Texas Politics - Texas Political Culture go back

1. Introduction
1.1 What is Political Culture? Why is it Important?
1.2 Looking Ahead
2. Political Culture and Political Ideology in Texas
2.1 Low Taxes, Low Services Political Culture
2.2 Political Culture and Texas Political History
3. Political Culture and Political Socialization in Texas
3.1 Individual Political Socialization and its Agents
3.2 Popular Culture and Political Socialization
4. Economic Dimensions of Texas Political Culture
4.1 Wealth, Regionalism, and Political Culture
5. The People of Texas and Political Inclusion
5.1 Settlement and Population Characteristics
5.2 Demographics and Inclusion
6. Continuity and Change: Political Institutions and Actors
6.1 Institutions of Government
6.2 Political Parties in Texas
6.3 Political Actors and Political Culture
7. Conclusion
7.1 Is Public Education a Service?

1. Introduction

When we look at the complexity and diversity of modern Texas we realize that any single list of qualities that we might label "Texan" will be partial, overly static, not applicable to everyone in the state, and maybe even internally contradictory. Texas is home to a large, diverse population - millions of people across a large territory - with a broad variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds, economic interests and activities, and significant regional variation.

The diversity contained in Texas was recognized even in the Joint Resolution of the U.S. Congress of Annexing Texas, passed in 1845, which allowed that new states, not to exceed four, could be formed out of Texas territory, for a total of five possible states. The politics of slavery prior to the Civil War, the diversity of the state's economic interests, the possibility of expanding influence in the U.S. Senate, and the general expansion of political offices contributed to the recurrence of division proposals as late as the 1930's. Such proposals largely dropped out of sight after that, though the provisions for division were briefly reexamined in the wake of Governor Perry's reference to the legality of Texas secession during a 2009 rally in Austin.

A complex interplay of diverse historical, institutional, economic, geographic and social forces continually redefines how people of Texas think of themselves. Being a Texan means being alternately independent, rugged, individualistic, simple, straightforward, doggedly determined, and proud; sometimes boastful and brash, materialistic but moralistic; religious; distrustful of government yet respectful of authority; believing in competition and survival of the fittest, yet concerned for those who might be down on their luck.

Sorting through all this is daunting. But, any understanding of politics in the state is incomplete without some attempt to examine the interplay of forces that shape Texans' views of themselves and their fellow residents of the state.

In the modern era, the various strands of Texas political culture could be boiled down to three main ideological tendencies: economic liberalism (faith in the "free market" economy) combined with social conservatism (favoring traditional values and moralism), overlaid with populism (promoting the rights and worthiness of ordinary people). These ideological tendencies have found their expression in a dominant political culture that tends to favor low taxes, low government services, and pro-business policies.

We should regard these three tendencies as the foundation of our political culture, on top of which are built other somewhat less permanent values, attitudes, and viewpoints all interacting in complex ways with other societal forces. The video segments on this page illustrate different manifestations of this complex interplay of forces shaping our political culture.

University of Texas anthropologist Richard Flores, drawing on his book Remembering the Alamo: Memory, Modernity, and the Master Symbol (2002), argues that around 1900-1910 a series of important technological and economic developments fundamentally altered the social landscape in rural Texas, and had a particularly strong negative impact on Mexican Americans. Specifically, he focuses on three developments at the turn of the century that together undermined Mexican Americans: the massive growth of railroads, the invention of barbed wire, and the introduction of irrigation. Flores points out how these economic, political and social dynamics dovetailed to form a distinct transition to a new historical era - with developments in each area reinforcing developments in the other two areas.

The complexity and diversity of culture in our state are also evident in the recollections of former state house member, state Senator, and U.S. House member Craig Washington and former Texas House staffer and current lobbyist Jack Gullahorn. Their discussion reveals the complex interplay between race and regional culture against the backdrop of the institutional setting of the Texas legislature in the early 1970s.

Yet another dimension of the dynamism and diversity of our culture is revealed in the comments of UT historian G. Howard Miller in his analysis of the intersection of religious diversity, urbanization, and regional differences in the state.

In this chapter we will explore the way that the various strands of Texas political culture complement and contradict each other, and the way that they interact with our state's history, socioeconomic structure, and political institutions and actors.

1.1 What is Political Culture? Why is it Important?

Simply put, political culture is a people's shared framework of values, beliefs, and habits of behavior related to government and politics. These ideals and patterns of behavior develop over time and affect the political life of a state, region or country.

More specifically, the concept of political culture refers to how we view the following four aspects of politics, government and society:

  • the relationship between government and the people

  • rights and responsibility of the people

  • obligations of government

  • limits on governmental authority

Political culture is important because it establishes the backdrop against which politics unfolds. It establishes the outer limits of what is possible, or even probable, in the political realm.

Because political actors recognize the boundaries set by political culture, they often consciously use elements of political culture to achieve their ends. Supporters and opponents of reductions in social welfare spending, subsidies for businesses, changes in regulatory policy, permission for oil and natural gas drilling on state-owned park land, spending on highways, teaching creationism or intelligent design in grade school, and more, are often careful to present their views within the language of our dominant political culture.

In the end, culture is central to politics - it provides the context for political understandings, and the language of political discussion. Political culture often unites people by providing commonly understood language and symbols. But it can divide people, as well, by raising differences in experiences, understanding, and, ultimately, interests. Consequently, political culture both reflects and shapes the terms of debate for the competing interests in society.

In addition to shaping the terms of political conflict, political culture in recent years has become more frequently the very substance of political conflicts. The so called "culture wars" over sexually explicit music and video games, violence in movies and television programs, "moral relativism," prayer in school, gay marriage, abortion rights, and the teaching of evolution in public school biology classes, have moved to center stage of the political activism in the past two decades. Yet these explicitly culture-centric political conflicts are only the most visible, and explicitly manipulated, manifestations of the deep and broad cultural context that always shapes politics. There is much more beneath the surface.

1.2 Looking Ahead

This chapter reviews the prominent elements of Texas political culture, its development, and the nature of its complex interactions with the institutions, processes, socio-economic developments, and historical events in the state.

The next section summarizes the main currents of political thinking and attitudes that shape the state's political culture. Section 3 takes a closer look at political socialization, the process by which political culture is transmitted over time from one year to the next, and from one generation to the next.

The remaining sections of this chapter will provide a sort of guided tour through some of the major historical developments in Texas with an eye toward how these developments shaped the political culture and, in turn, were shaped by the political culture. Section 4 provides a historical view of the socio-economic development of Texas.

In Section 5 we focus on modern Texas, particularly the general settlement patterns, population characteristics, and regionalism in the state. Here, we also examine the interactions between demographics and patterns of economic, social, and political inclusion. Finally, in Section 6 we examine ways in which key political institutions and actors shape, and are shaped by, the state's political culture.

2. Political Culture and Political Ideology in Texas

Texas political culture and ideology are well described by the combination of three main philosophical streams: classical liberalism, social conservatism and populism.

Classical liberalism places the primary political value on political arrangements that allow for the fullest exercise of individual liberty as long as the liberties of others are not unreasonably restricted. Classical liberal ideas often form the basis for opposition to the use of government to attain social objectives. They stress instead reliance on private initiatives or the free market to determine the best outcomes.

