Evolving Texas politics may favor GOP

A politics of affluence and growth in this Southwest capital contrasts sharply with the politics of economic stress in the Midwest.

And the regional disparity of fortunes shows up in different political races. Texans, who will vote this weekend in the nation's second primary election, constantly compare their burgeoning South with the economically stymied North. As much in boast as complaint, a Texas congressman tells a Michigan colleague to stop sending south so many unemployed.

An Austin electronics salesman volunteers: ''People in Austin are still extending themselves. The people in Detroit are already there. The people in Austin are still investing, expanding in business.''

The Midwest/Texas migration is somewhat exaggerated. In the latter half of the '70s, most families moving to Texas came from the non-Texas south (28 percent), followed by the West (25 percent), Northcentral states (21 percent) and the Northeast (8 percent). Still, political impact from the contrasting older industrial North and new industrial South is clear. Texas gains three congressional seats this fall, Illinois loses two and Michigan one.

For the Republicans this year the regional disparity shows up in governors' races. Republican Govs. William G. Milliken of Michigan, Lee Sherman Dreyfuss of Wisconsin, Albert H. Quie of Minnesota, and Robert Ray of Iowa, are retiring rather than face running in a recession year under a Republican president. Ohio Gov. James A. Rhodes must leave office for statutory reasons, but is skipping a Senate race for reasons similar to those putting other GOP Midwest governors into retirement. Only Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson is running again, to carry the once proud Great Lakes GOP pennant.

By contrast, here Texas Republican Gov. Bill Clements--the first Texas GOP governor in more than a century--is taking on a tough reelection race that promises, his handlers say, to be ''a dogfight.'' Mr. Clements could have found an excuse to miss his party's May 1 primary. He's a millionaire. He's of normal retirement age. He helped elect -Ronald Reagan president.

But the Republican Party of Texas thinks its best times lie ahead. And Clements wants to lead his party farther down that road.

''There's no effect from the national economic picture on Texas Republican prospects in 1982,'' Clements told the Monitor. ''We in Texas have the strongest state economy in the nation today.

''We will set all-time highs for the fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 1982--both in growth state product and state tax revenues. We will have a surplus of $1 billion in the state budget.''

The Southwest's growth portends challenges in coming years. ''All of us in Texas are concerned about the growth problem,'' Clements says. ''We grew by 26.5 percent in the decade of the '70s. These growth patterns will continue to the year 2000. We will go from 14 million to 21 million people. The most critical problem will be water to provide the industrial and job space for 170,000 new jobs every year.''

For the moment, however, the growth helps Texas--and particularly Texas Republicans.

''Almost half of all new Texans are Republicans,'' says V. Lance Tarrance, a Houston-based pollster, ''while resident Texans are only 25 percent Republican. Texas is still a Democratic state--but now it's at least very competitive. Fifty percent are Republicans or ticket-splitters.''

Republican candidates can appeal to Democractic faithful, who make up the other 50 percent of the electorate--20 percent white conservatives, 20 percent white liberals, and 10 percent minority, Mr. Tarrance says.

The growth byproducts of money and enthusiasm favor the Texas Republicans in 1982. State GOP leaders predict a two-thirds increase in Republican primary voting May 1, compared with other non-presidential years. Democrats look for a record low turnout.

Texas candidates will spend $50 million to $60 million to run for office this year, estimates Wayne Thorburn, executive director of the Republican Party of Texas. ''It's incredible,'' he says, ''how much after-tax money (Republican) business people are willing to put into political efforts.''

Democrats still have many supporters. Not all of Texas is booming. Blacks, Mexican-Americans, the elderly, Democrats who fear the future such as farmers and small business people in rural areas who can't borrow - these Texans are wary of Reaganomics and Republican rule.

Mexican-American voters, who turned out in record proportions for Clements in 1978 and Reagan in 1980, have returned to their familiar 14-to-1 Democratic leaning, reports the Southwest Voter Registration Project, based in San Antonio.

But Texas Democrats have a lot of catching up to do (in organization), says Joe Gagan, executive director of the party in Texas.

''Prior to 1972 the Democratic Party in Texas did not exist except to pick delegates in presidential election years.

''Essentially it ran elections. A primary victory was tantamount to victory. It wasn't until '72 that the party realized it needed to provide services for Democratic candidates. The idea of a party as a source of independent political power is only 10-years-old for Texas Democrats.''

Previously the state party raised no money for candidates and had little concern about helping for November elections. The governor became a power because of his patronage, and his political organization in effect controlled the party.

Republicans under Clements are forcing Texas Democats to become more like Democrats outside the state.

''If the Democratic Party here doesn't get more active in fund raising and candidate support, and if Clements wins again, you will see Democratic officeholders slip at all levels here in Texas.''

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