In order to better understand the politics of Texas it is helpful to start with an overview of the state―by outlining what Texas is today, what makes it the state that it is, and how Texas is different from the other forty-nine states. To do this one can look back to an observation originally made more than sixty years ago by a political scientist who was a native Texan. In many ways, this one brief quote still sums up much of what Texas is all about: “The Lone Star State is concerned about money and how to make it, about oil and sulphur and gas, about cattle and dust storms and irrigation, about cotton and banking and Mexicans.”
Much has changed in Texas since these words were written but much also remains the same. In any attempt to describe Texas today one would add several elements to the list, including technology and entertainment, air travel, and international trade. Nevertheless, the concerns cited over a half-century ago remain essential elements of present-day Texas. Thus, while it is important to look at the changes that have occurred in Texas, one cannot overlook those elements that have long been present and constitute the essence of the Lone Star State.
Pride and Patriotism
To understand Texas today one must begin with its uniqueness. During its history Texas has been under six different sovereign governments: Spain, France, and Mexico all ruled this area prior to the Texans’ successful battle for independence in 1836. Nine years later, Texas became part of the United States of America, but then seceded and joined the Confederate States of America in 1861.
Texas won its independence from Mexico in 1836 and existed as an independent nation, the Republic of Texas, for the next nine years. It is the only nation to petition to join the United States of America, freely give up its sovereignty, and be admitted as a state of the Union. The uniqueness of this situation was evident in the congressional action admitting Texas as a state. Congress provided that Texas could subsequently divide into five states. As the Joint Congressional Resolution of 1845 stated, “New States of convenient size, not exceeding four in number, in addition to the said State of Texas, and having sufficient population, may hereafter, by consent of said State, be formed out of the territory thereof, which shall be entitled to admission under the provisions of the Federal Constitution.”
While some in Texas periodically talk of dividing the area into five separate states, especially when they are at odds with the federal government, the actual likelihood is less than that of a ten-inch snowfall in June in the Rio Grande Valley. Weighing against any such effort is the fact that Texans have less regional than state loyalty; people think of themselves first and foremost as Texans. Any effort to subdivide the state today would be greeted with little enthusiasm and a feared loss of common identity.
Perhaps it is from the uniqueness of Texas history that its people have developed a pride and patriotism unsurpassed by any other state. An individual’s identity as a Texan is much more fully incorporated within his or her self-awareness than any similar identification for the residents of other states. “Proud to be a Texan” has an acceptance and a legitimacy not normally granted to other states: “Proud to be a North Dakotan” or “Proud to be New Jerseyan.” Likewise, “Don’t Mess with Texas” hits home more than “Keep New York Clean” could ever convey. As New York Times columnist Gail Collins noted, “I come from Ohio, a fine state which once prided itself on being an incubator of presidents. . . . We certainly didn’t pledge allegiance to the Ohio flag―Ohio didn’t have a flag back then, and we wouldn’t have recognized the state flag if you’d dropped it on our heads. And try envisioning a bunch of Cincinnatians or Clevelanders running around in ‘Don’t Mess with Ohio’ sweatshirts.”
While many concerned about the impact of illegal immigration have supported building a wall along the Rio Grande, only in Texas would someone even humorously propose building “the Great Wall of Texas” to force out what was described as “the riffraff.” Several years before the discussion of building a wall along the southern border, Kenny Bob Parsons solicited financial support for his announced goal of building a brick wall some forty feet high and forty feet wide along all 3,816 miles of the state’s border. As Parsons lamented, “Our forefathers fought hardily, risking life and limb to protect and preserve from the exploitationists, this Edenesque land we call Texas . . . we have banded together for the purpose of constructing a wall around the Great Republic of Texas.” Parsons estimated at the time that it would take 9 million bricks just to build one mile of the wall. His plans were to start on the Texas-Oklahoma border, claiming that “we may have been worrying about the wrong border all these years.”
Infusing all these manifestations of pride is a sense that life can be better in Texas if one applies oneself and takes charge of one’s own destiny. As one writer concluded, “If there’s a theme to life in Texas, it’s hope. When Stephen F. Austin brought his settlers to this then-Mexican territory, he was selling hope―hope for a new start in a new land.” The writer went on to add, “In a way, being Texan is like being a Marine, or a Rockefeller, or a Harvard graduate. The name evokes something both visceral and subliminal, a whole construct of images and ideas, myths and realities.”
Whether native born or “born again,” millions of Texans take great pride in their state and closely identify with Texas. To them, Texas means much more than a state or a geographical area, more than merely an artificial political unit in which they live. Texas is much more closely bound up in its residents’ self-identification; it is a part of who they are. As one familiar advertising campaign by the Texas travel bureau proclaims, “It’s like a whole other country.”
While the term “political culture” is a concept that was first employed by political scientists in the comparative study of nations, it can also be used to discuss the underlying attitudes, beliefs, assumptions, and expectations held by individuals within one country or state. In this way, to describe the political culture of an area is to describe how people view politics, what they expect from government, whether they become active in deciding government policies, and the way government and politics are carried out.
When viewing different countries, one can recognize distinctive views of government and politics. To the south, in Mexico, the “mordida,” or bribe, was for long an accepted common practice for dealing with the police, and while several political parties competed in elections, for seventy-one years in the twentieth century only one party won the presidency. To the north, in Canada, it is relatively common and accepted that one’s national legislator (Member of Parliament) not live in or come from the district he or she represents and that federal taxation is expected to pay 100 percent of every citizen’s medical bills.
