The last five decades of the twentieth century witnessed the transformation of Texas from a rural and agricultural state to an urban, industrial one. The changes caused new problems and exacerbated old ones for a population grounded in agrarian values. Two-party politics emerged as the state's electorate turned from a near absolute allegiance to its Southern Democratic heritage to one that frequently elected Republican officeholders. The changing demography of the state intensified political rivalries. Mirroring national trends, Mexican Americans joined African Americans in demanding a more positive political response to the needs of minorities. The federal government abetted their cause through court decisions and legislation that struck down de jure segregation. Growing feminism, increasing opportunities in the marketplace, and the developing urban environment led many women to modernize, and in some cases renounce, the gendered political, social, and economic roles to which they had been traditionally prescribed. Interstate migrations also shaped a different Texas. The state's location in the emerging Sun Belt and its economic boom during the 1970s brought newcomers from outside the rural and Southern traditions. These joined with intrastate migrants in large population centers and forced the legislature to address the needs of an urban society.
Population statistics testified to the emergence of an industrial state. The census of 1950 recorded 7,711,194 Texans, a 20.2 percent increase over 1940. The population grew further over the next several decades, to 9,579,677 in 1960, 11,198,655 in 1970, 14,229,191 in 1980, 16,986,510 in 1990, and 20,851,820 in 2000. Texas was the second most populous state in population in 2000, below only California. The economic boom in the late seventies and early eighties brought some of the spectacular growth; 500,000 immigrants moved to Texas between 1970 and 1975, 1,000,000 more came over the next five years, and nearly 1,000,000 more came in the early eighties. Expansion slowed due to a temporary economic downturn in the late 1980s but quickly rebounded and continued through the end of the twentieth century, driven by its traditional strengths in oil, cattle, and agriculture, as well as by emerging strengths in healthcare, higher education, technology, and communications.
The dominant migration pattern in postwar Texas was movement from the countryside to the city. Statisticians reported in 1945 that some 500,000 Texans left 200 rural counties to join the wartime industrial workforce in the fifty-four urban counties. The 1950 census failed to show an expected return of the workers to the farms but reported that, for the first time in the state's history, more Texans lived in the city than in the country. In 2000 more than 82 percent of the state's population resided in urban areas, a figure that exceeded the national average. Houston grew from 384,514 inhabitants in 1940 to 1,953,631 in 2000, Dallas from 294,734 to 1,188,580, San Antonio from 253,854 to 1,144,646, and Austin from 87,930 to 656,562.
The declining agricultural population marked a change in the nature of farming both in Texas and in the nation. Most Texans would have identified farm bankruptcies, tenancy, and depressed crop prices as the major economic weaknesses besetting the state before World War II. New Dealers argued that farm policies that raised agricultural prices through planned scarcity would be the best method both to produce a disposable income for the population and to combat the Great Depression. Congress enacted legislation designed to establish parity prices by reducing overproduction and bringing supply more in line with demand. This general policy, although with much political contentiousness, has remained the cornerstone of federal farm policy. One of its results was to drive marginal farmers and tenants off the land and into the city. State agencies and agricultural colleges endorsed the government's position and encouraged efficiency and mechanization as solutions for farm woes. Agricultural statistics reflected the move from country to city and from small farms to vertical and horizontal agribusinesses. The farm population declined from 1,500,000 in 1945 to 215,000 in 1980, the number of farms from 384,977 to 186,000, and farmworkers from 350,000 (including part-time workers in the cotton fields) to 85,000. During this period the average farm size almost doubled to more than 700 acres, and the value of buildings and land per farm increased from $9,286 to $275,047. Even if inflation skewed the latter figures, they still revealed that the modern Texas farmer no longer tilled the small family farm that characterized the very recent history of the state. By 2000 fewer than 3 percent of Texans worked in agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting, or mining.
Although agriculture no longer dominated the Texas economy, farming remained an essential ingredient for prosperity. Some 20 to 25 percent of the population supplied, processed, or marketed agricultural products in the eighties, and their activities in 1990 put $40 billion into the Texas economy. These traditional sources of income had held this position for most of the postwar years, with cotton holding the second spot and edging into first place only during the drought years 1954 and 1955. In the era of family farms, corn usually trailed cotton in acreage planted, but in the 1980s grain sorghum and wheat vied for that distinction. Overall the state placed either second or third among states in the value of agricultural products during most of the period. Like most other agricultural states, Texas faced a farm crisis in the late 1980s. Increasing global agricultural competition and the high interest rates of the early eighties squeezed the American farmers. The resulting agricultural depression stimulated both state and national governments to reevaluate their farm policies. Nevertheless, agriculture continued to be a major social, economic, and political force in Texas into the twenty-first century.
