Wendy Davis seems to be stepping up her efforts to raise her national profile. She is coming to Washington DC, for a meet-and-greet fundraiser. Even though I am, like many in this economy, conserving my resources, I decided to invest in a ticket at the host level, because this is an investment in the future of the country, not just the future of Wendy Davis.
Texas is a bellwether state, not just because it has delivered to us two terms of George W. Bush or because its current governor, Rick Perry, appears to be headed for a run for the Republican presidential nomination for 2016. Going back at least to the 1980s, Texas has set the tone for the conservative agenda. As a populous state with a comparatively successful economy, other states follow its lead on legislation and large corporations lobby Texas politicians hard to pass measures that favor their interests, thus creating “model” legislation for other (would-be) conservative legislatures. In the 1980s, for example, Texas led the way in attempting to limit damages recoverable by plaintiffs who had proven that they were in fact injured by negligent physicians. Texas has also been out in front on amped up use of the death penalty, restricting African-Americans’ access to the ballot box, eliminating diversity in public higher education, and, of course, preventing women from receiving safe, legal healthcare.
When Lyndon Johnson – from Texas – became president, the fact that he as a Texan got behind the Civil Rights Act made all the difference to its passage. As a southerner from a state with plenty of conservatively inclined citizens, his commitment to civil rights legitimated that stance among those who might otherwise been afraid to take it.
When George W. Bush – from Texas – became president, his commitment to half-baked wars and the social policies of the Christian right had the same effect.
Johnson had been a Congressman from Texas; W. was governor. Both men’s careers show how higher office in Texas can pave the way to the highest office in the land. But more significant than what happens to particular individuals is the larger role that Texas’s politics plays in influencing the politics of other states. So even if one is not resident in or a citizen of Texas, investing in changing Texas’s political cultural makes sense.