It allowed sewage sludge from New York City to be shipped, by train, to a little desert town in District 74, Sierra Blanca, which is eighty miles southeast of El Paso. The train became known as the Poo-Poo Choo-Choo. What would they likely be hunting? They can run twenty-five miles per hour. They got these tusks out to here. In a moment, John Sharp was on the loudspeaker. The former state comptroller of public accounts, he is now the chancellor of the Texas A.
Everybody wearing cutoffs and tennis shoes. So then you just take your pistol and pop him in the eye. For more than a century, Texas was under Democratic rule. The state was always culturally conservative, religious, and militaristic, but a strain of pragmatism kept it from being fully swept up in racism and right-wing ideology. Economic populism, especially in the rural areas, offered a counterweight to the capitalists in the cities. But in the nineteen-seventies the state began shifting rightward. That day lit the conservative fuse. Suddenly, they knew they had the numbers to win.
Moderate and conservative Democratic politicians followed the voters to the Republican Party. Rick Perry, for one, served three terms in the Texas House as a Democrat, and even campaigned for Al Gore in his Presidential run, before changing parties, in In , Texas elected its last statewide Democrat. While George W.
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The lieutenant governor, Bob Bullock, and Speaker Laney were both Democrats, and, when Bush ran for President, they became exhibits in his argument that he would be a bipartisan leader. Like Lyndon Johnson, Bullock had a huge, battered face and an unbridled love of Texas, which allowed him to see past the barriers of party loyalties. His legend was only enhanced by his ruinous personal life: alcoholism, cancer, chronic depression, five marriages. In January, , the Republicans finally took over the Texas legislature, and Laney lost the speakership to Tom Craddick, an ultraconservative Republican from Midland, the oil capital.
More than anyone, Craddick was responsible for securing a Republican majority in the House, through clever fund-raising and indefatigable campaigning. When he entered the House, he was twenty-five—the youngest member. Now, at seventy-three, he is the longest-serving legislator in Texas history. Craddick is slight and white-haired, wry and friendly, with a slur in his speech and a shuffle in his step. His crusade started in the late eighties, he recalled. Craddick was the first Republican speaker since With his election to the post, the coup was complete. In the elections, fifty-six per cent of Texans who voted for a U.
Craddick worked with Congressman Tom DeLay, who was then the Majority Whip, to put into motion a sweeping plan to create a permanent Republican majority in the U. Taking care not to violate Supreme Court guidelines on minority representation, lawmakers jigsawed Texas into shapes that would decisively capture the state for the right. In May, , the redistricting plan came up for a vote in the Texas House.
Fifty-three Democrats, sensing a lethal threat to their party, fled to Oklahoma, denying Craddick a quorum. He locked the capitol chamber, to prevent any more defections, and called out state troopers to hunt down the missing members, who became known as the Killer Ds. In the midst of this hubbub, Pete Laney, the former speaker, flew his Piper turboprop from the Panhandle to Ardmore, Oklahoma, where he joined his Democratic colleagues at the local Holiday Inn.
Texas troopers and national reporters swarmed into Ardmore. The Democratic faction remained in Oklahoma for four days, until the deadline for considering new legislation had passed. The governor, Rick Perry—by then a stalwart Republican—called a special session for late June, whereupon eleven Democratic state senators decamped to New Mexico. It took two more special sessions to ram the vote through.
The redistricting had a revolutionary effect. Today, the Texas delegation to the U. House of Representatives includes twenty-five Republicans and eleven Democrats—a far more conservative profile than the political demography of the state. The Austin metropolitan area, the heart of the Texas left, was divvied up into six congressional districts, with city residents a minority in each.
All but one of these districts are now held by Republicans. Another Republican congressman, Lamar Smith, lives in San Antonio, but his district includes—and neutralizes—the liberal area surrounding the University of Texas at Austin. Smith, a member of the Tea Party Caucus, in Washington, denies that human activity affects global warming. Lloyd Doggett is the only Democrat representing the Austin area, and his district runs along I, from East Austin to East San Antonio, scooping up as many Democrats as possible in one basket.