Just as there are differences across countries in the way people view politics and government, so too there are differences among the fifty states and even within a state. The most important early effort to apply the concept of political culture to measuring differences among the states was a work by Daniel Elazar published in 1966. As different types of people settled in the various areas of the nation they brought with them distinctive values, perspectives, and outlooks on government, society, and life. Elazar outlined three general types of poltical culture in the United States that he labeled moralistic, individualistic, and traditionalistic. One or more of these differing outlooks was then viewed as dominant in each of the fifty states. Elazar’s picture of the dominant political cultures in the United States was drawn in the middle of the twentieth century, and much has changed since that time, with the migration of individuals to other states and the increased influence of a national media and culture. Yet, there remain key differences among the fifty states that are reflective of differences in political cultures.
Elazar characterized Minnesota as having a moralistic political culture. In this political culture, most people have a positive view of government as a force for good in society with a responsibility for promoting the general welfare. Citizens have a duty and obligation to participate in government and issues are hotly debated. Government should be strong and active, government service is viewed as a moral duty, and there is little acceptance of any form of corruption. Perhaps the various Garrison Keillor stories from public radio’s Prairie Home Companion reinforce this association in the public mind.
Elazar characterized Nevada, home to legalized prostitution and hundreds of casinos, as a state where the individualistic political culture has been dominant. Politics is viewed as just another business, neither inherently good nor bad, and government exists merely to provide what people want and demand, not to promote some elusive “common good.” Getting involved in government is done to give out favors and rewards to one’s supporters. Corruption is simply a cost of government and can never be eliminated. The range of government activities and involvement should be limited so that individual citizens can exercise more freedom in how they live their lives.
Finally, Elazar cited Arkansas as an example of the traditionalistic political culture. Government is designed to preserve and maintain the status quo and the existing social order. Few voters participate in politics, and a small group of decision makers runs government. Social and family ties (personality politics) are important in selecting government officials, and one political party wins virtually all elections. In sum, politics is in the hands of a small elite who wish to keep things as they are.
Elazar viewed Texas as having significant numbers of people who hold to both the individualistic and traditionalistic political cultures. As in other states, these general beliefs about government can be seen in the types of people who settled in Texas and the attitudes they brought with them.
Many of the attitudes associated with the traditionalistic political culture, with its emphasis on family, culture, and religion, were initially brought to Texas by the Spanish and Mexican settlers. Over time, the distinct and different language added to the traditionalistic political culture. Just as important, however, was the contribution of Anglo settlers, who brought with them what can be called the “culture of the Old South.” This influence has been felt most especially in East Texas; new settlers brought with them a cotton economy based on slavery and an emphasis on Southern agrarian values.
When the Civil War broke out, Texas quickly went with the other Southern states into the Confederate States of America, although some of its most prominent leaders, including Governor Sam Houston, were opposed to secession. Ever since its admission as a state up to the present, much of Texas has identified itself with the South―politically, culturally, religiously, and socially. Thus, while slavery was abolished, discrimination against Blacks continued through most of the twentieth century and took many of the same forms as in other Southern states. This included segregation in housing, schools, and public facilities as well as a poll tax and “white primary” to minimize Black influence on public policy.
Reflective of the traditionalist culture is the importance of religion in the lives of many Texans as well as the nature of the most dominant religious traditions. According to an in-depth study of religious membership compiled by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, the various Baptist groups in Texas had a combined membership of 4.5 million in 2000, the overwhelming percentage of whom were affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Closely following Baptists were members of the Roman Catholic faith, another religious influence emphasizing traditionalist values.
Of the so-called Mainline Protestant denominations, only three had more than 100,000 members (Lutheran, 301,518; Presbyterian, 204,804; Episcopal, 177,910), and together they had fewer adherents than the various pentecostal and charismatic churches. More liberal Protestant denominations, such as the United Church of Christ, American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., and the Unitarian-Universalist Association, had much fewer members in Texas.
Presently Texas is home to more Southern Baptists than any other state and today more Texans call themselves Baptist than any other religious identification. Testimony to the importance of the Southern heritage can be seen most clearly in the name of this denomination, which still calls itself “Southern” nearly 150 years after the Civil War division occurred among Baptists and long after its churches spread to all fifty states. While it is no longer geographically Southern in its membership, it is still very much culturally Southern in its attitudes and modes of worship.
As in the remainder of the “solid South,” once the period of Reconstruction was over, throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, the Democratic Party was totally dominant in Texas. Until very recently, Democrats remained the stronger party locally in the rural areas of the state, where the traditionalist political culture remains the dominant outlook. It is from this culture of the Old South that Texans obtain much of their emphasis on tradition (“That’s how we do things here,” “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”), community (a greater concern with upholding community standards than with individual rights), and family (the importance of the extended family as well as “old family” names and reputations).
Much has changed over the last fifty years, but perhaps the clearest example of the influence of this culture can be found in small-town Texas. In Texas small towns, most of one’s relatives still live in the town; and Sunday is spent going to the First Baptist Church in the morning, having fried chicken dinner at Wyatt’s Cafeteria after church, and visiting at a relative’s home in the afternoon. In this environment, nearly everyone was a Democrat when he or she voted and nearly all the local officeholders were Democrats of the conservative variety. On his 1984 television series A Walk through the Twentieth Century, Bill Moyers went back to his hometown of Marshall, Texas, a city he described as having “more Baptists than people.” In Marshall, according to Moyers, one always felt “the powerful presence of the past.” As one high school friend who moved away also put it, in Marshall one had a sense of belonging: “They knew when you were sick and cared when you died.” The downside to life in small-town East Texas was that most who remained were locked into a certain role in town and lived in a tightly structured community. The limits were even greater for those who were not Anglo.
While Texas has become much more urban and millions of residents have moved away from their rural roots, the views and attitudes dominant in these communities have often gone with these Texans to the larger cities and suburbs. Thus, it would be wrong to view the culture of the Old South as being present only in small-town Texas. Indeed, it can be found in the attitudes of some Texans in all areas of the state.
