Dems shouldn’t mess with Texas
There has been much ado lately about the Democratic Party’s new project to turn Texas blue. What’s lost on the liberals in D.C., California and Manhattan who will throw money at this futile effort, however, is that the Texas Republican Party is different and far stronger than its counterparts in other states. And it’s not just because the Lone Star State under Republican control has become the envy of the nation in terms of job creation and economic growth.
One reason Democrats think the GOP’s hold over Texas is so precarious is demographics. Latinos make up 38 percent of the state population, a portion that is projected to rise to more than 50 percent by 2030. Since GOP nominee Mitt Romney got a dismal 27 percent of the Latino vote in November, it seems intuitive that a growing Latino population would spell trouble for Republicans. Yet Texas Republicans have done far better with Latinos than Republicans nationally because their approach to immigration has not been the antagonistic sort offered by Republicans in California, Arizona and other states.
In 2001, Governor Rick Perry signed a bill that allows children brought to Texas by immigrant parents to receive in-state tuition if they have lived in Texas for three years, graduated high school and been admitted to a state public university. Romney’s vicious and shortsighted attacks on this law during the GOP primaries are widely credited with hurting him with Latino voters in the general election.
The scare tactics the Democratic National Committee used to win the Hispanic vote nationally will not be as effective in Texas – where Republicans have enacted sensible policies and avoided bombastic rhetoric. Perry was re-elected with almost 40 percent of the Latino vote in 2010.
In fact, in June of last year, long before immigration was the issue du jour in Washington, D.C., the Texas GOP adopted a platform that included support for a guest-worker program. It’s worth noting that President Barack Obama opposed a guest-worker program at the behest of Big Labor when he was in the Senate.
It’s not just immigration where Texas is different. Education Secretary Arne Duncan stepped in it in 2011, when he claimed that class sizes in Texas have grown during Perry’s tenure as governor. In fact, they have shrunk over the past decade. The New York Times op-ed columnist Ross Douthat responded to Duncan’s false assertion by warning Democrats against attacking the Lone Star State’s education system. Surprisingly to many liberals, Texas schools do relatively well, according to the numbers.
Minority students do comparatively well in Texas, with Latino and black students outperforming their peers in others states. Looking at the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress exam results, Latino and black students in Texas outperformed Latino and black students nationally in both 4th and 8th grade in all subjects.
Also making Texas less amenable to the left’s scare tactics is the fact that the education gap between white students and minorities is smaller in Republican-controlled Texas than it is nationally. Democrats who are so obsessed with equality should be looking to learn from the Texas model rather than tear it down.
The Texas experience also challenges the notion that Republicans take a lock-’em-up approach to criminal justice. The state has been the national leader in the shift from tough-on-crime to smart-on-crime policies ‑ yielding savings for taxpayers while improving safety and reducing jail time. Such reforms are all the more important for minority communities, which have disproportionately high incarceration rates.
In 2003, Texas legislators passed a law mandating that all non-dealer drug offenders convicted for possession of less than a gram be sentenced to probation instead of jail time. Legislators subsequently passed other meaningful cost-saving sentencing reforms as well. Even with this, by 2007 the Texas Legislative Budget Board projected that the state would need more than 17,000 new prison beds by 2012. Rejecting this costly fate, state lawmakers passed further reforms, using alternatives to incarceration to save taxpayers more than $2 billion.
“The budget adopted in 2007 represented a historic shift,” said Marc Levin, director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Justice. The difference, according to Levin, was “in lieu of building more prisons, policymakers allocated $241 million for residential and non-residential treatment-oriented programs for non-violent offenders, along with enhancing in-prison treatment programs.”
These reforms have been so successful that rather than expand capacity, as had been projected, the state was able to close a prison in 2011 for the first time in its history. That structure had an appraised value of $30 million and an estimated redeveloped taxable value of $242 million.
While Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal recently called on Republicans to get smart, Texas has already shown how Republicans can champion smart reforms that are good policy and good politics ‑- with an agenda that is not commonly associated with Republicans. Democrats’ hopes for taking over Austin are built on a misunderstanding of Texans and Texas politics. Expect the Lone Star state to remain solidly red.
PHOTO: Texas Governor Rick Perry makes a point at the Conservative Political Action conference (CPAC) in Washington, February 11, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst