The Shadow Party: How a Washington-Based Liberal Activist Is Trying to Turn Texas Blue (Whether Texans Want It or Not)

Since Republicans took majorities in the Texas legislature and captured all the statewide offices in 2003, Texas has earned a reputation as a solidly Republican state in which no Democrat stands a chance of winning anything worthwhile. Or so it would seem, but the fact is Republicans don’t now and have never held a majority of elected offices across Texas since Reconstruction.  Democrats still hold a narrowing majority of offices statewide, and that’s true even after several dozen local level Democrats switched parties and became Republicans this year. Hundreds of Democrats have switched parties over the past few election cycles, bringing Republicans closer to parity and bringing these officials in line with the state’s conservative majority. The highest profile party switcher of this cycle, state Rep. Chuck Hopson of east Texas, extended the Republicans’ majority in the state House to four seats, 77-73. But even that is a narrow majority at a very high level in a state with such a strong Republican reputation. And thanks in part to an out-of-state political operation, Democrats have actually made gains in Texas over the last couple of election cycles.

Texas’ Republican reputation has coincided directly with its rise to economic dominance, and with good reason. The Republicans have tried to live by three simple rules. They are 1) keep taxes low, 2) keep regulation fair and predictable and 3) don’t set up government as the be-all-end-all for every problem. Democrats loudly disagree with all three.

Texas must be doing something right. About 1,200 Americans pull up stakes and move to Texas each week, and companies as diverse as Facebook and Caterpillar have expanded here at a time when the national economy is still reeling from the recession.  Texas is also rapidly urbanizing along the I-35 corridor that runs down the middle of the state, and has become both the nation’s leading energy exporter and a major high-tech hub. After redistricting next year, Texas could gain as many as four or five new seats in Congress. The Lone Star State’s voice will grow in Washington, and for the already threatened Democrats here and in D.C., Texas has become a prize that’s too big to continue ignore.

It’s against this backdrop that the Democratic capo Matt Angle operates. Angle has built one of the most sophisticated financial and activist operations networks anywhere in the country. Angle's Tangle was built to pursue a singular goal: turn Texas blue whether the voters here like it or not.

Matt Angle declared his goal in 2005 when he launched his Lone Star Project: Elect a Democratic speaker of the Texas House, and elect a Democrat to statewide office. Notice there’s nothing in there about bringing better government to the state, or representing the people’s wishes, or creating a climate that fosters economic growth. To Angle it’s all about partisanship and power and the looming redistricting, and he has pursued his goals with a ruthlessness that is rarely seen even in Texas politics.  Well, not at least since 2000, when the Democrats who were then a dying majority redistricted themselves into majorities that the state’s voters were no longer giving them. Rather than run on issues -- Democrats in Texas lose on those -- Angle is on a seek and destroy mission targeting Republicans in the state House on up to the governor's mansion.