The Mexican cultural influence also made a major contribution to this traditionalist political culture. Especially in South Texas, this influence supported many of the same values and attitudes toward society, family, and traditions handed down from one generation to the next. While the East Texas Southern influence and the South Texas Mexican influence were quite different, they both resulted in a traditionalistic outlook on politics and the role of government in society.
Yet another distinct trait has also been present in Texas. For thousands of people seeking a new start in life, Texas has been viewed as the frontier―a place waiting to be settled, where new beginnings could occur. The frontier was both an outlook on life and a reality. In the nineteenth century, those who settled in much of Texas battled nature, Indian tribes, and each other. This was a very different way of life from that of East Texas, where tradition, community, and family were valued above all else. Life on the frontier in the nineteenth century often meant life alone, without family, where no real community existed for miles, and with no traditional ways of dealing with many everyday problems.
To survive and succeed on the real frontier of Texas meant emphasizing different values from those dominant in the more settled areas of the state. Survival on the frontier placed a great emphasis on self-reliance (living alone on the frontier meant one needed to solve one’s own problems), individualism (one is responsible for one’s own fate because life is what you make of it), and innovation and experimentation (with few resources at hand, one must try new ways of doing things and make do with what is available). Living on the frontier depended almost totally on the individual’s own efforts. There was little order and little social fabric holding individuals together. Judge Roy Bean may well have been the only “Law west of the Pecos,” as most disputes were settled in one fashion or another among individuals. In such an environment it is natural that the values of the individualist political culture would become dominant. The individual was truly responsible for his or her own fate and, left alone, would succeed or fail depending on his or her own efforts.
This individualist trait can also be seen in Texas religious movements. The emphasis on personal commitment and decision, the existence of hundreds if not thousands of independent Baptist and nondenominational churches, the loosely structured and nonhierarchical alliances such as those among the Churches of Christ―all exemplify the individualistic spirit. Perhaps no one institution typifies this individualistic and entrepreneurial approach to religion better than the Lakewood Church in Houston, led by Joel and Victoria Osteen, whose four English and two Spanish services in 2011 averaged more than forty-three thousand attendees per week.
The frontier is a geographical description that was especially important in the nineteenth century as more and more people moved west, claimed and cleared land, settled, and started a new life. Some were immigrants from other lands―Germany, Czechoslovakia, Mexico―but most were from other parts of the United States. The bulk of the mass migration of Europeans to the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries never made it to Texas. Immigration from other U.S. states had a greater impact on Texas.
As economic hardships hit the farmers of mid-nineteenth-century America, especially throughout the Midwest, more and more posted a sign on their front door that simply said “G.T.T.”―gone to Texas, a phenomenon so widespread that everyone knew what these three letters meant. One fascinating instance of the frontier concept at work was the “Orphan Train” movement, which brought children from New York and other Eastern cities to small towns in the Midwest and Southwest, at least four thousand of whom landed in Texas between 1854 and 1929. The westward trains brought orphans to Texas towns, “a place where children without families might find welcome homes”: “The arrival of an orphan train into a small rural community often caused quite a commotion. A 1922 account of an orphan line-up in the North Texas town of Commerce noted the children attracted a crowd of ‘interested spectators and others whose hearts were hungering and thirsting for the patter of children’s feet in the home, or whose Samaritan spirit prompted them to noble deeds.’”
The frontier refers to more than mere geography; for millions of people it has meant an attitude, an outlook on life expressing the belief that you can begin again (you can make a fresh start in life and forget the failures of the past), you can succeed through hard work (what you become depends on your own efforts), and there is opportunity to succeed when you are not limited by old barriers and traditions.
The concept of the frontier, with its emphasis on self-reliance, individualism, innovation, and experimentation, continued to draw millions to Texas even after the geographical frontier had begun to close. Today it continues as a major draw for people from other nations as well as other states, who move to Texas in search of a “new start” in life. To some proponents of the frontier concept, the old barriers that constrained them were viewed not as traditions in some settled community but, rather, the federal government. One Texas business leader in the late twentieth century saw the role of the national government as being to “deliver the mails, defend the shores, and leave me alone!”
It is from this frontier concept that a belief in individual success―a faith in one’s own abilities―took hold and promoted a spirit of entrepreneurship among many Texans. As one recent writer on Southern politics has noted, “The new wildcatters are entrepreneurs in the personal computer, telecommunications, and real estate business who have risk taking in their blood. They collectively echo the same values as the petroleum mavericks, but they wear suits instead of Stetsons and boots. The political culture is a product of the spirit of the oilfield, the ranch, and the Alamo.”
In 1962, a young salesman for IBM decided that it would be easier and more profitable to be selling computer services rather than computers to his customers. He went off and borrowed $1,000 to start his own company. He called it Electronic Data Services, and some twenty-five years later he sold it to General Motors for more than $2 billion. When he determined that the country was heading in the wrong direction, he decided to run for president and spent a considerable sum of that money on unsuccessful campaigns in 1992 and 1996. H. Ross Perot believed that he could succeed if left on his own to experiment and innovate, and so he did. Today he is one of the wealthiest men in America.
Describing Texas at mid-twentieth century, the writer John Bainbridge declared it “the frontier of America―the land of the second chance, the last outpost of individuality.” While the neighboring state to the northeast may call itself the “Land of Opportunity,” to most people in the United States and throughout the world it is Texas that is truly associated with that slogan. The frontier concept remains alive as myth and reality in the twenty-first century and still impacts not only those born in the state but also those millions who have migrated to Texas from other states and countries.
