Who killed the Texas Democratic party?

AT LEAST DAN MORALES knew that the mere proclamation he was going to have a press conference was not likely to stop the world in its tracks. The night before and all that morning, some supporters, as well as the attorney general himself, were busy calling around to say that at the press conference Morales would announce the startling news that he would not run for reelection. The calls worked well enough. The room at the Capitol was overflowing well before Morales’ scheduled appearance at noon. The daily press was there, as well as others, such as myself, who had come just to be pres-ent at what could be a small, improbable, but still significant historic event. Morales entered the room suddenly, announced he would retire to private life at the end of his term, and made December 2, 1997, the day the Democratic party of Texas finally collapsed, not with a bang but a whimper.

Morales said he had decided not to run so he could spend more time with his new wife and her two children, who were standing beside him. The four presented such an appealing picture, it was reasonable to take him at his word. After all, he had never seemed to burn with political ambition. Even though he had won three terms as a state legislator and two as attorney general, he always seemed remote, even uncomfortable as a politician. He is not a party man in the classic mode, nor is he a bold, charismatic politician. Even so, he has never lost an election, he enjoys a 69 percent approval rating as attorney general, he is honest and free of scandal, he is a Hispanic with a Harvard law degree, and he is only 41 years old. The Democrats, who had never completely embraced him, suddenly realized with his leaving that they had lost the strongest candidate they had.

This fall the Democrats will have no incumbent seeking to retain his statewide office. Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock will not stand for reelection and has endorsed Republican governor George W. Bush. Comptroller John Sharp is leaving his office to run for lieutenant governor. Land commissioner Garry Mauro is running for governor. The treasurer’s office has been eliminated, and Morales is leaving as attorney general. But the carnage does not stop there. The state Senate already has a Republican majority. The House now has 82 Democrats and 68 Republicans. A shift of just eight seats leaves Republicans in control. Five Democratic representatives from rural East

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