Noe Garcia reflects on the results of Tuesday’s Texas primary
Texas has the fastest growing population in the United States—the state’s recent growth is primarily concentrated in metro areas and cities, and a recent report claims city populations will double between 2010-2050. Houston, Texas’s largest city, has been named the most “diverse city” in the nation and leans Democratic, as do the state’s next three biggest cities: San Antonio, Dallas, and Austin. Dallas, Austin and Houston all have Democrat mayors. According to the Texas Tribune, Hispanics accounted for 65% of the state’s growth, with nine Hispanics relocating to the state for every white person. But while Hispanics’ numbers are growing the most, the state’s Asian community is growing the fastest—over a 49% increase since 2010. Texas State Demographer Lloyd Potter found that half of Texas’ growth comes from people relocating from elsewhere in the country, namely California, New York, Illinois, and Florida. Most of these new Texas residents work for big companies and tech firms who have relocated to the state to reap the benefits of the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF) and other government-sponsored perks. The influx of young talent – be it new immigrants, more out-of-state students studying at Texas universities, soldiers, international companies re-locating their U.S. headquarters – shifts Texas’ median age to 34.8, compared to the United States’ median age of 38.2.
With these demographic changes, Texas is seeing a new political landscape, one shaped by these recent arrivals, that challenges the state’s longtime bastion of conservatism. The Texas Congressional delegation is taking note of these changes, too. Six Texas Republican Representatives announced their retirements – Reps. Pete Olson (TX-23), Mike Conaway (TX-11), Will Hurd (TX-23), Kenny Marchant (TX-24), Bill Flores (TX-17), and Mac Thornberry (TX-13) – while other incumbents, Reps. Kay Granger (TX-12) and Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28), faced tough challengers funded heavily by outside groups.
Rep. Conway’s district is the only one to not hold run-off May elections for both party nominations—Jon Mark Hogg (D) and August Pfluger (R) will go head-to-head in November. In District 22, conservative activist Kathaleen Wall and Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls will head to the runoff election to win party ticket for Rep. Olson’s vacated spot; Sri Preston Kulkarni, who lost to Olson by 4.9% in 2018, won the Democrat nomination. Former U.S. Air Force intelligence officer Gina Ortiz Jones — who nearly knocked off Hurd in 2018, coming fewer than 1,000 votes short — handily won the Democratic nomination, while Republicans watch Navy veteran Tony Gonzales, endorsed by Reps. Hurd and Crenshaw, Land Commissioner George P. Bush, and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, compete with immigration-hardliner and retired Lt. Colonel Raul Reyes. Ortiz Jones — an Iraq war veteran who was deployed for three years — would be the first openly gay Texan in Congress if elected later this year. Republican former mayor of Irving Beth Van Duyne won the party nomination for Texas 24, but Kim Olson, retired Air Force colonel, and Candace Valenzuela, local school board member, will battle it out in May for the Democrat ticket. If elected, Valenzuela would be the first black Latina in Congress—and she has already received support from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, progressive lawmakers and the Congressional Black and Hispanic Caucuses. In Districts 17 and 13, run-off elections will take place for both parties. For Texas 17, Democrats Rick Kennedy and former Marine David Jaramillo will go to the runoff for the Democratic ticket while Pete Sessions, now attempting to re-enter Congress in a different district, has already moved to the runoff, likely against the Flores-tapped Renee Swann for the Republican nomination. Mac Thornberry’s district will see Gus Trujillo and Greg Sagan battle for Democrat nomination while agricultural expert Josh Winegarner and the former physician to President Trump, Ronny Jackson, will battle for Republican nomination in May.
As evidenced from Super Tuesday and state-wide elections on March 3, Texas incumbents Kay Granger and Henry Cuellar saw firsthand the unforeseen consequences with the changing Texas demographics and influence of outside groups and donors. Their district voters had to make a difficult decision – ideology versus senior congressional clout – that would gravely impact all Texans, since both members serve on the exclusive House Appropriations Committee and help siphon dollars to the state. Texas’ appropriations fate remains in jeopardy now that Rep. Will Hurd is set to retire and Democrats prioritize November efforts in the district of Texas-appropriator Rep. John Carter (R-TX-31). Cuellar aide Colin Strother said it best: “Granger, Carter and Cuellar all work closely together and some people have questioned the appropriateness of their bipartisanship, but when you also want appropriations and your job is to provide for the entire state of Texas, it requires a certain amount of teamwork.” Although on opposite sides of the aisle, both challengers highlighted the distrust and dissatisfaction many Americans are feeling in this tense political climate.
Eight-term House Democrat but pro-life, pro-trade, and pro-gun advocate Cuellar watched as his former intern-turned-challenger Jessica Cisneros gained backing from a massive coalition of Democrat-allied groups, from the Justice Democrats to EMILY’s LIST and endorsements by liberal icons: AOC, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Julian Castro. Campaigning with Speaker Pelosi and Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey on the last days before the election, Cuellar eked out a win (51.8% of the vote to Cisneros’ 48.2%)—in comparison to 2016, the last cycle Cuellar faced a party challenger, whom he beat by nearly 90% in the primary.
Granger, the most senior Republican woman in the House and Ranking Member on the Appropriations Committee, narrowly secured the party nomination against hard-right challenger Chris Putnam, a former Colleyville City Council member and technology exec. Putnam’s campaign attacked the 12-term Congresswoman for not being conservative enough (“a pro-choice moderate that’s bad on the border,” read one pamphlet) and opposing Trump. Despite Granger’s call on Trump to end his campaign after the Access Hollywood recording was leaked, the President endorsed her outright in her Tuesday primary. Granger secured the Republican nomination by a 58-42 margin, despite Putnam’s endorsements by Tarrant County and Wise County Sheriffs: Bill Waybourn and Lane Akin.
2016 and 2018 were tremendously transformative years for politics—Donald Trump was an outsider looking to disrupt the country’s traditional political structure to be met, not even two years later, with an insurgence of Democrat House newcomers taking control of the chamber and resisting the influence of such a divisive president. It’s too soon to tell if 2020 will be as transformative as the last two election cycles, but Tuesday’s results indicate that this period of rapid political change may soon slow. If Texas is seen as the bell-curve to understand changing national demographics and associated politics, then sure, times are surely changing in Texas.
But the Texas political landscape isn’t catching up as quickly as experts might have predicted. Vice President Joe Biden, face of the moderate Democratic party faction, narrowly beat Sanders by 4.2 percentage points while challengers championed by the Justice Democrats and more liberal groups, like Jessica Cisneros, did not overtake the incumbent. Interestingly, a number of conservative candidates, particularly Trump die-hards, vying for retired Republican seats did not receive the backing of their district incumbents: Pete Olson chose Pierce Bush, grandson of President George H.W. Bush, who didn’t even make it to runoff; Will Hurd endorsed the-relatively moderate Tony Gonzalez; Bill Flores tapped Renee Swann, a conservative but not a “House Freedom Caucus” member instead of longtime-Congressman Pete Sessions; Mac Thornberry voiced his support for Josh Winegarner over former Trump physician Ronny Jackson.
Now, we’ll wait for runoffs in May and the November general election to prove what these retirees might’ve assumed all along: these demographic shifts are real and not imagined.