Texas and California stand as similar states heading in very different directions. Both are territorially large and boast large urban centers and robust high-tech industries. Both are racially diverse. Both have extensive coastlines and large energy and agribusiness industries. Both share borders with Mexico and have outsized economies. If either California or Texas were their own country, they would rank in the global top 20 and outmuscle most other countries on earth.
But California, a Democrat stronghold, suffers from unemployment about two points above the national average. Its state and city budgets flirt with bankruptcy, and its population is fleeing. Unions and their demands clog the public sector, making government in the state increasingly unaffordable, so taxes keep going up. Texas, a Republican stronghold and right-to-work state, has unemployment well below the national average, its books are balanced, and it’s always at or near the top in population growth over the past decade. Business survey after business survey rank Texas as one of the top states in which to do business; they rank California at or near the bottom. Companies are moving to Texas, and away from California. Property values have been stable in Texas despite the national bubble; they have rollercoastered in California. California’s tax burden remains one of the highest in the nation, while Texas’ is one of the lowest.
With much fanfare and hullabaloo, President Obama’s former campaign, Organizing for Action, recently launched a 10-year effort to turn red Texas into a true swing state. The plan, officially unveiled in a meeting in Austin on February 26 by Obama operative Jeremy Bird, hails the onset of Battleground Texas. Texas is not a swing state, at least not yet, but Battleground Texas intends to treat it like one in a sustained and systematic way so that it becomes one.
Democratic groups have tried, and failed, to turn back the clock on Texas’ shift from Democrat fortress as late as the 1980s to the Republican bastion that it is now without success. The most publicized of these, the Lone Star Project led by Washington, D.C., activist Matt Angle, was funded by trial lawyer cash to fight tort reform, voter ID, and push for left-wing policies. Its goal was to elect a Democrat speaker of the Texas House of Representatives by 2010 and elect a Democrat to statewide office — any statewide office. That year, though, Republicans made unprecedented gains and turned the Democratic caucus in the state House into a tiny club. Several Democratic officeholders defected to the GOP, further reducing the party’s power. Gov. Rick Perry trounced Democrat challenger Bill White, and no Democrat came close to winning any statewide office. Angle’s Lone Star Project is a lavishly funded failure.
Bird’s effort is different.