Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Quick Texas Political Primer

It occurred to me last night, while reading through a story on Texas Monthly, that an outsider to Texas might not understand how the politics run in this State, or what is the ideology that defines it.  I think a good way to look at this is to view Texas through it's regions/major cities and see when and where ideologies are rooted:

Let's start in the Capitol City.

Austin:

Cultural identity: Stuck in the 70's.
Political identity: Rooted in the 70's.
Infrastructure: Designed in the 1890's

You hear a lot about how Austin is "Not Texas".  This is bunk.  If anything Austin is exactly Texas, if it was populated by Californians.  The problem with Austin is that they don't have the money to accomplish everything that was promised in the '70s.  So they sit in the middle of Texas wondering why all of life isn't like one of Willie's 4th of July barbecues.

The Capitol:

Cultural identity: None
Political identity: A frat party.
Infrastructure: N/A

Here's the problem with the capitol:  Because of the design of the voting system it's possible for your candidate to vote on an issue despite not being there.  One of the funniest sites during every Lege session are the attending representatives wildly pushing every vote button around them in an effort to stack the deck.  If you want to see evidence of voting fraud, look no further than our Statehouse.  The biggest challenge that our government faces is that Texas was designed to run under the novel concept that Government is, more often than not, the problem rather than the solution. This is hard for elected officials (Republicans and Democrats) who have come to view themselves as somehow bigger than the State. Considering they're surrounded by Austinites it could be a case of one-eyed men being king in the land of the blind.

College Station

Cultural identity:  Hullaballo kannick-kannick.
Political identity: Sunburned red.
Infrastructure: aTm

College Station is, as the name implies, Texas most true college town.  Except that it's one of the more conservative college towns in the Country.  Driving through College Station is like wandering into a world with a binary color palate and 50's sensibilities.  As the rest of Texas moved forward (before getting stuck in their own time-warps) College Station stayed firmly rooted in the 50's.  Sure, there are small splinter groups that try to bring them into the future in fits & starts, but they have a name for them and it's not pretty (2 percenters).  Of more concern for aTm is that their football team is standing on the precipice of one of the worst eras in school history.  Fortunately, for the fans, College Station is not dry.  Drink heavy Aggies, this'll hurt.

Dallas:

Cultural identity: Straight from the 80's.
Political identity: In Transition
Infrastructure: Meh.

OK, Dallas has DART, which many will tell you automatically places them at the top of Texas from an infrastructure standpoint.  They also have Fort Worth, with whom they're eternally incapable of reconciling differences.  Just as Austin is rooted in the 70's, Dallas is rooted in the 80's.  Specifically the TV show that we all grew up watching.  The typical Dallasite spends half their time coiffing and the other half wondering why in the hell they aren't JR.  Unlike some of their city siblings, Dallas is fairly confident in who they are. This gives them a big advantage in name and social ID.

El Paso

Cultural identity: Hola!
Political identity: C is for.......
Infrastructure: Let's build a wall....

Everything that is El Paso is defined by two things:  1. The shared border with our friends to the South.  2. Democratic machine politics.  Because of this some of the best political corruption scandals in recent Texas memory have sprung from the gateway to Texas.  To suggest El Paso politics has a corrupt history is to suggest that Texas is big.  It's been a mess.  There have been rumblings that, due to what passes for intense media pressure in Texas, they are working on the problem, but long-time observers think we're just in a lull.  All in all though El Paso is a beautiful city, and a nice place to visit if you have the time.  Just don't cross the border.

Houston:

Cultural identity: Can we bring back the 90's?
Political identity: The Houston Way
Infrastructure:  Huh?