In addition to acting as a bulwark for entrepreneurship and the market economy, classical liberalism in Texas also has historically fueled support for religious tolerance and for civil liberties, for both individualism and entrepreneurship, and also for some degree of admiration for mavericks (at least the ones you like). Think, for example, of the popularity of the broad range of famous iconoclasts who have hailed from Texas (or become famous here). Recent examples range from H. Ross Perot (billionaire businessman and independent political candidate), to Willie Nelson (Nashville dissident and sometimes activist for causes ranging from farmer relief to marijuana legalization), to the several Texans who defied social customs and broke barriers of race and gender, like Barbara Jordan and Oveta Culp Hobby.

But the expression of classical liberalism in Texas as an embrace of the individual's right to "do your own thing" has been tempered by the enduring influence of social conservatism. Social conservatism derives from the classical conservatism rooted in feudal English and European thinking that viewed liberalism with suspicion, embraced traditional hierarchical social relations, and tended to interpret social change as a threat to established practices and beliefs. In contemporary forms, social conservatives tend to support the use of government to reinforce traditional social relations. They value established traditions, especially established religious beliefs and practices, and respect traditional authority figures such as business, military, and religious leaders. While socially conservative views are associated primarily with the Republican Party, they dominated the Democratic Party in Texas through much of its history, right up until recent decades. Social conservatism continues to exert a moderating influence within the Democratic Party, as this page's interview excerpt with former Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes illustrates.

As this description suggests, classical liberalism and social conservatism sometimes exert countervailing, even contradictory pressures within the state's political culture. UT Austin historian Howard Miller illustrates such tensions in his comments on religion in the state in the video excerpt on the right-hand side of the page. As he says, "Tolerance is one of the hallmarks of the religious culture of the state," a clear reflection of the enduring impact of classic liberalism in the state. Yet the diversity of views and practices that has developed within this tolerance creates new conditions that can, and have, led to conflict and even outbursts of intense intolerance.

Populism is concerned primarily with the well being of ordinary people, and emphasizes the popular will as the chief virtue of a political position. Populism has both political and social dimensions. Politically, it tends to support involvement of the government in regulating society and the economy. But populism may also take socially conservative forms, or rely more on style and rhetorical appeal to "the people," rather than on the substance of what political leaders are actually advocating. Thus, depending on the context, populist appeals may support very different political positions.

At times, populism even serves as a vehicle to defuse (or ignore) the tensions between the influence of classical liberalism on one hand and social conservatism on the other. At various moments in the state's history, populist appeals have been used to advocate government action on behalf of poor farmers, as well as to lower taxes for middle and upper class Texans. Because of these ambiguities, the term populist is used to refer to a tendency to use appeals to a broad public audience to ground a combination of political language that cannot be reduced to an easily identifiable, perhaps even a coherent, set of political goals and preferences.

These currents and cross-currents add up to a state in which most Texans tend to identify themselves in surveys as either moderate or conservative. As the pie chart on the tab labeled "Ideology breakdown" in the feature on the right side of this page illustrates, in a July, 2008 statewide survey designed by members of the Government Department at UT - Austin, fully 80 percent of those surveyed identified themselves as either moderate or conservative, a result similar to those found in other surveys.

2.1 Low Taxes, Low Services Political Culture

For much of modern Texas political history, classical liberalism, social conservatism and populism in practical terms have translated into a "low taxes, low services" approach to government. Advocating raising taxes has always been politically dangerous to candidates and public office holders in Texas. In political conversations, the phrase "raising taxes" often occurs in close proximity to the term "political suicide," at least as far as political candidates are concerned. That's why whenever the state goes into one of its periodic fiscal crises, public officials go on a frantic search for users' fees - driver's licenses, hunting licenses, motor vehicle registrations, student services fees, and more - that can be raised. Fear of political suicide also explains why few dare even to utter the words "income tax."

Similarly, calling for an increase in the role of the government also is not advised in Texas. One is unlikely to garner wide political support for any but the most minute increases in the size and scope of state government - unless the state is facing some humanitarian crisis or the money and impetus comes from the federal government.

The "low taxes, low services" credo has endured across generations of both Democratic and Republican dominance of state government. Its lasting influence reflects the importance to party politics of our unique combination of ideals based on classical liberalism, social conservatism, and populism. However, these strands of political thinking do not always work in concert, either with each other or with realities in the state. Consequently, tensions among these different ideas have fueled divisions within the parties as well as between them.

Those predominantly influenced by ideas of classical liberalism often clash with others influenced by social conservative thinking in the modern Republican Party. Populists wishing to mobilize working class voters and promote a more active state government constantly used to clash with social conservatives and classical liberals in the Democratic Party prior to the development of a more competitive Republican Party. That clash is more subdued, but still in evidence, among Democrats.

Today, candidates and elected officials in both parties wrestle with their allegiance to the "low taxes, low services" consensus as the state government has increasingly struggled to perform its required tasks in the face of a rapidly growing population, an increasingly complex economy and society, and the enduring tension in a voting population concerned over both taxation and the poor delivery of government services.

Despite these tensions, public opinion surveys such as the UT/Texas Tribune poll find general support for a "Texas government" way of doing things. Amidst the lingering aftermath of the national recession that started in 2008, two surveys in 2010 found significant support for "the way government runs in Texas." In the May 2010 statewide survey, 58% of those polled agreed with with the statement that "Generally speaking, the way state government runs in Texas serves as a good model for other states to follow". There were some partisan patterns in this embrace: 86% percent of self-identified Republicans agreed, as opposed to only 28% of Democrats.

Recent revisions to the state tax system seemed to signal a continuation of the conflicting impulses, and politics, surrounding the "low taxes, low services" Texas model. In response to a Texas Supreme Court decision upholding a lower court decision that held that the system of local school taxes was unconstitutional, the Texas Legislature was forced to take action. After several attempts, the legislature passed a set of laws that increased some business taxes, but lowered the property tax rates that provide part of the funds for public schools.

Though the central problem at hand seemed to be the challenge of improving the delivery and fairness of a critical public service (education), both the political debate and the subsequent legislation focused primarily on taxation. The result was a change in the tax structure that could be advertised as a tax cut (on property), but did nothing to provide more funding for public schools. In fact, as a report issued by the House of Representatives' own research organization concluded, "the new taxes will not generate enough revenue to cover the full cost of reducing school property taxes." The low tax, low service consensus was alive and well in the Texas legislature, even if it sits uncomfortably among the electorate. [1]

2.2 Political Culture and Texas Political History

The history of Texas politics also is, in part, the story of how the various strands of Texas political culture have been combined to form periods of stability, as well as jarring, discordant moments of deep seated tension, rupture, and sharp change. The enduring low taxes, low services consensus runs through the story.

For a century after Reconstruction, the Democratic Party enjoyed electoral dominance on all levels of state government and in the Lone Star State's representation in the national government. Democratic rule was dominated by a conservative white political elite that strongly promoted economic development, but that resisted change either in race relations or social programs for the poor. Tensions within the party over these issues were effectively muted until the civil rights movement and mounting tensions in national politics finally erupted into state politics in the 1950s.