To understand Texas today it is necessary to realize the importance of the frontier. Just as many Texans still hold to values and outlooks that can be traced back to the culture of the Old South or the traditional values of Mexican culture, so too many other Texans shape their attitudes within the framework of the frontier concept and its values. These outlooks can be seen as the major sources for what Elazar labeled the traditionalistic and individualistic political cultures, the two dominant influences in Texas.
An essential element of understanding Texas is recognition of the vast space occupied by this one state. While much of Texas in the nineteenth century was the frontier, an area of wide open space and sparse settlement, even today, with more than 25 million Texans, the state still has a lot of unsettled territory. Texas is second only to Alaska in land space and second only to California in total population. Within its boundaries Texas could fit twelve of the thirteen original colonies. In fact, Brewster County alone is larger than the combined states of Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Delaware.
Traveling north to south, it is almost eight hundred miles from the tip of the Texas Panhandle to Brownsville in far South Texas. Changes in topography and climate are evident from the feedlots and grain harvests of West Texas to the citrus groves and truck farms of the lower Rio Grande Valley. It is not a rare winter weather report that shows snow in Pampa and eighty degrees with sunshine in Pharr. East to west some 770 miles stretch from Texarkana to El Paso, a distance greater than that from Boston to Washington, DC, or from New York City to Chicago. Texarkana is closer to Chicago in the cold northern Midwest than it is to El Paso, a city in the Mountain Time Zone slightly west of Denver.
Across the long expanse from Odessa west to El Paso, life can be desolate and lonely. As of the 2010 census only eighty-two people lived in Loving County, the least populated of the state’s 254 counties, and the last to be formed, in 1923. Not too long ago a fire gutted what was then the only grocery store in Dell City, population 365, in nearby Hudspeth County. This tragedy forced residents to drive at least sixty miles to buy foodstuffs. As one young mother complained, “We’re going to need a store, for sure, because with kids you run out of milk and bread and stuff. And ice. You can’t go to El Paso for ice.”
The sparsely populated communities of rural Texas, many of which continue to lose population, naturally have small school districts whose pupils travel many miles each day. Those high schools with fewer than one hundred students are eligible to compete in a little-known sport: six-man football. Nearly all the six-man schools are west of Interstate Highway 35 and include some two hundred public and private institutions. The existence of the sport ensures a continuation of the “Friday Night Football” tradition in even the smaller towns that continue to dot rural Texas.
Prior to the end of World War II, more than half of the population of Texas resided in rural areas. Since then, the movement to metropolitan areas has continued at an ever-increasing rate. By the time of the 2010 census, only 12.2 percent of the state’s 25,145,561 residents lived in rural areas and Texas had become one of the most heavily urbanized states in the nation. Over the first decade of the twenty-first century, 79 of the state’s 254 counties lost population. In 1960 only three counties had a population of fewer than 1,000 residents; by 2010 there were eight. Fourteen counties in 1960 had fewer than 2,500 residents; that number had increased to twenty-four by the 2010 census.
There is another side to the story, however. While not a high percentage of the total population, millions of Texans do live in rural communities throughout the state, especially in West Texas and the Panhandle. With a statewide total of more than 25 million residents, there are 3,060,392 people living in rural Texas. This rural population constitutes more than the total population of twenty-one other states, including Arkansas, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah.
Texas is obviously more than its rural areas, and in a state as vast as it is, there are many different ways of describing it geographically. In his classic work Imperial Texas, D. W. Meinig divided the state into nine cultural areas. Most geologists follow the pattern of Elmer H. Johnson, who in his The Natural Regions of Texas divided the state into four regions. Texas tourist officials describe the state by focusing on seven regions. To simplify matters, seven general and loosely defined geographical areas will be used to describe some of the different components of the state. East Texas is an area of small towns, large forests, and timber production, as well as some areas of substantial oil production. The region has one of the lowest per capita incomes in the state, with a sizable portion of its residents living on federal assistance of one kind or another. This area typifies the culture of the Old South more than any other part of Texas. In addition to the influence of those whose ancestors moved from other Southern states, the French Creole population of neighboring Louisiana has impacted areas in the southern part of East Texas. In the past, East Texas also had a substantial African American population, with some of its counties being over 40 percent Black. Over the past fifty years many of these individuals have moved to the major metropolitan areas, especially Dallas. Today, the population of only one East Texas county is more than 25 percent African American, while Blacks comprise 22 percent of Dallas County.
The people of East Texas have generally been conservative in their social, religious, and political attitudes. At the same time, East Texas has been an area of relatively strong Populist support and even stronger Democratic Party identification. The major cities of East Texas are Texarkana, on the border of Arkansas, and the cities of Longview and Tyler. These last two cities are unlike the rest of the region in that their economy is more focused on oil and they both trended Republican in their voting behavior well before those changes took place in other parts of East Texas.
The Gulf Coast ranges from Orange and Beaumont in the northeast, close to Louisiana, over through Houston and Galveston and down to Corpus Christi in the south. The diverse areas of this region are linked by proximity to the Gulf of Mexico. The area has seen a sizable influx of newcomers from other states and counties. The 1980 movie Urban Cowboy, with John Travolta and Debra Winger, portrayed rural Texans moving to this area for better-paying jobs in the petrochemical industry. In the late 1970s and 1980s, Vietnamese immigrants resettled in coastal communities of this region. Many New Orleans residents fled the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 by relocating to the Texas Gulf Coast and then decided to remain in Texas.
According to the 2010 census, Jefferson County (Beaumont) has the highest percentage of African American residents (34%) in the state. Harris County (Houston) is majority-minority, with a population that is 41 percent Hispanic and 18 percent African American. Some smaller counties outside Houston, including Walker and Waller, have populations that are more than 20 percent Black. Suburban Fort Bend County has the highest percentage of Asian Americans, who constitute roughly 17 percent of its population.
