RED STATE: AN INSIDER’S STORY OF HOW THE GOP CAME TO DOMINATE TEXAS POLITICS
By Wayne Thorburn
Published in 2014 by University of Texas Press.
Reviewed by Trilla Pando.
Some of us long-time Texans pick up the newspaper and ask “How did that happen?” Republican Governor, Republican Lt. Governor, Republican Senate, Republican House—“What happened to a two-party Texas?”
What two-party Texas? Look at history. It’s clear, Texas has always been a one-party state. We simply changed parties. It didn’t happen overnight; it happened over three decades. In Red State, Wayne Thorburn casts a close analytical eye on this fascinating transition. Looking back through this clear analysis, it all makes sense, sometimes surprising sense, but sense. The story begins in 1949, when Lt. Governor Allan Shivers stepped up to the governorship after Beauford Jester died in office. Elected on his own in 1950, Shivers refused to support the 1952 Democratic presidential nominee, Adlai Stevenson, and, with the backing of several former governors, not only endorsed Dwight Eisenhower, but also engineered for Eisenhower the official endorsement of the Texas Democratic Party.
Cut to 1962 and the election of Republican John Tower to replace the new Democratic Vice-President of the United States, Lyndon Johnson, in the Senate. While remaining in the Democratic Party, Texas conservatives continued to vote for Republican national candidates. The liberal contingent did not cotton to this and became strong movers to get the conservatives out and into the Republican Party where they belonged. They felt strongly enough to endorse and vote for those Republican candidates. Even the liberal Texas Observer supported Tower over the conservative Democratic candidate. Some liberals decided simply to “go fishing” rather than vote for either. Thorburn follows this changing balance to what he deems the “tipping point” in 1996 when for the first time more Texans voted in the Republican Primary than the Democratic.
The book’s analysis is impressive. Thorburn looks at geography and at demographics. He divides the state by population into the urban centers (the six largest counties), the suburbs surrounding these, smaller metropolitan centers, and the remaining rural counties. It is a fascinating and highly documented account. The book is filled with tables and charts—all useful. I could have used a listing of Senators and Governors by election year and party as a reference, a problem I easily solved on my own. Various chapters describe the entire time period, and this helped me keep my bearings.
When in 1983 Texas elected Bill Clements the first Republican governor of Texas in 104 years, Wayne Thorburn was the executive director of the state party. He is heavily involved in that “tipping point” 1996 campaign that cemented the Republican Party in place. What better person to record these events?
Who will want to read this book? Not just the “what happened?” Texans who let some of this sneak past them, yes, but also newcomer Texans getting the lay of the land. And, most especially, any Texan who entertains any thoughts of running for office from either party. They won’t want to merely read the book. They may memorize it.
Trilla Pando holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Houston; she taught in both Texas and Georgia. Her research focused on women in Texas and Houston. The Bainbridge (Georgia) Post-Searchlight published her weekly column on food and local history. She now lives and works in Houston.