The last time a Democrat was elected to statewide office in Texas, pagers were still cool.
The era of Ann Richards and beepers may be long gone now. But 20 years, and a generation of smart phones later, Democrats are plotting a resurgence.
And leading the charge are two women, Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte, at the top of the Democratic ticket running for governor and lt. governor respectively.
Republicans, however, are fighting hard to keep alive the rotary phone days with a cast of ultra conservative white males seeking to defeat Davis and her running mate.
The likely GOP candidate for governor, Attorney General Greg Abbott is as conservative as they come. A close friend to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, Abbott too has made waves on the national stage. He has stood out in curtailing the voice of minority communities. Before the Supreme Court struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Abbott was at the helm of defending Texas’ strict voter ID law.
And then there’s his fight against Texas’ Planned Parenthood clinics. In 2011 the state legislature banned Planned Parenthood’s participation in the state’s Women’s Health Program that serves low income women. When that ban went into effect a year later, a federal appeals court judge issued an emergency stay blocking the law. Abbott promptly appealed, successfully that time.
Last month, Abbott appealed another stay involving women’s reproductive health. After the Texas abortion ban went into effect a stay for some parts of the law was put in place but within 72 hours Abbott saw that the stay was lifted.
Abbott’s possible running mate is state Senator Dan Patrick, who kicked off his campaign with an ad touting how tough he would be on immigration. Shortly thereafter the rest of the GOP lt. governor hopefuls jumped on the anti-immigrant bandwagon so as to not be left behind.
The top of the Republican ticket will be one that not only seeks to maintain the status quo but one that is for aggressively tamping down attempts to challenge the status quo.
Texas today is a majority-minority state, with Hispanics making up around one-third of the state. But the Republican Party still thinks it is the last century, when non-Hispanic whites were the majority population. Or perhaps more troubling, the GOP recognizes that there has been a demographic change but they think they can keep that change from affecting political representation.
While the demographics of the state have shifted, the leadership has not. It’s an old conservative boy’s club over at the pink dome. But this old style has come into stark relief with next year’s gubernatorial election pitting the old against the new.
Davis, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, and Van de Putte, by definition are not part of the old boy’s club. But more importantly, they represent the interests of those not in the old boy’s club – women, the poor, veterans, minorities, young folks, undocumented immigrants, etc.
State senator Davis’ abortion bill filibuster highlighted the growing voice of women. In Texas, men more than women believe that abortion should not always be legal and available.
A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found that 22% of independent men believe that abortion should always be legal and available while 41% of Independent women support that right. Even among Republicans in the state, it is men who are the strongest in opposition to abortion in comparison to their GOP female counterparts.
For Latinos, Van de Putte has become is a leading voice in the state and nationally. Close to 4 out of 10 Texans is Latino, yet there has never been a Latino elected to statewide office.
In the old America, men decided what was best for women. In the new America, women speak for themselves.
It may be that a Governor Davis and Lt. Governor Van de Putte can pull Texas into the 21st Century. And at the very least their strong electoral run will push Texas closer to catching up with the interests and needs of the new America.