Through the lenses of nostalgia, the Texas Legislature embodies a history replete with stories both wild and comic, as colorful characters fight the good fight, look after their friends, punish their enemies, and more than occasionally tilt at windmills. In the more glaring light of critical assessment, the Legislature is the first place that stubborn elites, backward looking bosses, and greedy hucksters went to protect their interests in the face of the profound historical changes that have made Texas ever more populous, more urbanized, and more diverse - in a word, modern. As an institution, then, the Legislature has a rich and complex, but not always savory history.
Many of the most obviously anachronistic and even embarrassing characteristics of the Texas Legislature have been undone by the inability of other institutions and individuals to resist the force of structural change. The long stranglehold of the Democratic Party on the Legislature since Reconstruction slowly gave way in the 1990s, culminating in the 2002 elections which gave Republicans solid majorities in both houses. Enforcement of civil rights by federal authorities and changes in the political culture on the state level led to increased, if not nearly proportional, representation of women and ethnic and racial minorities in the Legislature. Even the Capitol itself was updated with a thorough renovation in the mid-1990s, as if to symbolize the gradual modernization of an institution rooted in the nineteenth century but striving to govern in the twenty-first.
But as the twenty-first century unfolds, the Legislature remains a curious combination of old-style politics, nineteenth century institutional design, and the realities of a state with 26 million people, many of whom live in or near some of the largest urban areas in the country.