Texans On The Nation's Political Stage

Nov 17, 2013
Originally published on November 16, 2013 7:20 pm

From 1931 to 1989, three Texans — John Nance Garner, Sam Rayburn and Jim Wright — served as speaker of the House about a third of the time. Garner gave up the job to serve as Franklin Roosevelt's first vice president, famously describing the job as "not worth a buck of warm spit" (or some other liquid).

During much of Rayburn's tenure as speaker, Lyndon Johnson was majority leader of the Senate. Of course, he became John F. Kennedy's vice president and succeeded Kennedy following the 1963 assassination.

All of these figures were Democrats. For generations following the Civil War, Texans, like the rest of the South, refused to vote for the Republican Party. When George H.W. Bush started his career in politics as chair of the Harris County GOP, his main job was organizing precincts where the party had no presence.

With LBJ at the top of the ticket in 1964, Bush had no chance in his first Senate race. But Johnson's own Senate seat had been taken over in a special election by John Tower, the first Republican to represent the state in the Senate since Reconstruction.

The state's switch toward the GOP was exemplified by John Connally, who was the state's Democratic governor when he was wounded during the Kennedy assassination. Within a few years he would be considered as a potential vice president or successor by Republican President Richard M. Nixon.

Connolly formally changed parties in 1973. His route was followed by Rep. Phil Gramm, a Democrat who bolted the party in 1983. Gramm was soon returned by his district as a Republican and would go on to succeed Tower in the Senate.

Since George W. Bush's election as governor in 1994, Democrats have failed to compete successfully in state politics. Over the past 20 years, two Texas Republicans have served as House majority leader — Richard K. Armey and Tom DeLay.

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