The economy of this region is based on petrochemicals, oil, insurance, shipping, and health care. It is an area of relatively strong unionization, especially in the Golden Triangle area of Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Orange. Politically, the region has been mixed; Republicans have been stronger in Houston and its suburbs, while Democrats have been more dominant in the Golden Triangle and, until recently, in Galveston and Corpus Christi.
North Texasdescribes an area along the Oklahoma border from Wichita Falls in the west to Sherman and Denison in the east down to the Dallas–Fort Worth (DFW) metropolitan area. Banking, finance, transportation, and commerce are the mainstays of the North Texas economy. Dallas has become the wholesale distribution center for much of the Southwest. For many retailers, going “to market” means going to the Dallas Market Center, with its showrooms of goods available from wholesalers.
The Dallas–Fort Worth metropolitan area was one of the first to experience the growth of the Republican Party in the late twentieth century, although most recently Democratic candidates have made a major comeback in Dallas County. Some cities in the region, such as Wichita Falls, Sherman, and Denison, have sizable populations of residents over sixty-five years of age, while the suburbs north of Dallas and Fort Worth have seen phenomenal growth over the last fifty years. The Dallas–Fort Worth area is home to DFW airport, the Dallas Cowboys, and the Texas Rangers; transportation and entertainment are important contributors to the economy of the region.
Although the area is predominantly Anglo, ethnic change has been occurring in both Dallas and Fort Worth, with Dallas County’s population now 38 percent Hispanic and 22 percent African American, while Tarrant County comprises 27 percent Hispanic and 15 percent Black residents. Suburban Collin County is home to a sizable Asian community, which constitutes 11 percent of its population.
Central Texas is a region of great ethnic diversity. It has a substantial Mexican American population and a large number of African Americans. But it is also home to German, Czech, Swedish, Alsatian, and Polish communities, first settled in the nineteeth century. Education, tourism, government, agriculture, and high-tech industries contribute to the economy of Central Texas. One of the largest military installations in the world, Fort Hood, is located in this part of the state, as is the state capital and several major universities.
Traditionally Central Texas has been a Democratic stronghold with the exception of the Hill Country to the west, where Republicanism first became dominant after the Civil War. The major cities in this area are Austin, Round Rock, Waco, Temple, Bryan, and College Station.
Beginning in San Antonio and continuing down to the Mexican border is a region known as South Texas. The economy of this area is based on agriculture (especially citrus and truck farming), commerce and banking, international trade, and several large military installations. Of all seven regions, this area has the lowest per capita income.
While the Canadian border is far longer than the United States border with Mexico, of all fifty states, Texas has the longest border with a neighboring country. Having once been part of Mexico and sharing this continuous long border, the state of Texas has been closely related in many ways to the nation of Mexico. Much of the culture of Texas developed from the state’s association with Mexico, whether in fine arts or in popular culture and folkways, an association that provides a continuing contribution to what Texas is today.
With its proximity to the border, it is not surprising that this area has the largest Mexican American population. Nearly all its counties have a Hispanic majority, with Hidalgo, Starr, Webb, Zapata, and Zavala being more than 90 percent Mexican American. Unlike other ethnic groups, which are typically separated by thousands of miles or by political barriers from their ancestral lands, those of Mexican descent are separated by little more than a day’s car ride. Politically, South Texas has been a stronghold for the Democratic Party for several years and home to many “jefes,” or political bosses. Although the Republican Party has made inroads in recent elections, with the exception of San Antonio and its suburbs, this area remains overwhelmingly Democratic.
Jutting out from the rest of Texas and protruding into Oklahoma and New Mexico is an area known from its shape as the Texas Panhandle.Many of the earliest settlers of this area came from the states of Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, and the Dakotas; the region still has a strong midwestern flavor. Agriculture (especially wheat and cotton), cattle, and oil are the major contributors to the economy of the Panhandle region. Here can be found some of the largest feedlots in the nation. The population is heavily Anglo but with a sizable Mexican American contribution.
Partly due to its midwestern heritage and partly due to the influence of the oil industry, the Panhandle has traditionally been an area of relative strength for the Republican Party―one of the first areas in which it made inroads in the late twentieth century. The two major cities in this area are Amarillo and Lubbock, a city whose residents often claim is not really part of the Panhandle. Lubbock serves as a major trade center for the agricultural communities around it and is also home to Texas Tech University.
Ranging all the way from Abilene in the east out to El Paso is an area often called WestTexas. This region is dependent on oil, natural gas, ranching, and farming, with the additional importance of international trade and military installations in El Paso. The area’s cities include El Paso, Midland, Odessa, Abilene, and San Angelo. These last four major cities are predominantly Anglo and have been much more Republican in recent elections.
Isolated from the remainder of Texas by desert, mountains, and a different time zone, El Paso is more than 80 percent Hispanic and traditionally Democratic. The existence of “maquiladoros” located just across the border from El Paso has provided thousands of better-paying jobs for Mexican citizens and lower-cost labor for American manufacturers. Most recently, violent competition among drug cartels has led many middle-class Mexicans to flee to El Paso. At the same time, the growth of a middle class in Mexico has encouraged a sizable market for retailers in Texas cities along the border and even further north.
In summarizing the various regions of Texas it is important to note that, unlike the situation in several other states, there is little sectional conflict. Texas does not divide into one major city and “upstate,” or one major city and “downstate,” or east versus west, or mountains versus tidelands. In fact, no single city dominates, even though both Houston and Dallas may think they dominate. There is no New Orleans, Chicago, Boston, or Little Rock in Texas. Nor is there any statewide media blanketing the entire state. Texas has twenty-seven different major media markets, more than in any other state. There is no single statewide newspaper, although the Dallas Morning News comes closest to being one since it circulates in a wide area of the state. Finally, while Texas can be described by the characteristics dominant in each of the seven regions, for Texans the state association and identity prevails over any loyalty to city or region. Regardless of where they are from, people tend to view themselves first and last as Texans.
