El Gobernador

The question isn’t whether we’ll elect a Hispanic to lead Texas. It’s whom, and from which party, and how quickly jai alai’s loss will be our gain.
Rafael Anchía, photographed in his office at Haynes and Boone, in Dallas, on December 18, 2007.
Photograph by Darren Braun

11.2018

The Texas governor’s race of 2018 was one for the history books—on a par with Lyndon Johnson’s disputed victory over Coke Stevenson in the 1948 U.S. Senate race and Bill Clements’s upset of John Hill in the 1978 governor’s race. These elections came at crucial moments in the state’s history that separated the old from the new. Johnson’s 87-vote margin certified the transformation of Texas from a rural state to an urban one and the accompanying transformation of its economy from agrarian to industrial. Clements’s victory, which made him our first Republican governor since Reconstruction, was seen as an aberration at the time, but it proved to be the leading edge of a surge that reshaped Texas from a one-party Democratic state to a one-party Republican state and produced two presidents of the United States.

Now, with the triumph of Dallas mayor Rafael Anchía as the first Hispanic governor, another watershed election has occurred, this one confirming that political control in Texas has shifted from Anglos to Hispanics. What made the 2018 race different from those in 1948 and 1978 was that the change it brought about was one the Texas political community had known was coming. The question was not whether Texas would elect a Hispanic as governor; it was when and whom and from which party.

Anchía and the Democrats benefited greatly from a GOP that had been convulsed over the issue of illegal immigration for a decade, rendering it blind to demographics and even its own self-interest. Two Republican governors, George W. Bush and Rick Perry, understood that the future of the party in Texas depended on attracting Hispanics. Bush’s former political guru Karl Rove believed that Hispanics, because of their patriotism, their religious and family ties, their conservative views on social issues like abortion and gay marriage, and their work ethic, could be won over to the R’s. But the base of the party had an entirely different view. Even as Bush won 40 percent of the Hispanic vote nationally in his 2004 race for reelection, Texas Republicans were adopting a platform plank on illegal immigration that read “No amnesty! No how. No way.” Republican opposition to immigration—and immigrants—grew so virulent that many Hispanics, even those who had voted Republican, came to believe that the opposition was motivated by racism. The election of Anchía may have relegated the R’s to semipermanent minority status in the state they once dominated.

Today, Rafael Anchía—the subject of this hypothetical story from the December 2018 issue of Texas Monthly—is a state legislator from Dallas. One term on the Dallas school board and two in the Texas House of Representatives have not rescued him from the obscurity in which most urban lawmakers are doomed to labor. He did receive mention as a possible candidate for mayor of Dallas last year, and the Dallas Morning News showered some attention on him, but he decided not to run. That is not exactly the type of résumé from which statewide candidacies are born.

No one can foretell the future, but what we can be sure of is the demographic destiny of Texas. Hispanics are already the largest ethnic group here. Their plurality will turn into a majority by 2030, if not by 2020. One can quibble over whether 2018 is too soon for the first Hispanic governor to be elected or whether the furor over immigration will subside, allowing the Republican party to rebuild its appeal to upwardly mobile Hispanics, but the likelihood is that politics in Texas will be vastly different in ten years, certainly twenty, from what it is today. This much can be said with confidence: Anyone familiar with Texas politics who is charged with identifying the officeholders most likely to emerge in this fogged-in future would have to put Anchía on the short list. At 39, he is young enough to wait for the right moment to come along. As a lawyer with a prominent Dallas firm, Haynes and Boone, he doesn’t have to take a vow of poverty to pursue politics, and his legal specialty, corporate finance, is one that can open doors. His reputation stretches beyond Texas: He is a member of the board of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and chairs its Educational Fund, which seeks to help Latino immigrants become citizens. (A legislative colleague who would also be on the short list, Pete Gallego, of Alpine, is NALEO’s treasurer.)

Despite being a junior Democratic lawmaker in a Republican-dominated House, Anchía has managed to make a considerable name for himself in his brief tenure. He has passed some neighborhood-oriented bills, aiding prosecutors of sex-trafficking cases and guaranteeing overtime pay for police officers; the North Texas Crime Commission named him the Legislative Crime Fighter of the Year. And in this magazine’s biennial Best and Worst Legislators story, he was named Democratic Rookie of the Year in 2005 and one of the Ten Best in 2007. His forte has been floor debate, in which he has proved himself to be a formidable adversary. For two sessions, he has taken the lead in fighting the Republican-backed voter ID bill, which would require voters to show a photo ID or other forms of identification in addition to a voter registration certificate. Anchía has argued that such a law would disenfranchise older and poorer voters who do not have driver’s licenses. During the debate over the state budget, he successfully fought a Republican amendment that would have gutted prenatal and perinatal funding under the Children’s Health Insurance Program. His persistent questions about how many children would be kicked off the rolls—the number was about 100,000—drove the amendment’s proponent to lose her composure and start screaming at him, and the exchange ended up on YouTube.

What really sets Anchía apart, however, is a background that is unique in Texas politics. The person who may well become Texas’s first Hispanic governor is not of Mexican or even Latin American descent. His heritage is Basque; his family is from the autonomous northern region

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