How Campaigning, Elections, Voting, and Government Work in Texas: A Primer

A graphic of the Texas state flag

I wrote a post last night about why I don’t like people conflating jerk extraordinaire Rick Perry with my entire state and LOTS of people contacted me with some variation of this message (pulled from a comment on that post):

Texas elected Rick Perry governor three times. Each time his margin of victory was more than 10% of the electorate. So why shouldn’t we blame Texas for Rick Perry?

So, here’s my answer (adapted from a comment I wrote on the aforementioned post):

1) From October 2012, “Looking Back at Texas’ Republican Decade”

The resulting 2001 legislative redistricting maps would cement the state’s shift from blue to red. […]

A new House map and an influx of campaign funds — some of which were eventually deemed illegal — led 88 Republicans to be elected to the House in 2002. Tom Craddick was elected the state’s first Republican speaker since Reconstruction. Craddick says the new majority carried responsibilities and freedoms many Republicans had never experienced, which led to a few problems during that 2003 session.

2) From same article:

Kronberg says the inexperience also showed in how quickly some bills were passed, sometimes with little understanding of what was in them. That includes passage of bills that gave new powers to Texas’ traditionally weak governor.

The appointment process is more direct to boards and commissions,” Kronberg says. “The ability of the governor to reach into boards and commissions — where the true administration of government takes place — is more profound. Then there’s a whole series of mechanical things that were passed in a massive government-reorganization bill.

3) From March 2006, “The Texas Gerrymander”

Texas’s 2003 redistricting was an extreme case of partisan gerrymandering. The state’s Congressional lines had already been redrawn once, after the 2000 census, producing additional Republican seats in a way that a federal court decided was fair. But when Republicans took control of the state government, they decided to do a highly unusual second redistricting. Democratic state legislators protested and fled the state to deny the Republicans a quorum. But Texas eventually adopted a plan that tilted the state’s delegation even further in the Republicans’ favor.”

How did Texas eventually adopt a plan that titled the state’s delegation even further in the Republicans’ favor? 

On July 28, eleven Senate Democrats blocked a quorum by fleeing to Albuquerque, New Mexico moments before the House and Senate adjourned the first special session and just before Republican Gov. Rick Perry planned to call a second special session on redistricting. On August 26, the second special legislative session ended with the Democratic senators still in New Mexico and no redistricting bill passed by the Senate. On September 15, a third special session to address redistricting began with Democratic Sen. John Whitmire of Houston defecting from Albuquerque. As a result, the remaining Democratic senators who fled returned to Austin (the state capital). On October 12, 2003, the Texas House and Senate completed a compromise redistricting map and sent it to Perry’s office for his signature.

Oh, Rick Perry used multiple special sessions to do it? That sounds familiar. It’s almost like he exploits his power to call special sessions in order to force through legislation that he wants but that is otherwise terrible and he can’t get through during regular legislative sessions. Almost…

4) Democratic candidates receive WAY less money to run campaigns than do their Republican counterparts.

5) From today, “Texas candidates far more reliant on big-dollar contributions than other states’ pols”

To fuel the record-setting spending of the most recent election campaign, candidates turned to a powerful minority comprised of 31,385 megadonors across the country. That wealthy stratum, including 2,700 Texans, funded nearly one-third of last year’s $6 billion election in spending.

Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, who led the nation in Super PAC spending last year, recorded donations of $25 million.”

But wait. What is a SUPER PAC?

Super PACs are a new kind of political action committee created in July 2010 following the outcome of a federal court case known as v. Federal Election Commission.

Technically known as independent expenditure-only committees, Super PACs may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates. Super PACs must, however, report their donors to the Federal Election Commission on a monthly or quarterly basis — the Super PAC’s choice — as a traditional PAC would. Unlike traditional PACs, Super PACs are prohibited from donating money directly to political candidates.

And about that court case that led to SUPER PACS?

Stephen M. Hoersting, a lawyer for the winning side in the first case, said the ruling represented a logical and welcome extension of Citizens United.

OH! A result of Citizens United, a court case that was decided by Supreme Court justices put in place by US presidents elected by US citizens at large. Huh.

6) We also told REPEATEDLY in Texas that our votes don’t matter. Because of gerrymandering and that everything is SO Republican that even if we vote for something, it won’t affect anything. And so now 10 years after the all-important 2002/2003 election/legislative cycles, Texas has lowest voter turnout in nation.

From The Texas Civic Health Index (link is to a .pdf):

Low levels of political and civic participation may stem from a variety of causes. Relatively noncompetitive elections; lack of information and education; inconvenience and disenfranchisement; and the challenge of incorporating a rapidly changing population all may be contributing to lackluster civic health in Texas. […]

At the same time, nearly one in five Texans live below the poverty line. Poverty is more prevalent among racial and ethnic minorities in Texas: 25.5% of Texas’s total population living in poverty self-identify as Hispanic and 23.6% as African American, while non-Hispanic Whites make up 8.7% of the total. According to the Pew Research Hispanic Center, the poverty rate among Texas Hispanics ages 17 and younger is 35%. Relatedly, one in five adult Texans lacks a high school diploma.

You could just read page 20 forward in this document if you really want to understand ALL the factors that lead to our current reality.

7) I’m sure you’ve heard that we had unconstitutional Voter ID and redistricting laws in Texas that were deemed unconstitutional by SCOTUS.

Now that key parts of the Voting Rights Act were deemed unconstitutional, LOOK WHAT’S BACK! Our previously unconstitutional Voter ID law.

8) I’m about 99.9% sure that this list isn’t even comprehensive.