Republicans were not completely absent during this period, but their electoral victories were few and limited in scope. Their most common successes were at the presidential level, where Texas supported Republican candidates in 1952, 1956, 1972, and in every election after 1980 as Republican strength grew.

The history of the Texas party system reflects the political heritage of the rest of the old South, including secession from the Union, racial segregation and nationally mandated desegregation, the mobilization of conservative Christians, and continuing immigration of people from the northern states. But the party system is also shaped by other equally important currents more commonly shared with other states in the Southwest rather than the old South. Specifically, the strong Spanish and Mexican traditions going back to colonial times, and the long term influence of Mexican culture have influenced the state in profound ways.

The size of the state, its unique history, and the resulting political and cultural variety of Texas society have all contributed to the development of what might be called a "pragmatic center." Scratch the surface of this pragmatism, and one is likely to find that what is "practical" is a relatively conservative, pro-business set of policy preferences, periodically affected around the edges by mobilized groups without the power to remain influential over long periods of time (such as third parties). The resulting political culture has been reflected in a party system that has consistently rewarded pragmatism, compromise, and deal making over ideological purity.

Key characteristics of the political and policy climate in Texas after the civil rights movement reflect this pragmatism and the relative strength of conservatives in both parties. These enduring characteristics include:

  • a comparatively low level of state services maintained by a general hostility toward progressive taxation (particularly any form of income tax)

  • a generally anti-union work environment

  • limited environmental regulation

  • culturally conservative social policy in areas such as education, religion, and civil rights

These characteristics of politics in Texas have deep historical roots, originally established back in the days of Texas' independence and even earlier during the Spanish colonial experience. The societal consensus on these points has been challenged and modified to some extent during various periods in Texas history, but never substantially overturned. As a result, these tendencies continue to exert a strong influence through to the present.

3. Political Culture and Political Socialization in Texas

At the beginning of this chapter we said that what it means to be Texan is continually undergoing redefinition by the complex interplay of diverse historical, institutional, economic, geographic and social forces. The process by which this complex interplay shapes individual social and political identities and value systems is known as political socialization, a process that begins practically from the moment we are born.

One's parents are the first and perhaps most influential agents of socialization. But this process continues throughout our lives as we become exposed to ever broader social spheres. Other influential agents of socialization include the rest of our family, friends, school, religion, and popular culture.

The rest of this section explores the processes and forces by which we as individuals adopt, perpetuate, and change our political culture. These forces reinforce continuity over time, while also permitting change - sometimes evolutionary change and sometimes more dramatic change. The balance between continuity and change in Texas politics and society is a recurring theme in all of the chapters of Texas Politics.

3.1 Individual Political Socialization and its Agents

Political socialization more formally defined is the process by which individuals acquire beliefs, values, and habits of thought and action related to government, politics, and society. It goes beyond learning "facts" about how the world operates in practice, instead involving the development of a "worldview" of how people and institutions ideally should operate.

We sometimes say things like "government is not the solution, it's the problem," or "absolute power corrupts absolutely," or "people are by nature competitive," or "we have a responsibility to take care of those who cannot make it in society." These expressions reflect our beliefs about these issues - in other words, they reflect some of the values of our political culture.

One's beliefs and values often seem to be obvious, indisputable truths - "self-evident" truths, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, like the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But, the apparent indisputability of these beliefs is more a reflection of the power of the social forces that have inculcated these notions into our thought patterns from almost the moment we are born. Social scientists have identified a number of "agents of socialization" - people and institutions that teach us the dominant values of the society in which we grow up. As noted in the previous section, these agents include parents, family, friends, school, church and religion, and the mass communications media. They also include work and professional experiences, government and other public institutions.

Here we might distinguish between general socialization (e.g. the acquisition of good manners and proper etiquette) and political socialization (the acquisition of beliefs about people, their society and government). In addition to teaching us basic norms of behavior (like, saying "please" and "thank you"), the various agents of socialization also inculcate attitudes regarding political rights (e.g., one person, one vote), the ideal nature of government (e.g., limited and accountable to the people).

We begin learning basic good behavior first, but we also begin learning social and political attitudes at an early age. Parents are usually the ones who start this process through subtle body language and simple comments about the poor, the rich, business, economic regulation, political participation, and more. A grunt here, a nod there, or repeated references to "those crooks in the government" can make a strong impression on young minds. Because parents are usually the closest and most influential authority figures around, children tend to internalize their parents' views with relatively little questioning.

Only very rarely do parents teach their children fully developed and elaborately articulated theories of democracy or economics. Instead, they offer - usually unconsciously - only small slices of political culture and ideology, with significant gaps and possible inconsistencies that their children gradually fill in through subsequent contact with other agents of socialization.

As we mature, we expand our circle of "influencers" (agents of socialization). These include other family members, then friends, school, and possibly religion and places of worship. Other family and friends are more likely to reinforce the values and viewpoints already absorbed from our parents. After all, our siblings likely fell under the same parental spell that indoctrinated us.

But if family and friends generally share political views, usually because of common race, ethnicity and socio-economic class, individual views inevitably tend to diverge with increasing exposure to a wider set of influences. This process is typically gradual. Public schools tend to be conservative in nature, in the literal sense that they tend to conserve and reproduce the dominant values in society. Grade schools usually take as their mission the task of inculcating a sense of citizenship in their students, which usually involves teaching the accepted histories of the state and the nation, and promoting patriotism and permissible forms of political participation. But spending time outside our immediate circle of friends also inevitably means wider social exposure, and new experiences that may not jibe perfectly with socialization patterns developed at home. The story told by UT anthropologist Richard Flores in a video clip on this page provides examples of the potential significance of childhood confrontations with elements of the political culture and of Texas' political culture in the 1960s.

As people move on to institutions of higher education, they usually encounter still more contradictory and perhaps controversial views, both in and out of the classroom. Institutions of higher education, particularly large public institutions such as those in the Texas system of higher education, are likely to provide a wide array of political influences. Students are likely to be exposed to some views that resonate with their existing beliefs and attitudes, and other views that challenge them. For many, whether the college experience confirms or challenges existing beliefs, joining the university also provides the first impetus to becoming more engaged with politics. The video clips of veteran politicians Ann Richards and Ben Barnes provide two examples of prominent Texans whose time at The University of Texas at Austin was the beginning of life-long participation in politics.

Religion and places of worship, especially those of the majority faith within a society, tend also to reproduce the dominant values of that society, if for no other reason than they are deeply embedded in the society, part of society's "values infrastructure." Nevertheless, within particular faiths, even within the majority religion, disagreements exist over both doctrine and politics. University of Texas history professor and ordained minister Howard Miller points out that all the main-line Protestant Churches in the United States - Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian - were split in the 1960s over race. Since the 1960s they have been divided further by tensions over the social and political rights of women, and after that those of gays and lesbians, in society. Adding to this diversity and to these sources of conflict are the rise of the independent churches, some of them very large, that are proliferating in Texas and other states in the rapidly expanding suburban and exurban areas.

Other things that can contribute to our political socialization include work and professional experiences and other powerful personal experiences such as parenthood, loss of a loved one, loss of job, and other encounters outside of our normal daily lives.