Houston's big problem is "Houston we have a problem".  Every since that phrase got stuck in the public lexicon it's been inexorably tied to Texas' largest city like a lasso on a calf at the Livestock Show and Rodeo.  Houstonians fondly remember the 90's, when oil was booming, the Rockets were winning and Houston was a two newspaper town.  Houston had a real, strong, mayor in Bob Lanier and hadn't yet experienced the long, desperate slog downward that was the Lee P. Brown/Bill White era.  In the 90s, Houston still had hope.  Today's Houston is a bunch of imports looking at one another and wondering why things aren't done like they were back home.  As a result of this everything in Houston is done half-assed.  From the light-rail to the downtown park to government ethics.  Everything in Houston is designed to woo the votes of one group over the other.  The result is a political game of three-card-monty where moneyed special interests understand the scam and make out like bandits.

San Antonio

Cultural identity: Don't disrespect me man!
Political identity: Some future utopia
Infrastructure:  "We have this river you see....."

San Antonio is in the middle of a cultural sea-change.  Once ringed with military bases, it existed as mainly a military town with one (pretty great) tourist attraction parked squarely in the middle. With the closing of several of said bases, and a burgeoning private sector, San Antonio now aspires to be a player at the State level.  When you hear the phrase: "Demographics is destiny" people are really referencing San Antonio, which has been the political birth-place of a string of would-be Hispanic "rising stars".  Unfortunately, there's a major issue with getting the Hispanic community to engage in the political process.  Because of this many of these "rising stars" have fallen to earth via either humiliating electoral defeats or scandal.  The result of this is a developing inferiority complex that doesn't quite rival Houston's, but is a solid contender for second place.

The Valley

Cultural identity: Tres leches.
Political identity: El Paso, but way worse.
Infrastructure: Crumbling

When you think of the Valley today you should think about one thing: The Eagle Ford Shale.  This very rich oil and gas field is providing the very poor with very well-off lifestyles almost overnight.  Vast areas of land that were once dirt farms and deer leases are now making their owners Millions of dollars a year.  For those that don't own land there is an influx of well-paying jobs that are causing great damage to the Democratic political machine in the area.  The Valley needs roads, and infrastructure badly.  The rivers and water supply that were once so plentiful are suddenly proving woefully inadequate.  The main problem for the Valley is that their political clout in Red Texas is currently naught.  They have to find a way to address this, and soon.

West Texas

Cultural identity: Wildcatters 
Cultural reality: Fading
Political identity: Big man on campus
Political reality: Fading
Infrastructure: Pipe dreams.

Of all the areas in Texas, West Texas has undergone the largest transformation. Once the seat of power in the Texas economy they've taken a back seat as the shale plays have ramped up development, and the Permian Basin has moved into its declining stage.  At one time Midland and Odessa had grand dreams of light-rail and multi-Million dollar convention centers.  Now they're just trying to keep the pot-holes filled and the water flowing as every-shrinking tax bases put a tremendous strain on a government that overspent during good times.  If anything West Texas should serve as a cautionary tail for the rest of the State.  The good times won't last forever, and expenditures kicked down the road eventually hit a dead end and have to be paid for.


Texas Media

Cultural identity: Lonesome Dove
Cultural reality: The Great Depression
Political identity: Mahatma Gandhi
Political reality: LBJ
Infrastructure: Being sold off to the highest bidder

The problem with the Texas media is that, in most cases, they're living in a fantasy land rooted somewhere between the 60's and the 90's, forgetting that things have moved forward in Texas more so than almost any other State in the union.  Too many times you hear things like "the way we do things in Texas" illustrating why the Texas media has fallen out of favor with most of us.  If they're not longing for the days when LBJ was in charge then they're lamenting the fact that Texas doesn't do things like they were done in New York, or the North East, from which most of the editorial direction is based.  The fact is that most of Texas current media don't know, and don't want to know, the political make-up of the majority of Texas citizenry.  They view themselves as guarders and protectors of what is truthful and right, and their charge is to convert the God-fearing heathens who don't see things their way.  Meanwhile the rest of the State is moving on, while the MSM in Texas continues its downward spiral into irrelevancy.

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