Although originally a Spanish and then a Mexican territory, the area that became first the Republic of Texas and then a state of the United States of America has been populated by various waves of immigration from throughout the world. Clearly the most important ethnic influence on Texas today is Mexican, which itself derives from Spanish and Indian cultures. Mexican culture and values trace back to the area’s time as a Spanish colony and its earliest settlers. This initial influence was added to by the various movements of people escaping from the revolution in Mexico in the early years of the twentieth century, through the more recent flow of workers seeking opportunity for employment and advancement, up to the present-day efforts of middle-class Mexicans escaping the drug violence along the American border.
Whether it is Tex-Mex food, mariachis, Cinco de Mayo, or bilingual ballots on election day, the influence of Mexican culture, traditions, and values has permeated the state’s culture. According to the 2010 census, 37.6 percent of the Texas population consider themselves of Hispanic origin, a percentage that has grown substantially in recent decades. While a number of Cuban Americans can be found in Texas along with small numbers from other Latin American countries, the overwhelming majority of Hispanics in Texas are Mexican Americans. They constitute the leading national origin group in the state. Harris County alone is home to 1,671,540 Hispanics, followed by Bexar (1,006,958), Dallas (905,940), Hidalgo (702,206), and El Paso (658,134) Counties.
In certain parts of South Texas and along the border, the Mexican American influence is dominant. Some 96 percent of Webb County, home to the city of Laredo, comprises individuals who consider themselves of Hispanic origin, with similar percentages in the rural counties of Starr, Zapata, and Zavala. Numerous towns and cities are overwhelmingly Mexican American in their population, in their culture and traditions, and in the language most often used by their residents. As the number of Hispanics in the major metropolitan counties of Texas indicates, this influence is felt not only in the counties along the border but also in neighborhoods hundreds of miles from Mexico.
United by ethnicity and many other common characteristics, Mexican Americans also differ in many ways―by education and occupation, where they live, how they vote, and where they worship, as well as the extent of their assimilation into the dominant Texas and American culture. Some have lived in the United States for generations; still others are new immigrants, whether citizens or aliens, legal or illegal. Only California has more Mexican Americans than Texas. With a culture, language, and traditions that have had a great influence on what we know as Texas today, Mexican Americans are also a growing political force in Texas. While Blacks were kept from the polling place through various means up to the abolition of the poll tax in 1966, many Mexican Americans did vote. However, in much of the state, powerful political bosses controlled their votes.
Until recently, voting-age Mexican American citizens tended to participate in elections at a lower rate than either Anglos or African Americans. However, major efforts have been made to increase the number of registered voters, and both political parties have attempted to win the support of Mexican American voters. This has resulted in a number of Hispanics being appointed and elected to statewide offices, including attorney general, railroad commissioner, secretary of state, and justice on the Supreme Court of Texas. While most Hispanic legislators and local officials are Democrats, Republicans made a breakthrough in 2010 with six Mexican American state representatives sitting in the eighty-second regular legislative session and two elected to Congress.
Different names have been used―Latino, Chicano, Latin American, Spanish-origin, Spanish-surname, Hispanic―but the most accurate in many ways is Mexican American. This term describes a specific ethnic influence and people in Texas whose contributions are partly Mexican and partly American, blending both cultures together into an essential element of what we know as Texas today.
While the African American population of Texas is now approaching 3 million, it has been decreasing as a percentage of the state’s total over the last several census counts. As of 2010, Blacks comprised 11.8 percent of the state’s total, slightly less than in the 1990 census and below the current national total of 12.6 percent. In none of the state’s 254 counties are African Americans the largest ethnic group, but in some 14 counties they constitute more than 20 percent of the total, including Jefferson County (Beaumont) at 34 percent and Dallas County at 22 percent. Historically, in the nineteenth century much of the Black population was concentrated in East Texas, but today more than half of the state’s 2,979,598 African Americans live in Dallas, Tarrant, or Harris County.
Because the state seceded from the Union in 1861, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freeing Blacks from slavery did not take effect in Texas until two and one half years after it was issued, on June 19, 1865―a date now celebrated throughout the state as Juneteenth. During the decade following the end of the Civil War, most newly enfranchised Blacks supported the Republican Party, and three African Americans were elected to the Texas Senate, while several others held local offices. However, division and infighting led to the Republicans losing the governor’s office in 1874, opening the way for a return of Democratic dominance that would continue for the next hundred years. Although they had won their freedom from slavery and were guaranteed the right to vote, from the end of Reconstruction forward, official and unofficial policies of segregation and discrimination limited the rights of African Americans in Texas. As one historian of the period noted, “The trends set in motion by the return of the Democrats to power could be seen by the end of the century, when of some 650,000 potential black voters only 25,000 qualified.”
Throughout the middle third of the twentieth century, from the beginning of the Depression to the start of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, thousands upon thousands of Blacks moved north from Texas to seek better job and educational opportunities and to escape segregation. Along with Blacks from other Southern states they settled in the cities of Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and New York. More recently, greater local opportunities for African Americans have developed in the Texas economy, resulting in fewer young Blacks leaving the state, while others have either moved back or into the state for the first time―some seeking new jobs or being moved here by their employers. Today, Texas ranks third among the states in the total number of African American residents.