3.2 Popular Culture and Political Socialization

As we grow up, we consume increasing amounts and more varied types of mass media and entertainment, including television, radio, music, Internet, newspapers and magazines. Some of what we consume is explicitly political, such as editorials and commentary. But even the material that is not explicitly political or self-consciously apolitical (the latter claim, of course, is made my most news outlets) can contain subtle choices of words and images that may suggest either a particular political agenda (for instance, one person's "guerrilla" may be another person's "freedom fighter") or more generalized reinforcement of the dominant culture (such as the emphasis on constitution-making and elections in news coverage of Iraq, for instance).

Perhaps the influences of popular culture on the formation of political culture in our young people are overblown, given that America's youth tends to be very media-savvy and quite skeptical in ways previous generations weren't. Nevertheless, members of the public, organized interests, and the government have made repeated attempts to regulate or otherwise condemn certain kinds of content, especially entertainment that features violence, sexism, and anti-establishment themes. Their concern is that such images and language can erode the values that hold our society together - values like citizenship, civility, participation, respect for the law and authority, hard work, etc.

The struggles over the content of both news coverage and popular entertainment will likely continue indefinitely because of the media's massive presence in our daily lives. Psychologists and marketers alike, however, generally believe that as we age we become less malleable in our belief systems and worldviews. That is, we become more rigid, set in our ways. This is one of the reasons why marketers pursue teenagers and twenty-somethings so aggressively: they want to build brand loyalty before our tastes, preferences and perceptions ossify. These psychological tendencies also feed the impulse to regulate programming and advertising aimed at children more stringently than content explicitly produced for adults.

While political actors often struggle over regulating the content of popular culture, popular culture in turn offers a broad range of opportunities for shaping the ongoing development of politics and the political culture. Popular entertainment may play second fiddle to the influence of family and school, but the entertainment media constantly engage the political debates of the day and provoke political discourse.

Popular culture may embrace or defy conventional thinking about politics and issues. But, whether particular instances of popular culture resonate with mainstream messages or strike discordant notes, almost by definition they register historical changes in society. After all, an instance of popular culture - be it a particular movie, a song, a TV show or a video game - that doesn't appeal to some segment of the consuming public usually fails to achieve commercial success and disappears from the media landscape. Conversely, instances of popular culture with relevant political implications or resonance often register historical changes in society and the body politic. Popularity and currency are often linked.

That commercial success reflects popular resonance is illustrated in the comments of University of Texas at Austin anthropologist Richard Flores about the evolution of the portrayal of the Battle of the Alamo - from emphasizing negative stereotypes of Mexicans to emphasizing Cold War messages of freedom. Indeed, war movies in general provide some of the the most pointed reflections of political mood. A quick reflection of the succession of movies since the 1960s on war - including The Green Berets (1968), The Deer Hunter (1978), Top Gun (1986), and Three Kings (1999) - illustrates this facet of popular culture.

So while political actors and the producers of popular culture often consciously seek to promote particular messages, values, and viewpoints, their control is ultimately limited by the evolving tastes, preferences and viewpoints of the mass public.

4. Economic Dimensions of Texas Political Culture

The economy provides an essential context for understanding the political culture of Texas. It can help shape the political culture in both specific and general ways.

In a video segment in section 1 of this chapter, UT Austin anthropologist Richard Flores illustrates how major economic innovations in agriculture and transportation in Texas set the stage for specific transformations of the economy - specifically, the creation of commercial agriculture and the attendant pushing of middle-class Mexican Americans lower in the class structure. This process in turn reduced Mexican American political power and permitted a negative recasting of their identity in the broader culture. Although Flores focuses in his comments (and in his academic work) on the meanings attached to the Alamo, his analysis illustrates a more general point: developments in the economy can and do shape specific political perceptions and stereotypes - and the relative political power of the various sectors of society.

On a more general level, the economy can shape the dominant ideals, values, and concerns of society. As sections 2.0 and 2.1 of this chapter discuss, the economic hallmarks of the state's political culture have been - and continue to be - an emphasis on entrepreneurship, wealth, and a deeply entrenched aversion to taxes and the provision of government services, especially for the poor. Nevertheless, these ideals and values aren't static. They evolve in response to the general trajectory of the economy. Recently, as more middle class Texans become ever more worried about the state's ability to support core services, especially public education, the "low taxes, low services" consensus will continue to come under increasing scrutiny. These developments are highlighted by experienced political appointee Barry McBee's observation in a video excerpt from a 2002 interview that "we get what we pay for" in terms of state services.

Still, the seemingly reflexive support among wide swaths of the population for the low-taxes, low services approach to government remains deeply rooted in the mixture of class liberalism and social conservatism that is central to Texas political culture. The support this approach enjoys in the business community - entrenched as it is at the center of the state's political process - makes it even more durable. Much public discussion and several legislative efforts to address the issues McBee discusses have taken place since that interview, yet no fundamental changes in either the tax structure or the system of school funding have been implemented. [2] So, although the general socio-economic consensus has been shown to come under stress caused by changes in the economy, it has changed little.

An in-depth look at the intersection between the economy and politics can be found in the Texas Politics chapter on the political economy. The objective of this section and the subsection that follows is to underscore how the dynamics of the economy shape and reflect the state's culture in ways that have political consequences. The next section briefly looks at two related dimensions of the contemporary Texas economy that inform the character of the state's political culture: patterns in the distribution of wealth and the regional variation of economic development in the state. A general understanding of the development of the Texas economy helps place both of these factors in context. This chapter's feature entitled The Transformation of the Texas Economy provides an overview of the distinct phases of development of the Texas economy since the last years of Spanish rule in the early 1820s.

4.1 Wealth, Regionalism, and Political Culture

Because Texas is geographically large and diverse, it is made up of numerous distinct regions, each of which is characterized by distinct levels of wealth, types of economic activity, density of settlement, racial and ethnic mix, and political culture. East Texas and West Texas are both Texan, but have a different feel from each other. And both of these are different from South Texas. Urban Texas, which is where a majority of the state's population now lives, is remarkably different - richer and with greater economic and cultural diversity - from the rural areas of the state. For that matter, the cities are different from each other. Austin and Dallas are almost two different worlds, but even neighbors Fort Worth and Dallas are quite distinct. Meanwhile, the rural border area is certainly different from the agricultural rural areas of East Texas. And far west Texas, the area around El Paso, is in another time zone!

Regional variety in Texas is a commonly recognized source of difference in culture and society in the state. In the political system, these regional differences are expressed most directly in the legislature. The legislature is organized into geographically based districts of roughly equal population -- 31 in the state senate, 150 in the house of representatives. Thus, geographically distinct interests are the basis of representation. This has direct consequences for the legislators elected from those districts, as Senator Kip Averitt recounted in an appearance in the Texas Politics Speaker Series at UT - Austin in 2006. This in turn perpetuates the significance of these regional variations: the legislature will provide a guaranteed venue for the expression of these variations for as long as geography is the primary organizing principle.

