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Saturday, March 27th 2010

The Fall of Texas

Texas is an amazing part of this country. For reasons beyond scope here, it’s historical and cultural identity are uniquely ingrained and recognized; certainly more than those of any other state. That goes for California. People around the world can pick Texas from a map. They know who a Texan is, and despite the slight inaccuracy of the stereotype the fact it has circled the globe speaks for Texas’ position.

I have a fiancee who doesn’t quite understand my devotion to my state. Texans’ devotion to their state has its historical roots but in some ways Texas’ pride is merely circular, I’m proud that Texans have such pride in their state.

And I’m proud that Texas has exported its influence. From it’s rise in national politics just prior to and following World War II to the presidency of the second Bush it is hard to argue another states’ influence in Washington was greater in the past century.

Rise Of The Superstate

And then came the failure of oil money and what is viewed as the slow decline of the industry, the 2006 midterm elections, and then the election of Barack Obama. And suddenly Texas was dead; it’s influence in a likely perpetual decline.

The 28th state has loomed large over Washington for much of the past century — think the president, his father, Lyndon Johnson, Sam Rayburn, John Tower, Dick Armey and Tom DeLay.

Since at least the 1960s, Texans have been simultaneously admired and loathed by the rest of Washington. Their command, for the most part, has come on account of seniority. Their home districts were so safe that they were able to stay in Washington more or less all of the time and invest wholeheartedly in committee work.

But [when President Obama is inaugurated], Texas becomes — please don’t throw things — just another state.

Such declarations are a little premature.

No, Texas’ congressional delegation carries no standing committee chairmanships. Not surprising considering recent redistricting, turnover amongst the States’ 12 Democratic congressmen and only a single truly rising star amongst them in the form of Edwards.

“Chet is a good guy and will have a lot of influence,” Frost said. “But the reality is that Texas doesn’t have anywhere near the kind of clout that it used to have.”

Nor do Texas’ current two Senators inspire the cult of personality and the projection of influence that the Lone Star state has often sent to Washington. All a bummer. But the future is not bleak. In the current political environment Texas is showing its state politics have cultivated galvanizing figures who are now becoming more and more prominent on the national stage. A recent Texas Monthly piece asked ‘Why Not President Perry?”

Throughout his career, Perry has always benefited from an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time, and once again, his luck seems to be working. The Republican field for 2012 is not deep. Who among the contenders has a better conservative record? Who better expresses the anger of the average Republican voter? Who has a more robust fundraising base? Of the governors commonly mentioned—Tim Pawlenty, of Minnesota; Haley Barbour, of Mississippi; Bobby Jindal, of Louisiana; Mitch Daniels, of Indiana—whose state has weathered the recession more successfully?

Perry has been so often viewed as a caricature that many Texans have failed to recognize his talent. The fact is that no Republican has so ably surfed the wave of populist anger that has swept through the party in the past year.

And while I have mixed feelings about Rick Perry, why not another President from Texas? It certainly seems like Perry is setting himself up for a run at national office. And courting the conservative base across this country very nicely.

Texas’ play on the national stage is far from dead. Texas’ influence in Washington has dropped off, for a period, it remains however the nation’s second most populace state. And more importantly the nation’s fastest growing state. In Congress, the midterms which are sure to cost the Democrats something, promise to help Texas. And perhaps more importantly, so does the 2010 Census. It’s large Hispanic population, whose political souls remain surprisingly up in the air despite their ties to the Democratic party, makes it a state which cannot be ignored.

The state, with its low tax and low spend focus, has weathered the recession as well as any state in the country. Compare that to say, California, the bread basket of progressivism.

If California doesn’t want to be Texas, it must find a way to be a better California. The easy thing about being Texas is that the government has a great deal of control over the part of its package deal that attracts consumer-voters—it must merely keep taxes low. California, on the other hand, must deliver on the high benefits promised in its sales pitch. It won’t be enough for its state and local governments to spend a lot of money; they have to spend it efficiently and effectively.

The optimistic assessment is that things are going to get worse in California before they get better. The pessimistic assessment is that they’re going to get worse before they get much worse.

States that have grown accustomed to thinking of the engine that drives their economies as an inexhaustible resource—whether it’s Michigan and the auto industry, New York and Wall Street, or California and the vision of the sunlit good life that used to attract new residents—find it tough to compete again for what they thought would be theirs forever, and to plan budgets for lean years that turn into lean decades. Instead, they invest their hopes in a deus ex machina that will rescue them from the hard choices they dread.

The failure of progressive economic policy and entitlement programs, in examples like California, only bolster Texas’ example. Despite lacking current representatives in leadership positions, Texas policies are poised to become entrenched as the soul of the GOP. If liberal economic policies continue to fail on main street it isn’t hard imagining Texas, and a new generation of good ol’ boy Texas pols, taking back the flag of influence as reactionary voters look for examples of the antithesis of current policy.

No matter how well the reactionary voter manifests in the coming midterms or in 2012, it is hard to imagine Texas out in the political wilderness for a generation. The fall of Texas has been grossly exaggerated.