The Black population in Texas remains much more homogeneous―politically, religiously, and culturally―than other ethnic groups in the state. Being relatively unified and constituting nearly 12 percent of the total population, the Black community is an important political force in the state. Several Blacks have been elected to the Texas legislature, and three African Americans currently represent Texas congressional districts in Washington. While most Black officeholders are Democrats, the 2012 election saw three African American Republicans elected to the Texas House of Representatives. In 1990, Republican Louis Sturns became the first Black statewide official since Reconstruction when Governor William P. Clements Jr. appointed him to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Since then, Republicans William Jefferson and Dale Wainwright have been elected to the Texas Supreme Court and Michael Williams to the Railroad Commission of Texas.
An even more recent influence on Texas has been made by the migration of Southeast Asians to the state. Whether Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodian, Indian, or Chinese, these people from different nations have become an important component of several communities over the last fifty years, especially in the Houston area and along the Gulf Coast. According to the 2010 census, nearly 1 million Asians make their home in Texas, comprising some 3.8 percent of the total population. More than two-thirds of Asian Americans live in Harris County and its suburbs in Fort Bend and Brazoria Counties, or in the Dallas–Fort Worth area in Dallas, Collin, Denton, or Tarrant County. With 98,762 residents, Fort Bend has the highest percentage (16.9%) of Asian Americans.
While many have moved to the United States and Texas for educational or economic reasons, still others were forced to flee their homeland. They bring a dedication to hard work, a belief in the critical importance of education, and an entrepreneurial spirit. When reviewing the names of high school valedictorians in many areas of Texas, it is common to see second-generation Asian Americans listed.
The generic term “Anglo” is used to describe a wide range of other ethnic groups residing in the state. One of the first organized migrations to the Republic of Texas began in 1838 when Friederich Ernst transported German settlers to found Austin County. Soon thereafter other Germans settled in New Braunfels in 1845 and in Fredericksburg one year later. It was the revolutions of 1848 that brought many more Germans to Texas over the following decade. The heaviest German settlement occurred to the east and west of the cities of Austin and San Antonio, with their influence felt especially in the Hill Country area.
These German settlers differed from the other Anglos in several ways. They favored small farming and crafts. They were Lutheran or Roman Catholic in their religion. They enjoyed beer and dancing. When the 1860s arrived, they were opposed to secession and to slavery. These last positions, in particular, did not endear them to most other Texans, especially since the state joined the Confederacy.
In 1862, martial law was declared in Texas. All males aliens older than 16 were required to take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy. Five hundred German Unionists met at Bear Creek in Gillespie County and organized three companies of militia to protect their homes and the frontier. Fearing open insurrection, the governor sent detachments in search of the outspoken Germans. . . . The Union Loyal League, founder of the three frontier companies, disbanded but 61 men met on August 1, 1862 and headed for Mexico. In the early dawn of August 10, the poorly armed Germans were attacked by a Major Duff. Nineteen Germans were killed in the fighting; nine of the wounded were murdered. Of the others, seven more were killed trying to cross the Rio Grande. Their bodies were left where they fell for three years, until their remains could be returned to Comfort.
Because of their opposition to secession and slavery, most Germans became strong supporters of the Republican Party, an allegiance that continued to differentiate them from most Anglo Texans for the next hundred years. Even today, some of the strongest support for Republican candidates can be found in the Hill Country, where the German influence remains substantial.
Germans have also contributed to what is known as Texas in many other ways. Events such as the New Braunfels Wurstfest and institutions such as Scholz Garten, a gathering spot for politicians and journalists in Austin, developed out of the German culture. Communities such as Boerne, Gruene, Kerrville, and Fredericksburg still reflect the influence and impact of their earlier German settlers.
Another sizable ethnic group to settle in nineteenth-century Texas consisted of immigrants from Bohemia and Moravia. While many individual Czech families came to Texas in the 1840s, the first organized group landed at Galveston in 1852. Like many of the Germans, they were refugees from the oppression that followed in the wake of the 1848 revolutions throughout much of Europe. The area of heaviest Czech settlement was in a line from Denton and Kaufman Counties to the north to Calhoun, Karnes, and Atascosa Counties in the south. Fayette, Lavaca, Austin, and Williamson Counties were the most heavily settled by these immigrants.
The presence of this ethnic group is evident when one is driving along Interstate Highway 35 from Dallas to Austin. As one approaches the community of West, just north of Waco, the billboards appear beckoning drivers to “Czech Stop―Five Miles,” inviting one to stay at the Czech Inn or stop at the Little Czech Bakery. Also widely seen in small Central Texas communities is the SPJST Hall, meeting place for the Slavonic Benevolent Order of the State of Texas, a Czech fraternal organization with some seventy-five thousand members throughout the state. Formed in 1897 in LaGrange, the SPJST emphasizes community service, financial services to its members, social gatherings, and the preservation of the Czech heritage and language.
According to the 1990 census, Texans who listed some Czech ancestry numbered close to three hundred thousand. While the Czech communities are concentrated in some fifteen counties to the north of Austin and east of San Antonio, kolache (Czech pastry) shops can be found in most areas of the state. The Czech influence on the music of Texas is also evident, with its polkas and waltzes and accordion playing blending in to the conjunto and tejano music played by Mexican American artists across the state.
Norwegian and Swedish immigrants also created settlements in the 1830s and 1840s in the Republic of Texas, continuing into the latter half of the nineteenth century. Most Norwegian settlements occurred in Bosque and Hamilton Counties, while the Swedish communities were mainly found in Travis and Williamson Counties in Central Texas. Many of the Swedish Americans in Central Texas are the descendants of about eleven thousand Swedes who migrated to the United States from the Swedish province of Smaland and settled in the Round Rock and Austin area.
