05.01.08

Eye On Williamson Gets Mentioned in Texas Monthly

Posted in 2008 Primary, Around The State, Commentary, Elections, Good Stuff, Williamson County at 2:48 pm by wcnews

In Paul Burka’s latest Texas Monthly column, Almost Blue, he mentions EOW, using information from this post by Dembones, Fired Up And Ready To Go! A few excerpts. He first admits his surprise at how soon an opportunity has presented itself for Democrats to come back to power in Texas.

Is Texas still a red state? I never thought I’d be posing that question as early as 2008, but the strength of the Democratic vote in the March 4 primary was so unexpected, so complete a departure from our recent history, that the numbers are potentially the most significant development in Texas politics in thirty years. You have to go back to 1978, when Bill Clements became the first Republican to be elected governor since Reconstruction, for an event of equivalent importance. Apparently Democrats do exist here, and in places hitherto thought to be uninhabitable by their species, such as the bedrock Republican suburbs. The discovery is akin to learning that life exists on Mars: It means that the universe is not what we thought it was.

He then goes on to compare its origins to that of the GOP’s resurgence.

The Democratic wave should scare Republicans to death, because it raises the specter of realignment. We have seen it happen before. For much of the twentieth century, Texas was a one-party—that is, Democratic—state. Many counties didn’t even hold Republican primaries. Conservatives routinely voted in the Democratic primary because that was the election in which local officials (judges, sheriffs, legislators) were chosen; they then voted Republican for president or governor in the general election. Demographic change, driven by economic growth, corporate relocations to the Houston and Dallas metro areas, and urban decay, set the stage for the rise of the suburbs and eventual realignment. The triggers were the election of Ronald Reagan as president, in 1980, and of Phil Gramm as U.S. senator, in 1984. The Republican era reached its zenith in 2002, when the GOP won a substantial majority of the Texas House, capturing the last state government stronghold that had been under Democratic control.

The most telling evidence of change in 2008 has been the Democratic vote in the big urban and suburban counties. It was the growth of these counties—Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Collin, Denton, Fort Bend, Montgomery, Williamson—that Karl Rove used to convince George W. Bush that he could defeat Ann Richards in 1994. Well, take a look at the turnout in the March primary. (I have rounded all numbers downward to the nearest thousand.) Harris County: 405,000 Democratic voters; 169,000 Republican voters. Dallas County: 297,000 D’s; 91,000 R’s. Tarrant County: 199,000 D’s; 100,000 R’s. Collin County: 72,000 D’s; 51,000 R’s. Denton County: 54,000 D’s; 38,000 R’s. Fort Bend County: 69,000 D’s; 35,000 R’s. Montgomery County: 41,000 R’s; 30,000 D’s. Williamson County: 49,000 D’s; 28,000 R’s.

These are staggering results. Before the start of early voting on February 19, it was unimaginable that the Democrats would outpoll the Republicans in seven of these eight counties by margins ranging from solid to overwhelming.

Then on to Williamson County.

The place where realignment is most evident is Williamson County, north of Austin. I came across this history of its changing political loyalties in a Democratic blog, eyeonwilliamson.org: “Over the past ten years, Williamson and other suburban counties have been climbing the rankings of Texas counties’ Democratic performance. Ten years ago, Williamson ranked 231st out of 254 counties in delivering votes for the Democrat at the top of the ticket. In 2000, we inched up to 215th. In 2002, we languished at 216th. Our rise to prominence in the state really took off in 2004 when we climbed 180 places to 36th. Two years ago, we shot up to 18th. Based on the early voting patterns, there is a chance that Williamson will join Travis County as the best performing counties in Texas for Democrats.”

What happened was middle-class demographic change. The spiraling cost of living in Travis County drove prospective homeowners into southern Williamson County in search of affordable housing, and they brought their liberal Austin values with them. The political ramifications were clear in the 2006 election, when Republican state representative Mike Krusee won reelection with a bare 50.44 percent against an unknown, unfunded Democrat. He prudently decided not to run again. Similar changes are occurring on the urban fringes of Harris, Dallas, and Tarrant counties, where older neighborhoods are in transition from owners to renters and from whites to minorities.

It’s not just “liberals” from Travis but also those who that came from other parts of the country that aren’t as GOP-friendly as those that moved here in the ’90’s were. Another opportunity because of the increasing population in Williamson County.

And ends with what Democrats gained in March.

The ultimate lesson of the ’08 primary is that Texas was never as solidly Republican as it appeared to be. Democrats have been out there during the fourteen years since George W. Bush was elected governor, but they existed in political purgatory: no major officeholders, no bench, no presidential campaigning in the state, no effective party organization. When the state suddenly became pivotal in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, the pent-up enthusiasm busted out, resulting in record turnout for the primary and a million participants in the post-election caucuses. Democratic operatives now have names and contact information for voters, activists, and volunteers that can be used to build a party infrastructure. Texas is still a red state, but there may be life on Mars after all.

And no one says, “I didn’t know there were Democrats in Williamson County”, anymore.

Thanks for the mention.

1 Comment »

  1. My new WordPress MU Site » Blog Archive » Eye On Williamson Gets Mentioned in Texas Monthlhy said,

    May 2, 2008 at 3:48 am

    [...] Diana Thébaud Nicholson wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptFor much of the twentieth century, Texas was a one-party—that is, Democratic—state. Many counties didn’t even hold Republican primaries. Conservatives routinely voted in the Democratic primary because that was the election in which … [...]

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