"America is like a healthy body and its resistance is threefold: its patriotism, its morality, and its spiritual life. If we can undermine these three areas, America will collapse from within."
--Joseph Stalin

Monday, August 22, 2011

Understanding "Rick Perry--Democrat, 1988" A Political Primer for Non-Texans

Will Malven

A lot of Republicans have expressed concern over the fact that Rick Perry was a Democrat up until 1989 and worse, not only supported Al Gore's 1988 bid for the Democrat Party Presidential nomination, but ran his campaign in Texas. For some, these questions arise for partisan political reasons and a desire to forestall Governor Perry's campaign. Lacking an affirmative argument supporting their candidate, they seek to elevate themselves and their candidate by distorting Perry's record. For them, the truth is irrelevant and winning their only concern.

For others, there is a legitimate concern that a Republican who sounds like a good, conservative, electable candidate might, in the end, turn out to be just another liberal wolf in conservative sheep's clothing. It is a reasonable question to ask. Will Rick Perry end up being just another smooth talking closet moderate (or even liberal) who has adopted a conservative facade out of political expediency? It is for these people, the ones with legitimate concerns, that this article is written.

Without growing up in Texas (or indeed much of the South) or knowing the history of Texas (and Southern) politics, it might be difficult for non-Texans to understand why Perry's support for and management of Al Gore's 1988 campaign to be the Democrat Party's presidential nominee, which on the surface seems to be an incomprehensible and an irredeemable flaw in judgment, isn't considered that big of a deal in Texas.

Post-Reconstruction South--A Democrat Stronghold

After the Civil War, the federal government instituted a policy of Reconstruction. Under that mandate ex-Confederate office holders were stripped of their authority and elections were held, supervised by the U.S. Army and the newly created Freedman's Bureau (an agency of the U.S. federal government), in which all ex-Confederates were deprived of their right to vote and prevented from running for office.

In those elections a coalition of freed slaves and so-called "carpet baggers," blacks and whites who migrated south after the war, elected Republican state governments. Because of the policies implemented by those new governments and the corruption which accompanied them, a bitter resentment grew among Southerners towards anything Republican. That resentment lasted a very long time.

After Reconstruction, these Republican governments were thrown out and replaced by conservative Democrats. Over the next century the Democrat Party came to dominate southern politics in a way rarely seen in America. All political decisions throughout the South were controlled by Democrats and only Democrats could get elected.

Whatever the election, be it for your mayor, your governor, your Representative, your comptroller, or pretty much any other political office holder that had a party affiliation, the decision as to who would hold that office was made in the Democrat Party primary. If you wanted to have a voice selecting your representative, you had to be registered as a Democrat.

Literally, one-party rule became the norm in the South. The Republican Party was reduced to insignificance. Not only couldn't Republicans get elected, for all intents and purposes, they didn't exist.

This state of affairs lasted until the fifties and sixties and even after, elections were dominated by Democrats. There were a few notable exceptions like the election in Texas of John Tower to the Senate in 1961, Barry Goldwater's popularity among conservative Southerners in the 1964 Presidential election (he carried six states, his home state of Arizona and five in the old South, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina), and, again in Texas, the election in 1966 of a young George Herbert Walker Bush (the 41st President of the United States) to the House of Representatives.

The lone Republicans--early electoral champions in Texas and the South:

With rising dissatisfaction over the growing power of the federal government, increased spending on social programs like FDR's "New Deal" and Johnson's "Great Society" welfare boondoggle, and increased federal interference in the affairs of what were traditionally state issues, Republicans began to make inroads into the solidly Democrat South. They were baby steps, but here and there Republicans began getting their messages across and winning elections.

Besides those mentioned above, Republican gains continued. In Texas, in 1977, Bill Clements was elected as the first Republican Governor in over a century. That was, for Texans, the beginning of a long climb upwards from the abyss of Democrat dominance. Republican victories, however remained rare and usually involved national elections.

Across the South, Republicans started winning elections--governorships, state and federal representatives and even some local elections, but the South in the 70's remained a Democrat stronghold.

Republican Progress in Texas"

In 1982 the Texas Congressional delegation was Democrats-22, Republicans-5. In 1983, Bill Clements lost his re-election bid to Democrat Mark White, but at that same time Phil Gramm, who was under fire from his Democrat colleagues for his support of the Reagan tax cuts, resigned his Democrat seat in the House and then won it back as a Republican in the special election that was held to replace him.

