Texas Politics with Parker Hevron

Professor Parker Hevron is a professor at Texas Women’s University in Denton, Texas. he received his PhD at the University of Southern California. He specializes in American politics and issue framing. He also teaches Texas politics. He graciously allowed me to publish a conversation we had about Texas politics and its possible futures… The interview is unedited and was conducted over email in May.

So, Parker, Trump and Hillary are overwhelmingly likely to be their respective parties’ nominees for President. Does the Texas Primaries tell us anything about how popular the candidates might be in a General Election?

This year’s Texas primaries were a bit of a national outlier, in that Trump failed to carry the state and Clinton won handily.

On the Democratic side of things, Texas Democrats seemed immune to Bernie Sanders’ populist rhetoric that seemed to play well in some of Texas’ neighboring states in the Midwest (like Oklahoma, for example). Texas Democrats are clustered in the biggest cities in the state (Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, and El Paso — all of which are staunchly Democratic) and the Rio Grande Valley, which is heavily Latino. Though the state does have a history of populism, Texas’ Democrats are quite different in character than Democrats in the Midwest and Upper Midwest. Clinton has always done well in Texas, beating Obama in 2008 when Texas still had a hybrid primary/caucus system. 

In addition to being a native son (sorry, Canada!), Ted Cruz’s brand of conservatism is tailor-made for Texas GOP voters. Though I have no doubt that the state will vote for Trump in November — the dream of a blue (or at least purple) Texas is still a ways off — Cruz’s mixture of “constitutionalism” and willingness to employ dog-whistle language that appeals to social conservatives decided the race in his favor. It’s worth mentioning that Texas has a partially open primary system, in which voters can vote in either party’s primary but not both. In what is essentially a one-party state, a subset of Democratic voters in the state cast their votes in the Republican primary, hoping to vote strategically and affect the identity of the Republican nominee. Although these voters will doubtless vote for Clinton in November, it’s still not going to be enough to tilt Texas and its 28 Electoral College votes for the Democrats.

What do you think explained Bernie’s lack of appeal? Was it the amount of minority voters in the Democratic electorate? The sheer size of the state to organize? Or something else? Does the next Democratic Governor or Senator from Texas sound more like a Hillary Democrat or a populist progressive like Bernie?

Texas Democrats have been pretty loyal to the Clintons for a long time. They seemed to appreciate her willingness to reach out to minority voters. I think that geographic proximity matters some to Texas voters, too. And even though the Clintons haven’t lived in Arkansas in almost 30 years, she possesses more of a geographic familiarity to Texas Democrats than Sanders. Even though I’m sure that many Texas Democrats agree with his stances on various issues, the Clinton name proved too hard to overcome. The importance of organization also shouldn’t be disregarded. The Clintons have tapped big-money Democratic donors in Texas for a long time and were much quicker to set up shop in the state than the Sanders campaign.

If I knew what the next statewide Democratic politician from Texas would look like, I’d be a rich man. Democrats in the state have (rather too) optimistically hoped for such a long time that the state would begin to shade purple, but there is simply not much evidence of it happening any time soon. If the Republicans continue to antagonize Hispanic voters that will speed up the process, but the Hispanic electorate in Texas actually shares much in common in terms of social values with conservative politicians, which is something that nationwide Republicans have been much slower to figure out than in-state Republican officials (like Greg Abbott, for example). Three Texas Democrats are often talked about at the national level as having bright futures within the party — the Castro brothers from San Antonio (one is the mayor of San Antonio and the other is the current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in Obama’s Cabinet) and Rafael Anchia, who is a state representative from Dallas. Despite their political talents, given the political makeup of the state I would predict that they will have success sooner at the national level than running for statewide office in Texas.

Wasn’t there an Obama staffer who promised to turn Texas blue? What happened there?

Yes, the organization is called “Battleground Texas” and it was founded in 2013 by the national field director for President Obama’s successful 2012 re-election campaign. Thus far, the organization’s efforts at turning Texas blue have been disappointing to say the least. In fact, despite the efforts of Battleground Texas, Wendy Davis received fewer votes in the 2014 Texas gubernatorial election than the Democratic candidate in 2010, former mayor of Houston Bill White. Political observers in the state have offered myriad reasons for Battleground Texas’ lack of success, chief among them the fact that they seem either unable or unwilling to reach out to minority voters in the state. The Democratic Party in Texas suffers from the same problems that it does elsewhere, one of which being a disconnect between white, affluent Democrats and urban, minority Democrats. This second group has comprised the core of the party during the 20+ years that the Democrats have been without a statewide elected official. The Texas Tribune has run a series of interesting articles chronicling Battleground Texas’ failures, specifically citing the fact that the group’s donor base (affluent white liberals) has not understood the realities of political organizing in the urban core of Texas’ biggest cities. It was clear from the outset that the organization was always going to be facing an uphill battle, but even their supporters seem dismayed by Battleground Texas’ failures.

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