When Texas Turned Republican

From the post-Civil War era to the late 1970s, Democrats were thought to be the only party that counted in Texas politics.

An important role in ending Democratic control of Texas politics came with John Tower’s election to the U.S. Senate in 1961. Tower won against the conservative Democratic establishment with the help of liberal Democratic media like the Texas Observer, which endorsed him.

Through the 1960s and ’70s, Tower was, without question, the most powerful Texas Republican. He connected Texas to the national Republican Party and made Republicans respectable. It had been shameful to vote Republican in Texas since the Civil War – with exceptions, of course, like Eisenhower.

The Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade in 1973 and the issue of busing in Dallas in 1975 energized the conservative grass roots – especially Texas women. At the National Women’s Conference in Houston in 1977, liberal and feminist women came together in the spirit of cooperation and progress. The delegates passed resolutions on the ERA, abortion, and gay rights.

Conservative women were strong on national defense, in favor of lower taxes, small business, and limited government – basically the Republican platform. They also said the Democratic Party was out of touch with Texans who lived in the suburbs.

In 1978, William Clements was elected as the first Republican governor of Texas since Reconstruction. The election campaign was largely a referendum about President Jimmy Carter, who was unpopular in Texas. The economy was doing well in Texas because oil prices were very high. Carter spoke about regulating a national energy crisis by regulating the oil industry. Texans wouldn’t support regulation of the oil industry. Clements described Carter as “a liberal run amok.”

Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980 established Texas at the front of modern American conservatism. Reagan was perceived as a cowboy-hat-wearing, ranch-owning, horse-riding frontier individualist, who was going to ride in and save the day. Many Texans believed in Reagan’s brand of conservatism and the way he talked about American individuality.

Most Texans came to see Reagan’s Republican Party as more representative of their values than the Democratic Party.

Source: When Texas Turned Republican
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