What if Texans cared about (local) politics?

Noah M. Horwitz

In a dystopian political reality such as ours, it is tempting to withdraw and humor hypotheticals. Most people who voted last year for Hillary Clinton have likely fantasized about what a world would have been like in which she won. Frank Bruni, a columnist for The New York Times, recently penned his description of an alternate universe in which “liberals voted.” But the fantasy could play out closer to home. The hypothetical should be humored of what would happen if Texans paid attention to state and local politics the way they did to national politics.

First, the media landscape would be completely different. The Texas Tribune would be a television station, not just a website. The Dallas Morning News and Houston Chronicle would have bombshell, boldfaced headlines this month about the special session of the Legislature; not palace intrigue from the White House. Scott Braddock and Christopher Hooks would be household names with renowned TV shows who could command the attention of enough Texans to push forward and change agendas.

When state Senators came home, they would be accosted at town halls as surely as any congressman. Angry moms would lament them kicking the can down the road on school finance. Kids would ask why they had been sold out.

City-dwellers, be them Houstonians, Amarilloans or Planoites, would be rightly enraged at state leaders so usurping their local authority and control. They would vote in droves against unfunded mandates and big government.

House Speaker Joe Straus would not be an unknown figure to the average Texan; he’d be as ubiquitously-known as Paul Ryan. And the great showdown between him and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick would be as familiar to every Texan as power-struggles between Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner.

And when Texans came to vote — in both primaries and general elections — there would be actual deliberation over state issues. I’m not naïve enough to think it would be calm and rational, but it would at least be germane to state issues. Folks wouldn’t be showing up screaming InfoWars conspiracies about Barack Obama, as they were in 2010, and pulling the levers for Republican state legislators. Doing so would be seen as inane as making national political decisions because of discontent with a local mayor.

As new Texas Monthly editor Tim Taliaferro noted a few months back before beginning to turn the seminal magazine away from its legacy of politics and in a “new lifestyle direction,” “Texans don’t care about politics.” That’s not quite true; Texans don’t appear to care, no matter their partisanship, about local politics. Sensationalist, national bull is still very much in vogue.

I can dream, though.   

Horwitz is a second-year law student from Houston. He is a senior columnist.