With the 1984 landslide Reagan re-election, the Texas delegation shifted to a balance of Democrats-17, Repulicans-10 and in 1986, Bill Clements won back the governorship he had lost in 1983. With that victory, the realignment continued.

Progress was slow, the 100th Congressional delegation from Texas (1987), remained at Democrats-17, Republicans-10. Republicans lost 2 seats in 1989--the year Rick Perry switched parties and the Texas delegation to the 101st Congress that year was Democrats-19, Republicans-8. The same held for the 102nd Congress.

In 1993, Texas gained 3 House seats, but that was not the boon to Republicans that was hoped and the delegation remained dismal at Democrats-21, Republicans-9 and the issue as to whether Texas would swing Republican was still in doubt.

A growing Republican tide

The shift in the Texas Delegation finally began in 1995 when the balance became Democrats-18, Republicans-12 (one Democrat, Greg Laughlin, switched to the Republican Party after the election). In 1997, Republicans gained another seat, raising their share of the delegation to 13. The balance remained the same in 1999 and even after President George W. Bush's election in 2000, the balance of Representatives remained at 17-13. In 2002, Texas gained another 2 seats, and the balance became Democrats-17, Republicans-15.

In 2005--16 years after Rick Perry switched parties--the re-election of President George W. Bush brought with it the final shift to a Texan Republican majority and Texas became a Republican state. It was a swing of 6 seats. The tally: Democrats-11, Republicans 21.

Rick Perry's decision to become a Republican in 1989, took place relatively early in Texas' realignment. He was not the first, but he was well ahead of most in the state. Remember that, for 120 years, the path to power for career politicians in Texas, was the Democrat Party. It required foresight and a fair degree of courage and dedication to core conservative values for Rick Perry and those other conservative Texas politicians to make that decision.

At the time that Perry made his choice, Texas was far from the bastion of Republicanism that it is now. It took the electorate another decade and a half to follow suit.

Chalk it up to a learning experience: support for Al Gore, Jr.

As for supporting and leading the campaign for Al Gore, Jr. in 1988, Perry was in pretty good company. Quite a few conservative Texas Democrats supported Gore in that election, among them were former governor Dolph Briscoe and Texas State House Speaker Gib Lewis.

Whatever Perry's detractors may say, Al Gore was still seen by most southern Democrats as a moderate with votes against federal funding of abortions, laws restricting the interstate sale of firearms, and in support of a moment of silent prayer in schools.

Perry says that it was during that campaign, that he came to realize just how liberal his Democrat Party had become and it was for that reason that he chose to switch parties in 1989. One only has to look at the percentage of those in Congress who get re-elected year after year in the face of the continued low favor-ability numbers revealed in polls after poll to understand just how difficult it is for people to turn from what is familiar and comfortable and to embrace what is new no matter how logical such a move may seem.

Perry's change of party came just in time to run for him to run for the position of Commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture against Jim Hightower (one of the most liberal politicians ever to curse Texas) whom he defeated in 1990. Was there a degree of opportunism involved? Very possibly, but he wouldn't be the first politician to see the writing on the wall and make the expedient choice and his leap was consistent with the values he has espoused his entire life.

Rick Perry's conservatism has never wavered. While still a Democrat in the Texas House of Representative, Perry distinguished himself as a fierce fiscal conservative always arguing for more austere budgets. His stands on abortion, gay marriage, gun rights, the intrusion of the federal government into traditionally state issues, the courts, and the Constitution are all consistent with traditional conservative values.

He has his flaws, foremost among them is his stand on illegal immigration, but in politics, as in life, the search for perfection is a futile, vain effort.

For Republicans, Rick Perry is the real deal; a conservative in the traditional sense, not a George W. Bush "compassionate conservative."

Long Live Our American Republic!!!

References for this article:

Wikipedia pages for the 99th United State Congress and from the table at the bottom of that page, the 100th-109th Congresses).

List of Governors of Texas

Reconstruction Era of the United States

United States presidential election, 1964

Biographical Directory of the United States Congress

Biographical Directory of the United States Congress

Biographical Directory of the United States Congress

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