Taken as a whole, all of these regions combine to form an economic powerhouse, albeit one with an emphatically unequal distribution of wealth and economic activity. Texas ranks third - behind California and New York in total gross state product (GSP). But in terms of GSP per capita (GSP divided by population), Texas is very close to the average for all fifty states.

Neither total GSP nor GSP per capita conveys much about how well different sectors of the population are doing because these measures provide only a top-level summary of state economic performance. It turns out that Texas has one of the worst income disparities in the nation. A 2006 study entitled Pulling Apart: A State-by-State Analysis of Income Trends, produced by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute (CBPP and EPI), shows that Texas ranked at or near the top among the fifty states in terms of income inequality in the early 2000s. The CBPP-EPI study concluded that in the early 2000s, the income gap between the richest 20 percent of families and the poorest 20 percent in Texas was the second largest in the nation. The income gap between the richest 20 percent of families and the middle 20 percent was the largest in the nation. Worsening income distribution has been a trend throughout the country for some time, but the trend is pronounced in Texas in part due to the historical resistance in the political culture to helping the poor and less fortunate by providing government support in the form of social services, and the pattern of business access to the legislative process.

The income disparity also reflects the strong economic regionalism in Texas, which in turn reflects both the racial/ethnic distribution across the state as well as the distinct geographic character of the state's regions. The Texas Politics feature Where Jobs Are - And Good Wages shows that the south Texas border and El Paso areas, which have the highest concentration of Latinos, also have the lowest per capita incomes in the state.

The highest per capita incomes are found in the state's largest and rapidly growing metropolitan areas like Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio. Over the past few decades Texas cities have experienced phenomenal population growth. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the percentage of the Texas population living in urban areas rose from 82.5 to 86.8 percent between 1980 and 2000. The Agriculture Department's summary data for Texas also show how much more difficult life is in rural areas of the state, with lower levels of educational attainment, lower wages, and higher rates of poverty.

These regional patterns are part of the continuously unfolding process of settlement in Texas. The next section provides a historical overview of settlement and migration patterns that helped constitute the regionalism we find in the state today.

5. The People of Texas and Political Inclusion

Texas is a land of immigrants. From the earliest days, well before Europeans came, through the present, the territory that became Texas has been crisscrossed by successive waves of immigrants. Even many of the indigenous peoples had migrated over time to the territory from other parts of the continent, while other peoples that were already in the territory moved on or were pushed out. Eventually, unlike most immigrants to Texas, Native Americans were almost completely pushed out of the state as the Texas Politics feature Where in Texas are Indigenous Groups? illustrates.

The Native Americans who came to the territory were followed over the course of several centuries by Spanish, French (via Louisiana), Anglo American, African, German, and Czech immigrants through the 1800s. And, even more Native Americans came to the territory as the Anglos in the United States continued to settle west of the Mississippi. The Texas Politics feature titled Peoples and Cultures of Early Texas provides a summary of the experiences of these peoples and cultures of early Texas.

After the second World War the state's population and economy grew at an accelerated rate compared to previous decades. This growth was fueled by and, in turn, resulted in an increasingly diverse economy and population. In the half-century from the 1950s through the turn of the twentieth century, the socio-economic system in Texas had experienced profound transformations. Newer and larger waves of immigrants came to Texas in this period, including from other states in the northern and eastern regions of the United States.

The contemporary period (the past few decades) has been marked by massive waves of immigration by Mexicans, Caribbean islanders, Central Americans, Asians, and yes, even Yankees (we mean, fellow Americans from northern states). These successive waves of immigration constitute both cause and effect of the changes in the state's economy and, in turn, of the ongoing evolution of the Lone Star State's political culture.

Ironically, the steady migration of people from the northern states beginning in the 1950s and 1960s, drawn to Texas by the expansion and diversification of the state's economy, has tended to reinforce the social and business conservatism of the state, even while it has helped transform the political party system. These northern migrants have tended to be politically active, and their political orientations in general have been conservative. But they were more likely to support the Republican Party instead of the conservative Democrats who had dominated state politics since the end of Reconstruction.

At the other end of the social class system, poor immigrants from developing countries - particularly from Mexico and Central America, but also from Asia - have flooded into the state in recent decades. Meanwhile, the high birthrate of ethnic minorities has contributed to a rapidly growing population. By 2004, the two dynamics - high levels of immigration and high birthrates relative to the non-Hispanic white population - made Texas the fourth state (not counting the District of Columbia) in which non-Hispanic whites represent less than fifty percent of the population. The other so-called "majority-minority" states are Hawaii, New Mexico and California, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The rest of this section explores in greater detail some of the political and cultural dynamics resulting from these overlapping demographic transformations. We review the general characteristics of the Texas population, focusing specifically on overall demographics - age, race, gender, income, social well-being and political orientation. Then we take an even closer look at the politics of race, ethnicity and gender in the state.

5.1 Settlement and Population Characteristics

The Texas population has grown at a very high rate over the past three decades. As of the 2008 American Community Survey, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the state's population at 23,845,989, an addition of almost 3 million residents since the 2000 Census. The increase in the share of the Latino population to more than a third of the overall population and the associated decline in the non-Latino white population to less than half of the state's population have been among the most significant characteristics of the demographic trends in the last two decades.

The state experienced an explosion in population in the last two decades of the twentieth century, and although the growth rate has slowed in the 2000's Texas is still experiencing positive growth. In 1980 there were 14,225,513 people in Texas. By 1990 the population figure was 16,986,510 - a figure representing a total growth of 2.76 million people, or a 19.4 percent growth rate. By the year 2000, the state's population had grown to 20,851,792, or an additional 3.86 million people between 1990 and 2000 for a growth rate of 22.8 percent. In 2006, the U.S. Census estimated that the state's population at approximately 23,507,783, representing an increase of slightly more than 2.65 million people, for a growth rate of 12.7 percent.

These data suggest that, for now, the growth rate has probably peaked and rates in the 20 percent range as we saw in the 1990s are unlikely for a while. But the increase of the absolute numbers of new people in Texas whether from natural population growth or immigration continues

So, who are all these new people? The short answer is that they are from all racial and ethnic groups , and from both immigration to the state and natural population growth among those already living in Texas. The data presented in the Texas Politics feature entitled The Demographics of Race and Ethnicity in Texas, 1990 and 2000 shows that every racial and ethnic group grew during that decade of the 1990s.

The slowest rate of growth, however, was among the non-Hispanic white population, which grew just 6.2 percent over the decade. In contrast, all other racial and ethnic groups grew at much higher rates: the population of Blacks grew by 18.9 percent; Asians by a whopping 80.3 percent (though from a relatively low base number), Native Americans by 79.7 percent (another high rate from a low base number, and perhaps a statistical anomaly resulting from changes in the Census Bureau's question format), and Hispanics/Latinos by 53.7 percent.

By 2008, the Census Bureau estimated that Latinos constituted 35.9 percent of the state's population, illustrating the continuation of the ethnic growth trend evident in the data from the 1990s. Though the growth rate of Hispanics/Latinos was well below that of Asians and Native Americans, it meant the addition of a stunning 2.33 million people over the course of the 1990s. During that decade Hispanics/Latinos went from accounting for 25.5 percent to 32 percent of the Texas population; or from one in four Texans, to almost one in three Texans. Asians accounted for almost 2 percent of the population in 1990, but almost 3 percent at the end of the decade.