Several other ethnic groups are also part of the history of Texas. Beginning in the 1850s, Polish immigrants came to the state, first settling in the village of Panna Maria, a town that even today retains its Polish influence. The Polish American Foundation of Texas exists to preserve the Polish national heritage and to honor its contributions to culture and the arts. Further west of Panna Maria is the town of Castroville, where in 1844 immigrants from the province of Alsace, on the French and German border, re-created their native villages as much as local materials permitted. Today the European character of the town remains virtually intact. Another ethnic influence comes from the five hundred Wendish who left an area of Germany in Saxony and Prussia to pursue freedom of religion and language in 1854 and settled in Lee County. Today the Texas Wendish Heritage Society maintains offices and a museum in Giddings, near the original settlement in Serbin. Each September an annual Wendish festival is sponsored.
More recently, a sizable number of East Asians and South Asians have settled in Texas, some drawn by the high-tech industries and educational opportunities and others as refugees from Communism or other repressive regimes. Among the fifty states, Texas is second only to California in its concentration of Vietnamese, many of whom initially settled in the Gulf Coast areas around Houston but have subsequently disbursed to other Texas cities.
Rather than being only an area of cowboys, Indians, Blacks, and Mexicans, Texas has been built also by the contributions of many different groups who sometimes are linked together under the general category of Anglos. All these varied ethnic influences have contributed to what is known as Texas today. In some areas the traditions of the older cultures have remained and retain their original flavor. Throughout the state in all its aspects―social, cultural, and architectural―what is known as Texas is a combination of the contributions from many different racial and ethnic traditions.
Over the last fifty years Texas has undergone a tremendous expansion in population, moving from sixth to second, behind California, in overall population. In 1960, the total population of Texas was 9,579,677; by the 2010 census the state’s population had grown to 25,145,561, a growth rate of 162 percent over those fifty years. The most rapid growth came in the last decade.
It is interesting to note that most of the population growth in Texas over the past half-century came from natural growth (births minus deaths) rather than from net migration (individuals moving into the state minus those moving out). Natural growth will continue to contribute to population growth as individuals live longer and the birth rate continues to remain high. As noted in a recent study, “In 2000, Texas was second in the country (behind Utah) in state rankings for birth/fertility rates. Because birthrates change slowly over time, Texas will probably continue to see large natural increases in its population despite changes in economic conditions or immigration policies.”
While natural growth has been a major contributor to the state’s population expansion, it has been assisted tremendously by the movement of individuals from other parts of the country as well as from outside the nation’s borders. As table 1.2 indicates, migration grew from a relatively low 13.3 percent of total growth during the decade of the 1960s to its highest rate in the following ten-year period. The greatest inflow occurred in the decade of the 1970s, when 58.4 percent of the state’s growth came from net migration. In the most recent period, net migration comprised 41.5 percent of the total population growth.
Net migration consists of both those who moved to Texas from other states and international migration from other countries. As economic conditions changed, so too did the pattern of migration to Texas. During the 1970s and the oil boom, tens of thousands of residents from other states moved to Texas looking for new opportunities. Likewise, in the decade of the 1990s Texas added nearly 2 million new residents from migration as individuals from other states were drawn to the strong economy or were transferred to the large number of high-tech industries, particularly in the Dallas and Austin areas. Nevertheless, during the entire decade of the 1990s, some 55 percent of the net migration came from international immigration. One result of this population growth in the 1990s is that “the foreign-born population share in Texas rose significantly during the decade and in 2000 composed 14 percent of the population compared with 11 percent at the national level.”
The most recent decade reflects the impact of economic conditions on migration patterns. During the first five years of the decade, only some 27 percent of the total net migration came from domestic sources, with nearly three-fourths comprising those who moved from other countries. However, beginning in 2006, the pattern was reversed, with more than 60 percent of all net migration coming from other states as the Texas economy continued to provide job growth, in contrast to much of the rest of the country.
In a recent issue, Forbes magazine attempted to predict what cities are best positioned to grow and prosper, concentrating on the fifty-two largest metropolitan areas with populations over 1 million. Among the measures employed were job growth, rates of family formation, growth in educated migration, overall population growth, and “a broad measurement of attractiveness to immigrants―as places to settle, make money, and start businesses.” Among the Texas metropolitan areas, Austin ranked number one, with San Antonio fourth, Houston fifth, and Dallas seventh. As writer and demographer Joel Kotkin noted, “Aided by relatively low housing prices and buoyant economies, these Lone Star cities have become major hubs for jobs and families.” In concluding his study, he commented, “What is clear is that well-established patterns of job creation and vital demographics will drive future regional growth, not only in the next year, but over the coming decade. People create economies and they tend to vote with their feet when they choose to locate their families as well as their businesses.” If Kotkin’s predictions are correct, Texas will continue to grow from both natural increase as well as net migration.
The ethnic and racial makeup of the state has changed dramatically over these last fifty years also (table 1.3). In 1960, the Texas population was 12.4 percent Black, with a total of 1,187,125 African Americans. By 2010, that number had increased to 2,979,598 but now constituted only 11.8 percent of the state, as the sizable expansion in the Black population did not keep up with the overall growth of the state. That was not the case with the Hispanic population, however, as it increased from 1,448,900 to 9,460,927 in the same period of time, going from 15.1 percent of the state population in 1960 to 37.6 percent in 2010.
In the past, Blacks were more heavily represented in East and Central Texas, while Hispanics were located mainly from San Antonio south and west along the border with Mexico, but that is no longer the situation. Today, a higher percentage of African Americans live in Dallas, while there are more Hispanics in Harris County (Houston) than in any other area of the state.
With 254 counties in the state it is impossible to analyze and understand the transitions that have occurred in Texas politics without dividing the state into more meaningful divisions. In the next chapter, Texas will be described in terms of four categories of counties, each of which contains a distinct community composition. As will be discussed later, the changes in Texas politics over the past fifty years took place in different times and in different forms in each of these four categories of counties.