Texas abortion uproar: Could backlash turn Lone Star State blue?

Outrage is running high among Texas Democrats after the Republican-led Legislature pushed through a tough new abortion bill. While change is coming, a blue Texas is not imminent, it seems.

Eric Gay/AP
State Sen. Wendy Davis (D) sits at her desk after the Texas Senate passes an abortion bill Friday in Austin, Texas. Davis opposed the bill, which will require doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, only allow abortions in surgical centers, dictate when abortion pills are taken, and ban abortions after 20 weeks.

Texas legislators last week passed a suite of antiabortion laws that, according to critics, would result in the closure of all but five of the state's 42 abortion clinics.

With state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) making herself a statewide celebrity through her efforts to forestall the bill – including an 11-hour filibuster – there is a line of thinking that suggests the abortion debate could become the beginning of a blue avalanche across the Lone Star State.

“Texas voters came out in record numbers to oppose this bill every step of the way, and they will turn out in record numbers at the next election,” said Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, in a statement.

Latinos make up a growing share of the state population and are reliably Democratic voters, the thinking goes. Moreover, the new abortion bill, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks and make clinics meet tough new medical standards to survive, could shift a growing number of women voters to the blue column.

In short, some activists suggest the bill lays bare how the demographic and political forces that resoundingly swept President Obama to a second term in 2012 are even now knocking on the door of perhaps the nation's reddest state.

While the logic is sound, the data suggest that the idea of a "Blue Texas" is, for now, little more than wishful thinking on the part of liberals.

Changes are coming, and the rise of Latinos in Texas could put the state in play for Democrats by the middle of the next decade, according to some analyses. But three main points, in particular, are keeping Texas deep red and should continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Latino voting rates. The demographics of the Lone Star State suggest irresistible change. The 2010 Census showed that 45 percent of Texans are white, 38 percent are Latino, and 11 percent are black, with other ethnic groups making up the remaining 6 percent. A decade before, the white-Latino split was 53 to 32 percent. White Texans, already no longer a majority, will soon no longer even be the plurality.

But that doesn't mean Latinos are having a proportionate impact on Texas politics. As in other states, Latinos typically pack less punch at the ballot box than the numbers suggest they should. One reason cited in an analysis by the Daily Kos, a liberal website, is that 10 to 15 percent of Texas Latinos are not citizens. The Latino population also trends much younger than the white population, meaning a larger share of Texas Latinos have not yet reached voting age.

The result is that, while a Latino plurality in Texas might not be far away, the political effects of that shift might lag significantly. The Daily Kos analysis concludes that, for Democrats, "Texas ought to be on the cusp of competitiveness by 2024."

Redistricting. Redistricting is the great political hammer in the hands of the political majority. In states that allow the Legislature to draw up the political maps every 10 years – as Texas does – the majority can solidify their hold on power by creating districts that tilt in their favor. Both parties do this, and for a time, redistricting can insulate a majority party somewhat from demographic changes.

Also in the special legislative session that saw abortion take center stage, Texas legislators passed new redistricting maps that Democrats say underrepresent Latinos. The main objective of the Republican majority "was to limit Latino voting strength," according to the office of US Rep. Pete Gallego (D) of Texas, as reported by politic365. "The right to vote is one of the fundamental pillars of our democracy. The process shouldn’t shut out entire communities."

Texas is still Texas. The fact is, at the end of the day, Texas voters are still some of the most reliably red voters in the nation. While change may be ahead, there is little sign that it has yet arrived – or even has begun to arrive. The last time Texas elected a Democrat to statewide office was 1994. Among the best performances by a Texas Democrat since then: Gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell lost to Gov. Rick Perry by 9 points in 2006, notes the Texas Tribune

From there, it only gets worse.

Indeed, many have touted Senator Davis as a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2014. But she's been hesitant to declare any intentions, surely aware that any attempt to run for statewide office could mark an abrupt end to her political career.

For Democrats for now, it seems, politics in Texas remains a dead-end job.

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