I have always been a proud Texan. When I go abroad and people ask me what country I’m from, I say “Texas.” Sam Houston was the first President. I’m more likely to buy a product that advertises a connection to Texas. As a kid in the Texas school system, I remember saying the Texas state pledge loudly and with pride (This was before Texas changed its pledge out of spite). I am now, and always will be, a very proud Texan.
In the modern world, it is becoming tougher and tougher to explain how one can continue to be a proud Texan. From protecting police from having their behavior recorded to our astronomically high number of executions to an open hostility toward basic principles of democracy, it seems as though Texas can’t go one week without making unjustifiable moves at the expense of its citizens. In the eyes of the rest of the nation, we aren’t so special; we’re just the state that gives guns more rights than gays.
That Texas’s government is this divorced from rationality confuses me. That people who promote anti-scientific, discriminatory public policies continue to get elected confuses me. I look around at the people I am surrounded by in Texas and I do not see a lot of terrible people, nor do I see a lot of crazy people. I see a few far right folks, but they’re vastly outnumbered by disillusioned centrists. When it looked like Wendy Davis was picking up steam last year, I foolishly allowed myself to hope that maybe we would get a decent governor. After 13 years of Rick Perry and all of the terrible things he wrought for our state, I felt we deserved one.
I was a fool to believe this was a possibility. In spite of getting national media attention and raising 12 million dollars, Wendy Davis lost to Republican opponent Greg Abbott by over 20 percent. As if that weren’t enough, Abbott’s campaign was littered with sexism: From sexist attacks on her personal life to names like “abortion barbie,” it seemed as though Davis’ Republican opponents were determined to confirm every negative stereotype of our great state. All on their way to a victory, no less.
It’s only gotten worse. Since being elected governor, Abbott has been nothing short of awful. He has outlawed local laws against fracking. He has tried to dramatically cut (and render more regressive) the local property taxes that fund our schools, which are already some of the least-funded in the country. In fact, our schools are so underfunded that the state’s budget has been ruled unconstitutional, and the money that is allocated for them has been spent on demonstrably false textbooks that promote Reaganesque revisions of basic scientific and historical facts.
Perhaps most embarrassingly of all, when right wing conspiracy theorists assumed that a routine training exercise was actually the United States trying to take over Texas (which it already owns), Abbott asked the State Guard to monitor the exercise, pandering to the insane fringe of his party. In the words of former Representative Todd Smith:
I am horrified that I have to choose between the possibility that my Governor actually believes this stuff and the possibility that my Governor doesn’t have the backbone to stand up to those who do.
All of this mess forced the Pentagon, which already has offices in Texas, to respond , confirming that a routine military training session was not an attempt by the U.S. to take over land it already owns.
How did this happen? Where were all the reasonable centrists I am surrounded by in Texas?
I asked around, and it didn’t take long to realize that almost no one I know actually voted. Many of those reasonable centrists say that they never vote, followed by phrases like “My vote doesn’t matter” or “I live in Texas, we always go red no matter what I do.” A quick search on year-over-year voter turnout confirms: Texans don’t vote. And not just because the state is doing everything it can to make it harder to vote; many of them simply don’t care to.
Texas sports one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the nation on a regular basis. In 2012, we ranked 48th in voter turnout. We were 47th in 2008, and 49th in 2006. In 2014, the year Davis lost and Abbott became our governor, we were 43rd, with 28.3% turnout.
The problem is clear: Texans don’t believe their vote matters — a self fulfilling prophecy, in which the refusal of sane Texans to rise up allows the crazies to continue guiding the state and its policies.
So, my fellow Texans, brother to brother/sister, I beg of you: vote. We don’t have to be the state that gets laughed at for trying to make it illegal to take UN advice on city planning. We don’t have to be a state in which one has to pander to the worst fringes of the Tea Party in order to get elected. We are a great people and a great state. Our kids deserve a better education. We deserve better leaders.
If everyone voted, Texas would be a Democratic-leaning swing state. The reason your vote doesn’t make a difference is because you aren’t using it.