Despite the addition of almost 383 thousand Blacks during the 1990s, their share of the population actually fell from 11.9 to 11.3 percent by 2008. But the biggest drop in percentage of the population over the decade was for non-Hispanic whites, who accounted for 60.6 percent of all Texas in 1990, but just 48.3 percent in 2006. According to the Census Bureau. Population estimates for July 1, 2004 showed that non-Hispanic whites became a minority for the first time in the state, making Texas a so-called "majority-minority" state.

Immigration has certainly been a significant contributor to population growth in Texas. The 2000 Census reports that there were 2.9 million people (13.9 percent of the state population) living in Texas in 2000 that were born abroad. Of those, 1.34 million (almost half) entered the state between 1990 and 2000, and approximately 914 thousand (about one-third) were naturalized citizens. Latin Americans and Asians made up the vast majority of these foreign-born residents. Almost 2.2 million (74.9 percent) of the 2.9 million foreign-born Texas residents were from Latin America, and another 466 thousand (16.1 percent) were from Asia. The remaining 261 thousand (9 percent) came from Europe, Africa, non-Hispanic North America, and Oceania, in order of magnitude. [3]

5.2 Demographics and Inclusion

Women, the poor, and minorities historically have enjoyed only low levels of political participation and representation in government relative to their numbers in the population. Although these groups have made great progress in being heard and putting their own in office over the past three decades, they still face significant obstacles caused by the relative lack of economic resources (wealth and income), lower education levels, and for immigrants, language barriers. Many women face the additional challenge of fulfilling traditional responsibilities as primary caregivers to their children, while trying to manage professional careers, whether in politics or in other fields.

To be sure, prejudice and discrimination still play a role in limiting opportunities for political participation for women, the poor and minorities. But the progress these groups have made in opening the political system up to broader segments of the population - in securing seats in the legislature, in the judiciary, and in the executive branch - illustrates one of the ways in which political culture can be dynamic. In 1965 there were no African Americans, 9 Latinos, and 2 women among the 181 members (counting both House and Senate) of the Texas legislature. By 2003, those numbers had risen to 16, 37, and 36 percent, respectively.

Today, women participate in various forms of political action at roughly equal or higher rates than men. [4] But, as we've just noted, their representation in government does not come even close to matching their majority status (compared to men) in the population. In a Texas Politics video feature, former governor Ann Richards and current state legislator Geanie Morrison discuss the gains in representation that women have won in Texas government and the remaining challenges to further advancement. Both note that the culture has come to accept women in government in ways that were difficult to imagine just two generations ago. But both also note, in different ways, that the culture's emphasis on women as the primary caregiver to children poses additional obstacles. Additionally, for Richards in particular, our culture still has a long way to go before women (and minorities) achieve the level of acceptance and representation that their numbers in the population deserve.

In Texas, participation rates and political representation for women and minorities began to grow markedly in the 1970s after the passage of the national Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But more than three decades after these historic pieces of national legislation went into effect, the political inclusion of minorities - and to a lesser extent women - remains a work in progress. A series of Texas Politics features help illustrate these imbalances. The data in the Thinking Comparatively feature The Demographics of Voting shows that non-Hispanic whites voted at the highest rates (although at an unimpressive 58.8 percent) among all racial and ethnic groups in Texas in the 2000 presidential election. Notably, not far behind were Blacks at 58.6 percent, followed by Asians and Pacific Islanders (51.0 percent) and Hispanics (41.0 percent).

More dramatic still is the relationship between family income and voter turnout depicted in this feature. Only 42.5 percent of voting age members of families in Texas earning less than $25,000 per year voted in the 2000 presidential election. The turnout figures rose steadily with income. On the upper end of the income spectrum, 74.6 percent of voting age members of families in Texas earning over $75,000 voted in the 2000 election. These turnout figures roughly parallel national turnout figures, but are generally quite a bit lower than the national figures for each income level (except for the highest category of families earning above $75,000).

In terms of representation in public office, the disparities are even wider. African Americans occupied just 1.7% of all elected offices in Texas in 2000, far below their numbers in the population. Although Latinos generally have fared better, their 7.1 percent of all elective offices in Texas in 2003 also falls far short of their numbers in the population, and even constitutes a reversal of the progress they had made in filling public offices from the 1970s well into the 1990s.

These trends are also visible, but to a less extreme degree, in the Texas Legislature. African Americans and Latinos occupied 8.8 and 20.4 percent of all seats, respectively, in the 2001-2002 biennium. Women are also underrepresented in the state legislature, where they occupied approximately 20 percent of all seats in 2003-2004 biennium, despite accounting for more than half of the population. As with other elected offices, African Americans, Latinos, and women have all made substantial gains in winning state legislative seats in recent years, but their numbers still do not match their share of the population at large.

In part the low participation (and representation) rates of minorities and the poor are correlated with educational attainment, which is compounded for many immigrants by limited ability to speak English. The Demographics of Voting feature shows that in the 2000 presidential election Texas residents whose highest educational attainment was graduation from high school voted at a 30 percent lower rate than Texans with a four-year college degree (46.6 percent versus 76.4 percent, respectively). Meanwhile only about one-third of Texans who did not finish high school voted in the 2000 election.

Processing all the information required to participate meaningfully in elections is even more difficult if you don't speak English very well. U.S. Census Bureau data indicates that among the six million people in Texas who speak a language other than English at home, 2.67 million (or 13.9 percent of the entire state population) speak English "less than very well." [5]

Education and language ability form only part of the explanation for low participation, however. Another important factor is that the political system in the state generally does not open much space for the poor and immigrants. In part, this is because the dominant ideology tends to place the responsibility for access on the individual, not on the institutions or governmental processes. Over time the political institutions tend to reinforce patterns of political behavior (e.g., non-voting by the poor), which in turn reinforce existing habits and ways of thinking about politics.

Immigrant and first-generation American populations also tend to be much younger than the non-immigrant population, meaning that many immigrants or first-generation Americans are not old enough to participate in the formal-legal democratic processes like voting or running for public office. This is a critical point that suggests the potential for big changes in these groups' political impact as they become more established in society and begin to flex more political strength. It is for this reason that both Republicans and Democrats in the state are keen to cultivate loyalty - a sense of strong party identification among immigrants and minorities.

6. Continuity and Change: Political Institutions and Actors

As we've noted before, the striking thing about Texas political culture is how consistent and resilient it has been despite the awesome transformations to the land, the economy, and the people who reside here.

So far we've examined the impact of the political history, economy, peoples, and racial and ethnic cultures of Texas on the development of the state's political culture. For all of these forces we have indicated some possible explanations for the striking continuity of the state's low-taxes, low-services political culture.

In this section, we take a quick look at how political institutions (the Texas Constitution, legislature, bureaucracy, elections, etc.) and actors (political parties, politicians, interest groups, etc.) in Texas promote continuity and propel ongoing evolution to our political culture. By necessity, our review here will be brief. For detailed analysis of particular political institutions and actors please see the relevant chapters of Texas Politics.