In short: you can throw your pithy statement at me about voter turn out and who voted for Perry but if that pithy statement is void of the actual context of how campaigning, elections, voting, and government works in Texas, then keep it to yourself please.

13 Responses

  1. Also, ever since the death of any semblance of a real Fifty State Strategy, the DNC has treated wealthy Texas Democrats as an ATM.

    So all you folks who are lamenting the state of politics in Texas, don’t complain to us. If you want to do something about it, give Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz a call and tell her the DNC needs to support Democratic candidates in Texas elections.

  2. Stella says:

    Thank you, Jessica!

    ALSO, Governor Plurality only won 39% of the vote in 2006!

    Since then, he has spent most of his time firing guns into the air and gerrymandering to raise his percentage.

  3. JiminNC says:

    Thanks for trying to answer my question. But I don’t think you have done so. If the question were, “Are all Texans responsible for the terrible things the legislature has done?” instead of “Why shouldn’t we blame Texas for Rick Perry?,” then your comments would show that unfair and often illegal methods have been used to elect legislators. But very little of that has anything to do with electing Perry three times by wide margins (or electing him Lt Gov before that.) The worst is the voter turnout excuse: they’re using the Jedi Mind Meld to convince you that you can’t show up at the ballot to kick Perry out? That’s not an excuse, that’s the problem. Let me rephrase the rephrase, why shouldn’t we blame Texas for voting in the last five gubernatorial elections for people dumber than cactus, the first of whom did tremendous harm to this country, the second of whom…, oh shoot, who was the second one?

  4. Marguerite ( @margcellent ) says:

    Thank-you for pulling all these sources together in one place. I was born and raised in western NY state (yes, there are people from NY who are not from NYC, lol), but have lived in Texas since 1984. I settled in Houston, eventually earning a law degree and an LL.M. here. Sadly I must admit that I allowed my moving here and finishing my degree, then getting married and raising my children to relegate me to an armchair critic of Mr. Perry … until now. I really do think that the GOP is clueless regarding the extent our anger over their latest scheme to improperly use special legislative sessions to push through legislation in total disregard of a large, vocal and motivated segment of voters. And thanks to the internet, the world had a bird’s-eye-view of good old boy Texas politics at work – turned off microphones, fraudulently altered official records, and so many lies.

    Whereas before this summer I would have voted Democrat in the next election as my sole protest against the status quo, rest assured I will do all I can to see citizens registered to vote and in possession of whatever ID Mr. Abbott & company require. We the people of Texas, the ones who actually value the ideas of liberty and freedom for all have just begun to fight back. No longer will we allow the GOP to pay lip service to the American Constitution while ensuring that liberty and freedom can only be exercised by those who look, think and believe as they do.

  5. Jessica Luther says:

    I understand your question, JiminNC, I’m just not sure you care about my answer.

    What wasn’t clear? Money alone – ALONE – determines who wins elections (and money in our state elections are directly affected by federal court cases that have nothing to do with Texans or the control they have). But on top of that fact, we have a gerrymandered system that was built on (some) illegal actions, we have a legislature that has given the governor a ton of power which the governor uses to consolidate his power, and we have a longstanding narrative that our votes don’t matter.

    If you want to only focus on that final part to debunk my entire post, you are, I guess, choosing to ignore the more systemic issues that make it feel like voting doesn’t matter.

    For the record, Perry won the last election with 39% of the vote. So, you keep saying “Texas” elected Perry and the truth is that most of Texas did not vote for Rick Perry. And now most Texans do not like him.

    And despite the fact that I have said repeatedly that the messaging of “Fuck Texas” instead of “Fuck Perry” alienates us progressives who are actually here working damn hard all the time to change the things that you hate about my state, you want to argue with me about how my state works and what it means to be a Texan.

  6. Bill Mooneyham says:

    “The Great State of Texas” is a red state. While the blue states are suffering and going bankrupt,the only states that are maintaining and even prospering under this communist president is the red states. That is probably due to the red states adhering to their conservative values. While the blue states continue to be lead around by the nose with lofty liberal promises that always require the tax payer to fund. The only way to prosper is to work hard and use you mind. We in Texas do both. Look to Texas to learn how to prosper.

  7. RL McGruder says:

    GREAT post, Jessica, and truly informative. I appreciate all of the hard work you’re doing on behalf of ALL of us Texans – even those who don’t yet see how it affects them. “First they came…” has never been more appropriate than in the last few…years, really.

  8. JustTheFacts says:

    Bill Mooneyham: You are either misinformed or trying to misinform. The data shows that red states get more federal tax dollars than they give, and blue states get less than they give. I don’t think this applies to Texas, but in general, it’s true. Why don’t you look up some facts instead of drinking the Kool Aid?

  9. Cary Jackson says:

    JiminNC, I guess you’re asking us to blame you, along with the rest of North Carolina, for Jesse Helms and Liddy Dole, just for starters?

  10. Allison Blazek says:

    In response to Moons over my Hammy, Texas is prosperous because of Oil and Gas, not for any political reason.

  11. Pamela Elliott says:

    Thank you so very much for presenting this in a way to help me explain to others who sit in judgment of us from the comfort of their blue states what the heck is going on here. Fantastic post.

  12. Steve in Austin says:

    Thanks Jessica, this is super helpful. Note to JiminNC: Assuming you really are in NC, maybe instead of insulting the hardworking TX progressives, you should get to work on your own state. Bush took NC in both elections– even with your own Sen. Edwards on the Dem ballot in 2000! Now your state govt is pushing to the hard right just like TX. Let’s work together and chase these GOP rats out of both states.

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