In , DeLay was prosecuted for money laundering and conspiracy, in connection with the illegal use of corporate funds. Craddick was also questioned, but he was never indicted. In , Rick Perry was indicted for abusing gubernatorial power, after he threatened to defund an anti-corruption agency. I wonder if Ted Cruz can dance. Texas has always had a burlesque side to its politics. The columnist Molly Ivins made a national reputation as a humor writer by lampooning the people we elect to office.
One of my favorites in this category was Mike Martin, a state representative from Longview. In , someone shotgunned the trailer he lived in during his months in Austin. Martin was inside, and was slightly injured. He declared that the shooting was in reprisal for an investigation he was pursuing involving a satanic cult. Ivins, who died in , would have loved writing about Mary Lou Bruner, a seventy-year-old retired schoolteacher from Mineola, who last year ran as a Republican for an open seat on the Texas State Board of Education—a frequent battleground of the culture wars.
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Because ten per cent of American public-school students live in Texas, the state exerts a great influence on the textbook-publishing industry. During her campaign, Bruner posted on Facebook that Barack Obama had worked as a male prostitute in his twenties. Somehow, she made it to a runoff, which she then lost. Like many reporters in Texas, I received wild e-mails from Morrow for several years. He once claimed that George H.
In , Morrow took out a full-page ad in a local newspaper:. Morrow, a fifty-three-year-old Princeton graduate with an M. Texas Republicans were having an unhappy time of it in Rick Perry, who retired from the governorship the previous year, was K. Compounding the embarrassment, Morrow announced that he was running for President himself. This turned out to be against the rules for the Travis County chairman. At a meeting held in August, the Party deposed him. Morrow, who was present at the meeting, wearing a floppy motley-fool hat, did not object.
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The Texas capitol, constructed of red granite, was completed in The state was destitute then, and paid for the building with three million acres of public land in the Panhandle—about the size of Connecticut. At the time, the capitol was said to be the seventh-largest building in the world, and, as one would expect, it is somewhat taller than its uncle in Washington, D.
During the summer in Austin, nighthawks swirl around the crowning statue on the dome: the Goddess of Liberty, holding aloft a golden star. The sessions begin on the second Tuesday in January and end around Memorial Day. In the session, the state budget worked out to about a hundred billion dollars per year. This year, a drop in the price of oil and a rise in population augured substantial cutbacks and a struggle to meet the health and safety needs of citizens. When I visited the capitol in January, a group of high-school girls stood on a terrazzo mosaic in the middle of the rotunda.
In the center was the seal of the Republic of Texas, a lone star wreathed in branches of olive and live oak. On the walls of the rotunda hang portraits of our former governors. When a portrait arrives at the end of the circle on the ground floor, it moves to the wall of the floor above, and then higher and higher and further into obscurity. The next portrait that will ascend from the lobby is that of W. He passed himself off as a rube, but he was a savvy operator.
He had become famous as the host of a radio show in which he performed with his band, the Light Crust Doughboys. Radio was his Twitter. His only real platform was to stir things up.
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In his first race, he defeated eleven contenders, without a runoff. As governor, he reneged on promises he had made to abolish the death penalty, block the sales tax, and raise pensions.
He was terribly ineffectual but such a compelling showman that, in , voters sent him to the U. Senate over a young man named Lyndon Johnson—the only election Johnson ever lost. Of all the governors on the rotunda walls, Ann Richards, who served from to , was the most memorable, at least in my lifetime.
She became a national figure when, as the state treasurer, she gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.
Her rise to governor, as a recovered alcoholic and a divorced mother of four, was a near-miracle. He blew that lead with a series of character-revealing gaffes. In that instant, he lost the election. Richards wore designer suits but picked her teeth, and she cleaned her fingernails with a Swiss Army knife.