6.1 Institutions of Government

Though the Texas Constitution and the three branches of government are expressions of the ideals and aspirations of the people these institutions serve, they also provide a feedback mechanism that reinforces those original ideals. This dynamic is typical of political institutions, which by their inherent nature tend to reinforce existing practices, policies, and relationships. In short, government institutions are designed to provide stability and continuity, while adapting to the inevitable changes in the social and political environment.

Does this mean that government institutions do not change? No, they certainly evolve, but at a much slower pace than the larger society in which they are situated. In Texas, the state constitution has proven to be one of the most unmovable of our institutions. It was designed in 1875 in reaction to the excesses (some perceived, others real) of the Radical Republican administration of Governor E.J. Davis. As such it sought to make it exceedingly difficult for the government to take decisive, coordinated action. The Texas Constitution achieved this central goal of its framers by specifying in sometimes excruciating detail the powers and limits of government institutions and office holders. The result of this specification is a complex, disorganized, divided and multilayered government that impedes decisive action. The considerable length and detail of the constitution means that many governmental initiatives, even on the local level, require constitutional amendments, which involve ratification by popular vote in special elections.

Under the Texas Constitution the top executive branch offices - including lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer (now abolished), comptroller of public accounts, attorney general - are all elected independently. This creates a divided executive branch with relatively little power given to the governor to control high level executive branch offices. Adding to the fractured nature of executive branch authority, the lieutenant governor is the presiding officer of the Texas Senate, a key component of the legislative branch.

The key limiting aspect of the legislature is that it meets in regular session for only 140 days every two years, hardly enough time to keep up with the legislative challenges of such a large and complex state. In addition, legislators are paid very little, which undermines their independence from financially powerful interests.

The judiciary, like the executive branch, suffers from a complicated structure and divided authority. Texas has essentially two supreme courts, one for criminal cases (the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals) and another for everything else (the Texas Supreme Court). Additionally, the Texas court system fills most of its ranks through popular elections, which can make judges more beholden to campaign supporters than to the pure pursuit of justice.

These core institutions of government have played an important role in perpetuating the low-taxes, low services, pro-business political culture in Texas, if unintentionally, by weakening public offices and dispersing power to such a great degree. It may seem prudent, in general, to disperse public authority. But the great extent to which this has been accomplished in Texas undermines the ability of public officials to act decisively in the pursuit of the public interest. It also undermines the independence of officeholders from powerful special interests.

The extreme detail of the Texas Constitution, the fractured, dispersed authority of the government, and the reliance on popular election for most of the positions in the judiciary and many of the top executive positions has a direct and often deleterious effect on the voting system. The sheer number and variety of elections on all levels of government in the state means that voters go to the polls frequently. To vote meaningfully, citizens must spend a lot of time learning about the issues and candidates, as well as about more mundane details like when and where elections will be held. The ironic result of the broad reliance on popular elections in Texas is that it produces voter fatigue, depressing turnout often to very low percentages of the electorate. The net effect of all this is that politically connected business interests tend to dominate state politics, reinforcing a culture that already confers considerable status to entrepreneurialism and private enterprise.

6.2 Political Parties in Texas

Compounding the problem of voter fatigue that results from frequent elections for a dizzying number of offices is the historical dominance in Texas of only one or two political parties at any one time. For more than a century after the Civil War the Democratic Party dominated Texas politics, so much so that it was practically a necessity to be a Democrat to hold public office. This single-party dominance tended to limit the range of political debate, in turn constraining the evolution of the state's political culture.

The period of Democratic Party dominance in Texas - from the Civil War to the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s - was characterized in part by the systematic exclusion of African Americans and other minorities from political participation. This would seem to contradict the populist and democratic values of broad popular participation and control of government that is so central to the state's political culture. But the historic exclusion of minorities and the poor from full participation in politics, or at least, the resistance of the political system to make an effort to include these groups, was consistent with the strains of the dominant political culture that disdain "activist" government and publicly funded social programs.

Ultimately, the great gulf between the state's democratic political values and the practice of political and economic exclusion based on race helped to make those practices unsustainable. But changing those practices in Texas and elsewhere required a vigorous and long-term effort by the federal government that continues today.

As this effort to end the legal exclusion of minorities got underway, the party system long dominated by the Democrats began to unravel. The civil rights victories in the 1960s, especially the national Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, helped set in motion a realignment of the two main political parties. Since, the 1970s there has been much more robust political competition between the resurgent Republic Party and the formerly hegemonic Democrats. During this period the Republicans steadily eroded the Democrats' hold on government, and by the turn of the 20th century they had come to dominate virtually all of the state's elected and appointed public institutions.

As the Republican Party grew in prominence over this period, increasing numbers of conservative Democrats changed their party affiliation to the Republican Party. Meanwhile, conservative newcomers to Texas from other states also helped to swell the Republican ranks. At the same time, the Democrats attracted more liberal sectors of Texas society and a large portion of minority voters, particularly African Americans and Latinos. In recent years, however the Texas Republican Party had made a focused effort to increase support from these predominantly Democratic constituencies, as the video clips of Governor Rick Perry and former Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams on this page illustrate.

Now, in the early years of the 21st century, Republicans have solidified their hold on the governmental institutions of Texas, at least for the time being. In some ways the Republican dominance today represents a replay of the era of Democratic Party dominance: an emphasis on low investment in social services, favorable policies toward business, and strong resistance to the provision of social services.

But there are signs of stress in this new majority, as well as concerns in both parties over the impact of the growing numbers of immigrants and first generation Americans - particularly Latinos - on the party system. Both parties have sought to recruit the support of immigrants and their children. But, lately there has been a backlash against immigration, particularly undocumented immigration. This issue has caused great stress in both parties in Texas, but it seems particularly problematic for Republicans whose popular base is much more intensely opposed to undocumented immigration. This places the Republican Party at greater risk of alienating minority groups (which together, now make up a majority of Texans).

The ongoing debate over immigration and its ultimate resolution has great potential to transform the party system in Texas, our institutions of state government, public policies, and ultimately our state's political culture. The inherent tensions within our dominant political ideology between classical liberalism, social conservatism, and populism come to the surface on this issue.

6.3 Political Actors and Political Culture

Individual political actors - both the powerful and the relatively weak, singularly or in groups - also shape the political culture of the state. They do this in two ways.

More obviously, they shape the political culture through the battles they win and lose. As political actors compete over public policy and public resources, the ones that win tend to gain legitimacy for themselves and their causes. Over time, successive victories can help weave particular policy orientations into the fabric of the political culture.

Whether it's dedicating gasoline taxes for highway construction (supporting the view that tax money should be returned to the policy area from which it came) or privatizing state services (supporting the belief that the private sector is inherently more capable of delivering public services than government), public policy outcomes have a way of reinforcing the orientation of the political victors in the political culture.

More subtly, whether rich or poor, politically victorious or vanquished, most political actors seeking concrete policy outcomes tend to use the language of the prevailing political culture to support their cause. For instance, in 2003, groups on both sides of the policy debate surrounding the proposed Texas Enterprise Fund invoked some of the core ideals of the state's political culture to promote their views. At that time, amidst a state budget crisis, Governor Rick Perry sought $390 million for a new fund to promote business development in the state. More than half of that money was to be dedicated to a "deal closing" fund, to pay last minute cash incentives to businesses investing in Texas.

