Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Muddled Intro

I'm a Democrat.  I consider myself to be a pretty staunch Democrat, and I consider myself to be progressive, if not outright liberal.  I live in Texas.  More specifically, I live in Austin, Texas.
It's an interesting time to be what I consider to be a moderate Democrat in Austin, Texas.

Texas, of course, on the whole, has been a very conservative state for decades.  When I was growing up here, Texas still had some of its traditional Democratic roots.  Mark White was a Democratic governor when I was in junior high, and Ann Richards was governor while I was in college.  By the time I was graduating from college in 1995, Karl Rove, George W. Bush, and their campaign team had begun to seize upon and foster a shift in public perception in which the Republican party became associated not only with fiscal conservatism, a robust military, and aggressive foreign policy, but also with a conservative Christian outlook and value structure.  In the culture clash between conservatives and liberals, in the gross oversimplification and debate of issues on a range of topics ranging from prayer in schools to abortion to gay rights to the war on drugs, Texans seemed to seize upon the notion that the Republican party represented "traditional" religious values while the Democrats (and liberals in general) consisted of a confused, misguided, and potentially dangerous group which had lost their way in terms of protecting the American way of life.

George W. Bush, by almost all accounts a party animal in his youth with an admitted drinking problem, ran for office as a born again Christian, and his entire party took on an evangelical tone as they sought to draw in voters who felt an affinity for their candidates by way of the Republican party's new affiliation with conservative Christianity.

So I live in a state which has been pretty conservative for a long time,  but it hasn't always been solidly Republican.  There are those of us who still remember the days when Texas wasn't a GOP stronghold (although I'm not old enough to remember the days when Texas had about a 100 year run of back to back Democratic governors).
Since 1995, though, it's been tough going for the Democrats in Texas.  Statewide elections consistently and repeatedly put Republicans in office, with the runs for most major offices being decided during the Republican primary.

There are some notable exceptions, though.  Austin, the state's capital, has remained solidly blue despite the Republican shift that has occurred in the rest of the state.  I'm not really sure of the reason for this.  We have a fairly well educated population (a 2010 study by the Brooking Institution had the Austin metro area ranked as the 8th best educated city in the country, using college degrees as a measure), we have a major university located in our city, we're the center of state government, and we serve as a technology center.  We have a population which is heavily involved with education, government, and technological innovation, so maybe the combination of these three things results in a higher than average number of Democrats.
But we're a blue island in a sea of red.  The rest of the state is mostly Republican.  We have some Democratic strongholds down in South Texas, where the Latino vote tends to keep the GOP at bay, but mostly we're Republican.  Austin remains staunchly, defiantly Democratic- a political character which often put the city at odds with the conservative state legislature and the various elected leaders who hold statewide political office.

Interestingly, in the metro areas, we currently have quite a few Democrats serving as mayors.  Julian Castro in San Antonio, Mike Rawlings in Dallas, Annisse Parker in Houston.  All Democrats.  Although the Republicans in big cities may still choose to vote for conservatives in national elections or for statewide offices, they seem to have been ceding the management of local political systems to Democrats- a group that often seems drawn to the wonkiness and minutia of operating governments at the city and county level.

Annnyway, it's an interesting time to be a Democrat and to be living in Austin.

Texas has been doing a pretty good job of luring companies to relocate to our state for a number of years now.  With lower business taxes, no state income tax, taxpayer generated business enterprise stimulus funds, lax regulatory policies, and union busting right-to-work laws, Texas has been fairly successful at encouraging companies from other parts of the country to pull up stakes and relocate to the Lone Star State.  Conservatives have touted this corporate relocation and its accompanying job growth as proof positive of the surefire benefits that are to be reaped by fostering a business-friendly culture.
Progressives, for their part, point out that in many parts of the state, the success of corporations and businesses relies upon a economic and political system which provided a lower quality of life for the state's residents.  Texas ranks 49th in the nation in terms of funding its public schools.  In 2012 Texas ranked worst in the nation in terms of delivery of health care services both for emergencies and for treatment of the chronically illIn 2012 Texas had the highest number of uninsured people in the country and ranked 8th in the nation in terms of having the most povertyTexas also has the highest percentage of minimum wage workers in the nation.  We also have some of the worst greenhouse gas emissions in the nation.
To progressives, Texas is a state with fantastic opportunity for the wealthy, built upon a corporate infrastructure which doesn't have employers paying their fare share to support the social infrastructure.  The working class and poor are essentially exploited in the name of corporate profits.  Companies move here because they feel fortunate to have found a place where they aren't asked to make a fair contribution to the state in which they're going to be operating.  They aren't being asked to educate their potential workers or to keep them healthy.  The tax dollars which are being spent by the Texas legislature are being spent on things like highways and infrastructure so that corporations can carry out transportation and shipping unimpeded.  Texas doesn't provide a lot of financial support for things like congestion-fighting commuter rail systems or other sustainable transportation options.  Any system that's designed to carry commercial cargo and freight, though, is bound to get some love.

Anyway, Texas, as I keep saying, is an interesting place. 
I'm a progressive.  It's my home, and I've been here since I was a very young grade school kid.  I love the place, warts and all.
I have to say, even though I'd categorize myself as a liberal, I have some respect for certain aspects of the Texas conservative agenda and methodology.  I respect the way that they aggressively pursue job creation and constantly struggle to keep business flowing into the state.  I respect the way that they're wary of creating a culture of dependency.  I'm a progressive, but I'm still a "teach a man to fish" sort of guy.  You can't grow up in Texas and not come away from the experience without a lot of respect for ideals associated with self reliance, independence, a strong work ethic, and an entrepreneurial spirit.
The issues in Texas, and the places where many progressives would like to see things change, has to do with balance.  We want corporations to come to Texas, but we don't want the companies that move here to have to do their fair share in terms of helping to support the social infrastructure of their new home.  We don't think that allowing companies to poison our air is really such a great way to encourage job growth.  In short, I guess we want businesses to feel welcome to operate here, but we want them to be good neighbors.

Well, that's it for now.
I hope that's a good start.  I have a lot more to say, for sure, but I need to learn to say things a little bit at a time.  Probably best that way for everyone, right?

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