A changing Texas means shifting political priorities for all [Opinion] – Houston Chronicle
But ours is a newly softened political battleground, and candidates of all stripes are trying to make uncommon impacts as soon as they can. Last month, President Donald Trump visited El Paso to build support for the proposed border wall in an effort to shore up his support among the more conservative voters of our state. News networks broadcast Trump’s speech on a split screen with former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, who objected vociferously to the president’s plans at a rally across town, all while teasing a presidential run. Since then, he has jumped into the 2020 presidential race. Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro announced his candidacy for president at his home in San Antonio. Howard Schultz, Starbucks founder and a prospective independent candidate for president, spent the whole week in Texas just a few weeks after he participated in a CNN town hall meeting in Houston. Other 2020 presidential candidates such as U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, a Republican, were in Austin to speak at South by Southwest.
Though Texas has given its Electoral College votes to the Republican candidates in every election the past four decades, the convergence of candidates here may not be as surprising as some might think.
The Lone Star State is changing rapidly, and with it, its politics. Our population has surpassed 28 million people — 3 million more than a decade ago — and the Office of the State Demographer predicts the number of Texans will almost double over the next 30 years. These changes highlight our state’s explosive growth in diversity as people from all over the country migrate here. These rapid changes also portend serious challenges that need to be met with consensus leadership. Texas is a place where common-sense politics can prevail. Building a broad coalition — rural, blue collar, religious and nonbelievers, inner city, young, suburban — through centrist consensus political agreement is key to securing Texas’ bright future.
The opportunities in Texas are as great as any time since World War II. But the state also faces significant problems. Growing suburbanization has strained county budgets. More Texans means the need for more infrastructure, efficient transportation and affordable housing. Millions of Texans are income insecure, without health care insurance, or denied access to quality medical care. An aging Texas population means stress on family support networks, a profound need for access to mental and physical health care and strain on pension systems.
Amid all these changes and challenges, Texas is searching for a new political identity. Republicans may have won statewide in 2018, but the victory was narrow, and suburban districts across the state flipped from reliably GOP to moderate Democrat. Texans are starting to reject the politics of divisiveness and are willing to embrace new common-sense, centrist solutions to issues that have pulled us apart, especially on public education funding and infrastructure improvements — just look at the progress being made in the Legislature.
Despite national fights about the border, Texans recognize the cultural and economic value of the state’s border with Mexico. A plurality of Texans embrace the state’s growing diversity with optimism, according to a recent poll by the University of Texas and Texas Tribune.
Texans of both parties have come to expect economic progress as a significant feature of government, combined with responsible growth. The new politics of Texas will have voters open to innovative ideas and the need for policy responsibility balanced with economic growth.
Meanwhile, the two major parties are undergoing their own changes. Political fights about moderation inside our polarized parties sapped significant energy in the 2018 cycle. Liberal and moderate factions of the Democratic Party sparred for nominations up and down the ballot, most prominently in the fight for the nomination for governor that led to more progressive Lupe Valdez edging out moderate Andrew White. The Republican Party’s decades-long civil war that has pitted conservatives against moderates rehashes family rivalries every two years and even in legislative sessions between.
As the Republican and Democratic parties move further apart ideologically, driven by policy differences but also distaste for each other’s motives and attacks, heightened frustration with politics in Texas is emerging. Many Texans don’t feel either party is welcoming to people like them and express concern about the direction of the country. It’s true that millions more Texans were motivated to vote in 2018 than a decade prior, but it’s also true that millions of Texans still choose not to vote. This gives rise to continuing concerns about Texas being not a red or blue state, but a nonvoting state.
Appeals to engage attentive and inattentive voters with a fresh message will shape Texas for decades. Candidates also need to balance what voters want with the needs of the state and nation. Voters need to do their part, too, by carefully considering all candidates, looking past labels and learning candidates’ positions beyond sound bites.
Rottinghaus is a professor at the University of Houston.