Unfortunately, the Texas Enterprise Fund ended up competing directly with the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) a joint federal-state program, in which the federal government matches state funding levels to provide health insurance to poor children. Because the program relies on matching federal dollars, cuts in state funding (some $200 million was cut from the 2003-2004 budget state budget) would reduce federal funding (hundreds of millions of dollars to Texas) accordingly.

Supporters of the Texas Enterprise Fund argued that private enterprise needs to be encouraged in order to create a dynamic economy that keeps people employed in well-paying jobs. Many opponents of reducing CHIP funding to pay for the Enterprise Fund argued that the net cost of funding cuts (counting the loss of federal funds, the loss of the multiplier effect of federal expenditures in the state economy, and higher use of expensive emergency room treatment), exceeded the benefit of the Enterprise Fund - in short, they said, it made better business sense to invest in CHIP.

As expected, supporters of the Enterprise Fund articulated the classic Texas view that favors facilitating business development. Somewhat unexpectedly, but shrewdly, supporters of maintaining CHIP funding levels also used an economic argument, rather than simply dwelling on our social responsibility to help the poor. They emphasized the loss of federal dollars and the increased costs of caring for those who would lose their health insurance. Supporters calculated that the state's political culture tends to be less receptive to appeals for helping the poor, but more receptive to appeals for economic efficiency and growth. To be sure, many advocates of the poor decried the apparent transfer of wealth from the needy to powerful corporations. But the economic arguments in favor of continued CHIP funding levels were certainly prominent.

By utilizing the language of the dominant political culture, political actors engage in two distinct processes. First, they reinforce the implicit ideals of the political culture. But second, they appropriate those ideals in an attempt to attach them to specific policy preferences. In essence, while reinforcing general political ideals (thereby inhibiting change to the political culture), political actors simultaneously contribute to the ongoing evolution of the dominant political culture, or at least the policies to which those ideals are applied.

But all political actors are not created alike - in Texas or anywhere else. Business interests generally have greater access to policymakers and other influential people, than do ordinary citizens and the poor. Also, in a state like Texas, where we celebrate wealth, power and entrepreneurialism, the political advantage of business interests is even more pronounced. Texans tend to accept as natural state programs that help business, as witnessed by the successful passage of Governor Perry's $390 million Texas Enterprise Fund during the 78th Legislative session at the same time as $200 million were cut from the CHIP program.

Nevertheless, ordinary citizens and consumers have a number of important tools at their disposal both to win political victories and to shape the political culture. These include, lobbying (the favored tactic of groups or individuals with financial resources), circulating petitions and mounting letter writing campaigns, staging public demonstrations, mounting media campaigns, attending public meetings, and taking legal and illegal actions. Even though millions were cut from the CHIP program in 2003, a variety of efforts led to the restoration of funds in the 2005 legislative session - a task likely made easier by the considerable mobilization against the funding cuts in 2003.

Illustrating the importance of the how certain kinds of language resonates more than others, the arguments in favor of restoring funds offered by Senator Kip Averitt (R-Waco), the sponsor of the bill that restored the cuts, focused on the overall economic impact to the state. Averitt specifically emphasized the flow of federal dollars into Texas and the efficiency of healthcare delivery. [6]

The two levels on which political actors shape the political culture were plainly evident in the tug-of-war over the Texas Enterprise Fund and the CHIP program from 2003 to 2005. On the concrete level, the battles won and lost by the various supporters and opponents of these two programs contributed to the larger tapestry of public policy (subsidizing business investment, subsidizing health insurance for the poor, promoting growth) that becomes woven into our state's political culture. On the more abstract level, the way various elements of the dominant political culture (faith in free markets, support for business, economic efficiency, etc.) were invoked to support or oppose changes to these particular programs contributed to the ongoing evolution of core ideals and values.

7. Conclusion

Political culture is complex even in a place like Texas where there is a broad consensus about core values and ideals. Despite numerous constitutions and national flags, the changing fortunes of political parties, and the almost complete transformation of the economy, the state's political culture displays a remarkable continuity.

The dominant political culture's particular combination of economic liberalism (faith in the "free market" economy), social conservatism (favoring traditional values and moralism), and populism (promoting the rights and worthiness of ordinary people) has proven quite resilient over many decades and even centuries. These ideological tendencies are expressed in a dominant political culture that tends to favor low taxes, low government services, and pro-business policies, while at the same time reserving a significant respect (at least in the abstract) for popular control of government.

But will our political culture and ideological tendencies continue to experience the stability they have enjoyed in the past?

7.1 Is Public Education a Service?

Despite the resilience of our political culture, it may currently be entering a period of more fundamental change. The low-taxes, low-services ideology may be losing its hold on society. A couple of recent developments may be eroding the foundation of this orientation, including rapid growth of the population of working class immigrants and their first-generation offspring, as well as generally heightened concern over adequate funding of public grade schools throughout the state.

Over the past two decades, the immigrant population in Texas has swelled. By 2004 the Lone Star State became the fourth so-called majority-minority state in which the populations of all minority groups added together account for more than half the total population. Recent immigrants and their children tend to be socially conservative, but they also tend to have pressing needs for government services. While annual rates of growth of the immigrant and minority populations in Texas may have peaked in the early 2000s, these rates still remain high. And as the state becomes home to ever greater numbers of immigrants and minorities, it could experience a dramatic shift in its dominant low-taxes, low services ideology.

A separate, but overlapping, development in Texas has been heightened concern for improving grade school education. Ever since the Edgewood ISD v. Kirby case in 1984, the state has struggled to find an adequate school funding formula. In that case the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) filed suit against state commissioner of education William Kirby on behalf of the Edgewood Independent School District in San Antonio, citing discrimination against students in poor school districts. The plaintiffs argued that the state's reliance on local property taxes to finance the system of public education was inherently unequal because property values varied greatly from district to district, resulting in an imbalance in funds available to educate students on an equal basis throughout the state - a claimed violation of the state constitution.

The plaintiffs, who ultimately won their case in a unanimous decision by the Texas Supreme Court, set in motion a long and tortuous process of school finance reform. As late as 2006, the legislature and other state officials were still struggling with finding an adequate formula - and adequate funds - to provide for public education. Yet, a year earlier, a poll commissioned by the Texas State Teachers Association showed that registered voters regarded public education as a top priority for state government. Forty-two percent of respondents chose it as the most important public issue, compared to thirty percent for healthcare (another pressing issue) and, critically, only thirteen percent who cited holding the line on taxes as the most important issue.

These poll results suggest that among registered voters, the traditional low-taxes, low-public services ideology might have lost some of its strong appeal. Texans' views of public education may have evolved to the point that the long standing consensus on taxes and services may be shifting. The 2006 stopgap measures that shifted tax burdens without infusing additional money into public education demonstrated the enduring power of the low taxes, low services orientation in the legislature. But public opinion data on education suggest that another formulation may well be emerging that reflects a new constellation of classic liberal, social conservative, and populist influences.

Texas Politics:
© 2009, Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services
University of Texas at Austin
3rd Edition - Revision 116
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