This November voters will have the opportunity to make their voices heard regarding the direction of both Texas and the United States, as all major offices in the state’s government will be on the ballot. Texans will elect a new governor and lieutenant governor for the first time in 12 years. Nationally, citizens will be able to express their view on the state of affairs across the country in the general election. All members of the U.S. House of Representatives and one-third of U.S. Senators, including one of Texas’ two seats, will be up for election. The best way for Longhorns to take advantage of their right to vote this November is to familiarize themselves with the issues and the candidates on the ballot.
This year has illustrated the power of the tea party in Texas. While the Republican gubernatorial nominee, Greg Abbott, has stressed his conservatism and frequent pushback against the Obama administration as Texas attorney general, the most contentious race in the Republican primary this year was for lieutenant governor. State Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston defeated incumbent David Dewhurst; the upset is one of several Tea Party victories that have shocked the political world. Patrick ran hard to the right of his opponents, frequently lambasting undocumented immigrants and highlighting his pro-life credentials. Tea party-backed candidates also won important nominations for state senate seats, suggesting that the Legislature will have even more of a conservative bent in the next session.
Texas Democrats, who have not carried a statewide election since 1994, hope to reverse their party’s fortunes with Wendy Davis of Fort Worth and Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio at the top of the ticket, running for governor and lieutenant governor, respectively. Davis garnered national attention last summer for her 11-hour filibuster of a controversial senate bill that severely restricted abortion rights in the state. (Dewhurst’s inability to break Davis’ filibuster was a critical factor in his defeat in May and led to another special session that ultimately passed the measure.) Van de Putte is a longtime, well-respected member of the Texas Senate. Since the 2012 elections, Battleground Texas, a political organization established by Obama campaign veteran Jeremy Bird, has labored to make Democratic inroads in Texas through registering voters and fundraising. Democrats hope that the state’s fast-growing Latino population and a more progressive younger generation can bring their party victory in the Lone Star State. Building a campaign infrastructure, raising money and turning out new voters will be a huge task, and 2014 will mark an early measuring point for such efforts.
However, the Texas GOP’s strong lurch rightward may provide Democrats with a political opening. Recently many Republicans in the state have used harsh rhetoric when discussing sensitive issues such as immigration reform and gay rights. Dan Patrick has described an “illegal invasion from Mexico” and has pledged to end sanctuary cities and in-state tuition for undocumented students often termed “dreamers.” The recent Texas Republican convention in Fort Worth witnessed the triumph of strident conservatism in the party. The GOP endorsed Patrick’s reactionary immigration proposals and renounced its past support for a guest-worker program, which would have provided legal employment opportunities for immigrants. Furthermore, activists prevented the Log Cabin Republicans (a gay rights group) from participating in the convention, and the party even endorsed “reparative therapy,” a practice widely discredited in the scientific community, for LGBTQ people. While such insensitive comments and draconian policies may win the votes of aging whites in the short-term, they will prevent the GOP from earning the voting allegiances of Texas’ booming Hispanic population and younger generation in the long-term.
More than likely, however, the Texas Republican Party will tone down its rhetoric as the general election approaches, to avoid division among its members and alienating undecided voters. Clay Olsen, finance director for College Republicans at UT, explained: “It is common for the parties to push farther to the right or farther to the left during primaries. I don't think it will be problematic in the fall since the base is fired up, and Texas Republicans as a whole understand that now is the time for unity.”
In another interesting development at the Texas GOP convention, Sen. Ted Cruz won the presidential straw poll. Governor Rick Perry, also widely viewed as a potential candidate for the White House in 2016, came in fourth. Cruz’s popularity has skyrocketed among conservatives in Texas and across the country since his election to the U.S. Senate in 2012, surprisingly passing that of Perry, the longest serving governor in Texas history. Referencing Perry’s ill-fated 2012 presidential campaign, Olsen discussed this development: “Texas Republicans like to get behind someone who is smart, strong on principles, good at effectively communicating our message and doesn't put their foot in their mouth.” The political futures of Perry and Cruz will be fascinating to watch in the coming years.
But now voters must focus on 2014. Texas faces many complicated issues — education, infrastructure, water supply, just to name a few — that need to be addressed as its population continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Longhorns should study candidates and their policy proposals and make sure to exercise their right to vote this fall.
Briscoe is a history graduate student.