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

A more serious concern for the Republican party’s electoral prospects is the rapid migration of Hispanics to the state. “There certainly is a long-term demographic concern if the voting rates among Hispanics stay the way that they are,” one conservative Texas insider says. “The whole state is sort of an employment sanctuary. It’s very easy for illegals to find work in Texas, compared to some of the surrounding states,” he adds. Illegal immigrants don’t vote, but their kids do if they’re born here. So the change might not seem significant in the short term (evinced by Mitt Romney and Ted Cruz’s waltzes to victory in Texas) but could bode poorly for the GOP in Texas if Democrats maintain or tighten their grip on the Hispanic vote.

And if the GOP can’t win over Texas Hispanics, what does that say about the bigger picture? “If the Republican party can’t win the national debate of opportunity versus dependency convincingly enough to make inroads into those groups, it’s doomed either way,” the insider says.

Mario Loyola of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a contributor to NRO, isn’t devastated by any of this. If the Republican party doesn’t win Hispanics in Texas, it probably won’t win them nationwide either. Conversely, if it wins them in Texas, it will likely win them nationally too. So Republicans shouldn’t stress about Texan Hispanics in particular.

More worrisome for conservatives than the GOP’s need to win more Hispanic votes should be the composition of the state’s local government. Of Texas’s five biggest cities — Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, and Fort Worth — four have Democratic mayors, and their city governments are also dominated by liberals. Even Sullivan, less concerned than others about threats to the Republican majority in Texas, points out that while taxes and debt are low at the state level, this isn’t true for many cities. He points to the Austin school district, which has $1.2 billion in outstanding debt and plans to ask voters for another $1 billion of debt in the spring.

It seems odd that Democrats have had such imbalanced success — victory in the local arena but resounding defeat after defeat in statewide races — but Republicans shouldn’t dismiss the incongruity. In three of the state’s five largest cities, party affiliation is not listed on ballots. According to Sullivan, Democrats enjoy more success in local races because Republican politicians tend to be more interested in polarizing issues such as abortion and low taxes than in mundane issues such as zoning laws, which are more important on the local level. And Republicans in Texas may instinctively (and understandably) care more about primaries in high-profile races than about passing out leaflets for city-council candidates. That could have unfortunate consequences, since it lets Democrats build a strong farm team — the most noted members of which are twins Joaquín and Julian Castro, state representative and mayor of San Antonio, respectively, who drew spotlights at the Democratic National Convention last summer.

So Republicans in Texas could see their fortunes decline if they ignore demographics and fail to step their game up in local elections. We probably won’t see the effects of these shifts in the next few election cycles, but Republicans in the Lone Star State could be in a tricky place come 2022 or so. And if there’s one lesson conservatives should have learned from the last election, it’s to sweat the small stuff. In a state known for its bigness, the little things can be deceptively important.

Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.