Purple Texas?
Demographic shifts and liberal domination of local government should keep the state GOP on its toes.

Texas state capitol building in Austin


Betsy Woodruff

In case you hadn’t noticed, conservatives have had a few reasons to feel glum in recent months. And there might be even more for them to stress about than they realize. As Politico reported last week, some of the good folks who helped Obama win his reelection are scheming to turn Texas (yes, Texas) into a purple state, and if their ambition for that project is remotely comparable to what they showed in November, Karl Rove types might find themselves sleeping a little less. A combination of obvious demographic shifts and left-wing dominance of local government could make Texas the new Virginia in about ten years. And for the GOP, that’s problematic.

Of course, not everyone is worried. Michael Quinn Sullivan of Empower Texans, a 501(c)4 that pushes for fiscal conservatism, says he feels little but amusement about all the handwringing. “Whatever the claptrap might be from whatever political party, at the end of the day Texas remains a conservative state. The talk that Texas will go blue is a little silly. They’re talking about it today, and they were talking about it two years ago, and two years before that, and two years before that, and two years before that.”

His argument for the perpetual redness of Texas is pretty straightforward: Texans are conservative, they’ve long been conservative, and that’s how they’ll stay. Independence and ingenuity are just as natural to them as cowboy hats and cacti. There are some things that changes in the nation’s political climate can’t alter, and the commitment of Lone Star Staters to economic freedom and personal responsibility is one of them.

It’s a pretty convincing argument, though not everyone is sold on it. Some of the conservative politicos I spoke to for this story opted to remain anonymous — nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news, and it’s risky to go on record with predictions that could prove wrong and could hurt the feelings of neighbors. Nevertheless, I heard two compelling reasons for conservatives to worry a bit about their hegemony in Texas: Left-leaning demographic groups are migrating to the state, and Democrats and liberals are gaining influence at the local level (though not yet the statewide level).

Before delving into those reasons, we should understand what is at stake. First, the national GOP as it stands now can hardly survive without the state’s 38 electoral votes and a disproportionate share of its congressional delegation. Second, Texas has enjoyed significant growth despite the sluggish national economy. It’s home to about half of the jobs that were created during Obama’s first term. (Politifact takes issue with this, pointing out that the new jobs in Texas are “on the low end of the desirability scale” — trust the Politifact editors on job desirability, they work in the Beltway — but 1.7 million Americans holding minimum-wage jobs can’t be wrong that work at any wage beats unemployment.) Texas is a pivotal player in the national economy and a haven for those fleeing states where jobs are scarce or taxes are high. In a recent five-year span, 363,000 Californians moved to Texas. It’s estimated that more than 160 people move to Austin every day. That’s about 60,000 a year. Texas matters, for reasons nonpartisan as well as partisan.

And there’s the rub: Texas’s success could be ultimately self-defeating. The state’s prosperity attracts people from liberal states. If they immigrate to Texas in significant enough numbers, they could affect elections there, especially in House races. But the jury is still out on whether Texas’s conservatism will rub off on newcomers. It’s possible that Californians and other interstate migrants will be so enamored of the job growth that’s possible in an economically freer state that they’ll at least become more libertarian.