in 1990.
John Tower's 1961 election to the U.S. Senate made him the first statewide GOP officeholder since Reconstruction. Governor Bill Clements and Senator Phil Gramm (also a former Democrat) followed. Republicans became increasingly dominant in national elections in Texas. The Republican nominee won the state's electoral votes in presidential election in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s except 1976.
Redistricting Disputes and the 1990s[edit | edit source]
Despite increasing Republican strength in national elections, after the 1990 census, Texas Democrats still controlled both houses of the State Legislature and most statewide offices. As a result, they were able to direct the redistricting process. Although Congressional Texas Democrats only received an average of 40 percent of the votes, Democrats consistently had a majority in the state delegation, as they had in every election since at least the end of Reconstruction.
In 1994, popular Democratic Governor Ann Richards lost her bid for re-election against Republican George W. Bush. In 1998, Bush won re-election in a landslide victory, with Republicans sweeping to victory in all the statewide races.
After the 2000 census, the Republican-controlled state Senate sought to draw a congressional district map that would guarantee a Republican majority in the state's delegation. The Democratic-controlled state House desired to retain a plan similar to the existing lines. Not surprisingly, this created an impasse. With the Legislature unable to reach a compromise, the matter was settled by a panel of federal court judges, who ruled in favor of a district map that largely retained the status quo.
However, the Republicans dominated the Legislative Redistricting Board, which draws the lines for the state legislative districts, by a majority of four to one. The Republicans on this board used their voting strength to adopt a map for the state Senate that was even more favorable to the Republicans and a map for the state House that also strongly favored them.
In 2002, Texas Republicans gained control of the Texas House of Representatives for the first time since Reconstruction; investigations into possible illegal campaign fundraising by the Republicans are ongoing and lead to the 2005 indictment of U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. The newly elected Republican legislature engaged in an unprecedented mid-decade redistricting plan. Democrats said that the redistricting was a blatant partisan gerrymander, while Republicans argued that it was a much-needed correction of the partisan lines drawn after the 1990 census. The result was a gain of six seats by the Republicans in the 2004 elections, giving them a majority of the state's delegation for the first time since Reconstruction.
In December 2005, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal that challenged the legality of this redistricting plan. While largely upholding the map, it ruled the El Paso-to-San Antonio 23rd District, which had been a protected majority-Latino district until the 2003 redistricting, was unconstitutionally drawn. The ruling forced nearly every district in the El Paso-San Antonio corridor to be reconfigured. Partly due to this, Democrats picked up two seats in the state in the 2006 elections. The 23rd's Republican incumbent was defeated in this election--the first time a Democratic House challenger unseated a Texas Republican incumbent in 10 years.
Current situation[edit | edit source]
Republicans control all statewide Texas offices, both houses of the state legislature and have a majority in the Texas congressional delegation. The state has continued its Republican voting trend in presidential elections. This makes Texas one of the most Republican states in the Union. Two of the most influential Republicans in the nation, President George W. Bush and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, are Texas Republicans.
Despite overall Republican dominance, however, there remain some cities and regions with strong Democratic power. Austin, the state capital, is a Democratic stronghold and a center of progressive political activism. El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley, both with heavy Latino populations, also remain loyal to the Democratic Party. In addition, the mayors of most major Texas cities, though running in "nonpartisan" races, are affiliated with the Democratic Party. Cities like Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio usually support Democrats, while their suburbs are heavily Republican. During the 2004 election, despite heavy losses in congressional races, the Texas Democrats made a net gain in the state legislature for the first time since 1974 (albeit only of a single seat).
During the 2006 election cycle, the Democrats scored major successes by winning six House seats (five in the general election and one in an earlier special election), cutting the Republican majority in the House by half. They also gained two Congressional seats. The Democrats failed to win any statewide offices, however.
Another notable exception to Republican dominance of the state is the Travis County District Attorney, Ronnie Earle, a Democrat who has served since 1978. The position, though elected by the people of Austin and its close-in suburbs is uniquely empowered by the Texas Constitution to prosecute violations of Texas election law. This is exceptional, as most states grant this authority to a statewide elected position such as Attorney General.
Capital punishment[edit | edit source]
Texas has a reputation for strict "law and order" sentencing. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, of the 21 counties in the United States where more than a fifth of residents are prison inmates, 10 are in Texas. Texas leads the nation in executions, with 400 executions from 1976 to 2007. The second-highest ranking state is Virginia, with 94. A 2002 Houston Chronicle poll of Texans found that when asked "Do you support the death penalty?" 69.1% responded that they did, 21.9% did not support and 9.1% were not sure or gave no answer.
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