Back then, most of the other members were retired, and they ran for office as a civic duty, he said. 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. Hes easy to miss in the crowd of vigorous young legislators, few of whom were in office when Craddick turned the house into a republican domain. His crusade started in the late eighties, he recalled. Initially, the party had barely any infrastructure, and so he helped to organize candidates campaigns, requiring them to report how many doors they had knocked on and how many mailers they had sent out. Craddick was the first Republican speaker since 1873.
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It was a complete rout of a political party, miller said. Bush was governor, between 19, a cordial détente between the political parties prevailed. 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.) At Bushs fiftieth-birthday party, at the governors mansion, foundation in July, 1996, bullock offered a toast to the governor as the next President of the United States. As far as i know, that was the first time such a statement had been made about Bush in public, and it was by the highest Democratic official in the state. In January, 2003, 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. There were eight other Republicans in the house when I got elected, in 1969, and two in the senate, craddick told me recently. The first time i tried to introduce a bill, they told me i couldnt, because i was a republican. When he entered the house, he was twenty-five—the youngest member.
Ford went on to gain the nomination, but he lost the Presidency to jimmy carter—the last Democratic nominee to carry texas. In 1978, bill Clements became the first Republican governor of Texas since reconstruction. To help him reach constituents, Clements hired a young direct-mail wizard named Karl rove, who became a central figure in Texass transformation from blue to red. Rove attributes the change to the growth of the suburbs and the gradual movement of the rural areas into the republican column: They went from being economic populists, who thought the system was rigged against them by wall Street, to being social and conservative populists. 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 1988 Presidential run, before changing parties, in 1989. In 1994, texas elected its last statewide essay democrat.
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. Bill Miller, a lobbyist in Austin and a longtime student of Texas politics, dates the change to may, 1976, when Ronald reagan beat Gerald Ford in the texas Republican primary. Reagan won every texas delegate and the popular vote two to one, miller told. He smoked an incumbent Republican President and his mainstream followers with a heretofore unknown coalition of conservatives. That day lit the conservative fuse. Suddenly, they knew they had the numbers to win.
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Honey, get Sharp on the line, he said. In a moment, john Sharp was on the loudspeaker. The former state comptroller of public accounts, he is now the chancellor of the texas. .. Sharp, laney said, i got a young man here wants to know how you hunt pigs.
Well, we do it at night, with pistols. Everybody wearing cutoffs and tennis shoes. Well set nurse the dogs loose, and when they start baying we come running. Now, the dogs will go after the pigs nuts, so the pig will back up against a tree to protect himself. So then you just take your pistol and pop him in the eye. And these were progressive democrats.
The train became known as the poo-poo choo-choo. Another thing, i said. Id like my lobbyist to take some legislators on a hunting trip. What would they likely be hunting? Wild pigs—theyre taking over the whole state! Feral pigs are a remnant of the Spanish colonization, and now weve got as many as three million of them, tearing up fences and pastureland and mowing down crops, even eating the seed corn out of the ground before it sprouts.
They can run twenty-five miles per hour. You ever seen one? They got these tusks out to here. How do you hunt them? Well, i dont hunt em myself, but I got a friend who does. He punched an intercom button on his phone.
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The grateful representatives called him Dicknose. We sat down in the Speakers office, at the capitol. I explained that I was having a plot problem: my hero had introduced an ethics-reform bill, which triggered a war with the biggest lobbyist in the state. How could the lobbyist retaliate? Laney rubbed his hands together. Well, you could put a toxic-waste dump in Sonnys district, he observed. That would mess him up, right and left. Laneys suggestion was inspired by an actual law that the texas house of tnt Representatives had passed in 1991. 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.
Because texas represents so much of modern America—the south, the west, regional the plains, the border, the latino community, the divide between rural areas and cities—what happens here tends to disproportionately affect the rest of the nation. Illinois and New Jersey may be more corrupt, and Kansas and louisiana more out of whack, but they dont bear the responsibility of being the future. Ive always had a fascination with Texass outsized politics. In 2000, i wrote a play that was set in the states house of Representatives. The protagonist, sonny lamb, was a rancher from West Texas who represented house district 74, which, in real life, stretches across thirty-seven thousand square miles. (Thats larger than Indiana.) While i was doing research for the play, i met in Austin with Pete laney, a democrat and a cotton farmer from Hale county, who, at the time, was the speaker of the house. Laney was known as a scrupulously fair and honest leader who inspired a bipartisan spirit among the members.
growing at a stupefying rate for decades. The only state with more residents is California, and the number of Texans is projected to double by 2050,.4 million, almost as many people as in California and New York combined. Three texas cities—houston, dallas, and San Antonio—are already among the top ten most populous in the country. The eleventh largest is Austin, the capital, where i live. For the past five years, it has been one of the fastest-growing large cities in America; it now has nearly a million people, dwarfing the college town I fell in love with almost forty years ago.
Ive lived in Texas for most of my life, and ive come to appreciate what the state symbolizes, both to people who live here and to those who view it from afar. Texans see themselves as a distillation of the best qualities of America: friendly, confident, hardworking, patriotic, neurosis-free. Outsiders see us as the nations id, a place where rambunctious and disavowed impulses run wild. Texans, it is thought, mindlessly celebrate individualism, and view government as a kind of kryptonite that weakens the entrepreneurial muscles. Were reputed to be braggarts; careless with money and our personal lives; a little gullible, but dangerous if crossed; insecure, but obsessed with power and prestige. Texans, however, are hardly monolithic. The state is as politically divided as the rest of the nation. One can drive across it and be in two different states at the same time: fm texas and am texas. Fm texas is the silky voice of city dwellers, the kingdom of npr.
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Texas is as politically divided as the rest of the. S., but a recurrent crop of crackpots and ideologues has fed its reputation for proud know-nothingism and retrograde thinking. Illustration by barry Blitt, texas is as politically divided as the rest of the. Illustration by barry Blitt, when Frederick law Olmsted passed through Texas, in 1853, he became besotted with the majesty of the texas legislature. I have seen several similar bodies at the north; the federal Congress; and the parliament of Great Britain, in both its branches, on occasions of great moment; but none of them commanded my involuntary respect for their simple manly dignity and trustworthiness for the duties. This passage is possibly unique in the political chronicles of the state. Fairly book considered, the texas legislature is more functional than the United States Congress, and more genteel than the house of Commons. But a recurrent crop of crackpots and ideologues has fed the states reputation for aggressive know-nothingism and proudly retrograde politics.