Politics can usually be described along the same lines as that old cliché about the weather: if you don’t like it, just wait five minutes and it’ll change. The will of the electorate is fickle, as constant in its attachment to any particular politician as to any particular variety of breakfast cereal. We the people like to change our minds.
Were this the August 2000 edition of Texas Monthly, I would go on to say that this truism is alive and well in Texas—that although the Reconstruction constitution of 1869 did away with term limits, in the 131 years since, no governor has served more than 8 years, and most have served only 4. Except that over the past 13 years, we Texans—at least those of us who vote when it counts—have elected and reelected the same man to be our governor. By the end of his current term, Rick Perry will have served an unprecedented three and a half terms.
Which is why Perry’s July 8 announcement that he would not seek a fourth term was, to borrow from the cliché, similar to a report showing strange new storm clouds on the horizon. His decision will trigger a series of moves and countermoves that will reshape state government.
Over the next few issues, we’ll explore the players and possible outcomes in a series of long stories about 2014 and beyond. This month we take up one of the most important questions of the post-Perry era: Will the Democrats fare any better in it? During the governor’s time in office, Texas has become effectively a one-party operation, at least at the statewide level (the municipal governments are another matter). Democrats—who once held their own iron grip on state office—have been reduced to irrelevance. But a major shift in the barometric pressure was felt on June 25, when state senator Wendy Davis’s epic filibuster of an abortion bill captured the nation’s attention, galvanized her side of the aisle, and brought into sharp focus a formidable new opponent for Perry’s likely successor, Attorney General Greg Abbott.
As contributing editor Robert Draper shows in his fascinating cover story on the prospects for a Democratic return (“The Life and Death (and Life?) of the Party”), Davis’s emergence was notable for not being an isolated incident. For years, two other stars in the liberal firmament, San Antonio mayor Julián Castro and his twin brother, Congressman Joaquín Castro, have been making their methodical ascent, leading to the former’s coming-out party at last year’s Democratic National Convention, where he delivered the first-ever keynote address by a Latino (and quickly won comparisons to his party’s pathbreaking nominee). And not long after the president’s impressive reelection effort, his brainiac national field director decamped to Austin to start Battleground Texas, an organization with the wildly ambitious (some might say premature) goal of turning the Lone Star State blue, or at least purple.
Texas remains a conservative state, and for now one would be wise to regard the possible rise of the Democrats with healthy skepticism. But one would also be foolish to underestimate it. As any rancher can tell you, sooner or later, the weather changes.