World War II launched industrialization in Texas. The state's climate, its powerful leaders in the Democratic party, and its abundance of petroleum encouraged the location of military posts, the growth of the construction business, the rise of defense industries, and the expansion of petrochemical facilities within its boundaries. Per capita income in the state more than doubled during the war, to $1,234, or 85.2 percent of the national average, and the value added by manufacturing more than tripled, to $1,727,476,000. Six northern states accounted for more than 50 percent of the nation's manufacturing value, and Texas was a distant twelfth. In 1950 Texans, 5.1 percent of the nation's population, produced 2.3 percent of its goods. Industrial growth modified that. By 1990 Texas had 7 percent of the population of the United States, accounted for 7.4 percent of the gross national product, and employed one of every eleven of the country's workers. A 1987 profile of the industry of the state mirrored that of the nation. Trades and services provided almost 50 percent of the workforce. Government employed more people than manufacturing; together the two hired nearly a third of the state's workers. Finance, insurance and real estate, transportation and public utilities, construction, and mining filled out the business base of Texas. Although the rate of inflation in the postwar economy confounded any simple method of calculating the state's real economic growth, the value added by manufacturing in 1984 dollars stood at $55,556,000,000 in 1984, when Texas was fourth among the states. The per capita income of Texans matched the national average in 1981 for the first time, but the downturn in the state's economy reversed the upward trend temporarily.
The comptroller of public accounts described the Texas economy of the late 1980s as being in a period of transition. The oil and gas industry, which had been probably the most important key to Texas economic growth, could no longer be counted upon to dominate future prosperity. Oil production rose from 754,710,000 barrels in 1945 to 1,301,685,000 in 1972. Even though wells pumped at near capacity after that, production figures declined for several years. Entrepreneurs knew that they dealt with a dwindling, nonrenewable resource. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed to limit the supply of oil in 1973, and the price per barrel skyrocketed, overriding the impact of falling production. Nine years later OPEC collapsed, the price of oil fell, and unemployment crept up. Oil and gas production accounted for 28 percent of the state's revenue in 1981 and 15 percent at the close of 1986. Energy-related industries—rigs, drilling, mud, refining—employed 500,900 persons, or one out of every twelve nonfarm workers in 1982. After that, those industries lost 282,000 jobs. Economists estimated that for every job in the oil industry another 3.7 disappeared in other economic sectors. The 1986 slump in construction, rise in office vacancies, decline in housing starts, and general economic gloom verified their judgments during the late eighties. Despite estimates that the state still had 1.263 billion barrels of proven and 7.9 billion barrels of unproven oil reserves, or 25 percent of the nation's total, state leaders such as the comptroller warned that never again would petroleum products lead automatically to economic growth. No one discounted the value of oil or denied that the state might still attract new industries and settlers. But by stressing economic diversity, the leaders of Texas seemed to turn away from the historic practice of encouraging prosperity through raw-material production. They now looked to building upon the industries that oil and defense spending helped produce. It appeared that the "Gone to Texas" (GTT) booms based on cotton in the 1870s and oil in the 1970s had been likely replaced with the slow, gradual growth of the service and trade sectors that characterized other urban, industrial states. Such forecasts proved premature, however, as the state’s oil industry continued to experience booms and busts into the twenty-first century, reaching staggering production levels approaching 5 billion barrels of Texas crude production per day by 2019.
Racial tensions continued to plague Texas throughout the postwar years and into the twenty-first century, though various civil rights movements, coupled with the development of modern industries, slowly mitigated some of the more visible effects of lingering inequality. African Americans comprised 11.6 percent of the state's population in 1990, down somewhat from the percentage recorded in 1945. Duplicating national migration trends, the majority of Blacks left farms and settled in urban areas. They soon constituted more than 20 percent of the population of such cities as Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Beaumont, and Waco. The urban environment allowed more freedom for civil-rights groups to demand that the Jim Crow system end. In 1951 and 1953 the federal courts extended the Smith v. Allwright decision to include local primaries, and Black people who paid the poll tax could vote in all Texas elections (see ELECTION LAWS). The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the United States Supreme Court decision in 1966 that struck down the poll tax eliminated barriers to suffrage. Black voter registration in Texas rose from 35.5 percent of the voting-age population in 1960 to 59.1 in 1984. The Supreme Court's "one man, one vote" ruling, which forced state legislatures to redistrict, aided voters in 1966 in electing Barbara Jordan of Harris County to the state Senate and Curtis Graves of Houston and Joseph Lockridge of Dallas to the House. They were the first Blacks since 1898 to serve in the Texas legislature. In 1985, 260 Blacks held elective office in Texas, including a United States congressman (Mickey Leland), a state senator, and thirteen members of the state House. The struggle for Black social equality went hand-in-hand with the demand for suffrage. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People undertook a campaign in 1945 to challenge separate school systems in the federal courts. Heman M. Sweatt of Houston agreed to sue the University of Texas School of Law for admission on the grounds that the state offered no professional school training for its Black citizens (see SWEATT V. PAINTER). The state's leadership attempted to thwart Black requests for equal opportunities by broadening the educational programs at Prairie View A&M, by starting an all-Black law school in Austin, and by incorporating Texas State University for Negroes (now Texas Southern University) into the state school system. Sweatt's case went to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled in 1950 that the Black law school could not compare to the University of Texas and ordered the admission of Sweatt. The integration of the other public colleges soon followed.
In Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) the Supreme Court ruled that segregated public schools were intrinsically unequal and consequently unconstitutional. Governor R. Allan Shivers announced his opposition to the decision, but his rhetoric did not embody much of the bitter racism that characterized many of the other Southern states. He used the Texas Rangers at Mansfield in 1956 to prevent Black students from entering the school (see MANSFIELD SCHOOL DESEGREGATION INCIDENT) and supported the segregation laws that the legislature passed the next year. But his successor, M. Price Daniel, Sr., did not enforce these laws, and the massive resistance and violence that marred Southern history and later erupted in such places as Massachusetts did not sweep Texas. The move to integrate the public school system was, however, a slow and painful process. Many communities evaded integration through redefining school-district boundaries and appealing court desegregation orders. By 1964 only 18,000 of the state's 325,000 Black students attended predominantly White schools. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 allowed the withdrawal of federal funds from segregated school districts, however, and the rate of integration increased. Further Supreme Court decisions in 1969 and 1971 instructed school districts to stop evading real compliance with the Brown decision and approved busing as a means of desegregation. Black Texans also fought to bring down other Jim Crow barriers that existed after World War II. Aided by federal court decisions, African Americans gained the use of such publicly-owned facilities as golf courses, restrooms, and beaches in most Texas cities by the mid-fifties. In 1954 and 1956 the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Supreme Court ruled against segregation on buses. Cafeterias in bus stations, airports, and federal and municipal agencies were desegregated by the end of the decade. The concept of nonviolent sit-ins that began in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960 soon spread across the South. Students at Wiley and Bishop colleges in Texas staged demonstrations that year. Protests, boycotts, and picketing at restaurants and theaters by Blacks and their white allies in Austin, Houston, San Antonio, and other cities caused voluntary desegregation by 1963 of most private businesses. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, supported by President Lyndon B. Johnson and Senator Ralph Yarborough, and five state acts that dismantled Jim Crow legislation in 1969 ended legal segregation in Texas. Though the peaceful demonstrations of the early civil rights movement turned to Black Power protests that hardened the attitudes of some Whites against Black equality, the riots and violence that occurred elsewhere infrequently happened in Texas. In 1967 at Texas Southern University and in 1970 at the People's Party II headquarters in Houston, Blacks clashed with the police over the issue of harassment in the ghettos. These unfortunate incidents reinforced African American perceptions that the local establishment, particularly the police, were not willing to accept equal rights. Much of the energy that went into ending legal barriers in the fifties and sixties turned to demands for more minority officials and a larger share of the nation's economic riches. Though the number of minority members of police forces, including a Black chief of police in Houston, had grown by the late 1980s, Blacks had not achieved equal income. The median income of Black families was $14,818 in 1985, or three-fifths that of whites.
Hispanics replaced Blacks as the largest minority group in the state and in 1990 constituted 25.6 percent of the population, growing to 32 percent by 2000. The overwhelmingly Hispanic agricultural counties of South Texas remained one of the poorest regions of the nation, while industrialization urged Mexican Americans from their traditional location along the border into the major metropolitan areas. Houston led the state in 1990 in the number of Hispanics concentrated in standard metropolitan statistical areas with 707,536, followed closely by San Antonio with 620,290. Dallas, Fort Worth, and Arlington recorded a total of 518,917; El Paso 411,619; McAllen-Edinburg-Mission 326,972; and Brownsville-Harlingen 212,995. The breadth of settlement was verified by sizable Mexican American minorities in cities such as Austin, Lubbock, and Odessa and smaller pockets throughout the sheep and cattle sections of West Texas. Mexican Americans were urbanized, bicultural, acculturated, and heterogeneous. The political climate after 1945 offered more opportunities to them than ever before. Shortly after the war Hector García of Corpus Christi organized the American G.I. Forum of Texas to fight for benefits for Hispanic veterans that the Veterans Administration seemed intent on denying. The organization won national notoriety in 1948 when a local mortician at Three Rivers refused to use his chapel for services for Felix Longoria, who was killed in the battle of the Philippines (see FELIX LONGORIA AFFAIR). Although more radical than the older League of United Latin American Citizens, the G.I. Forum joined with the league in voter drives. When Henry B. Gonzales, a state senator from San Antonio and later a United States congressman, ran for governor in 1958, his losing campaign mobilized Mexican American voters. Many of his staff joined other organizations in promoting the 1960 Viva Kennedy campaign (see VIVA KENNEDY-VIVA JOHNSON CLUBS), which crystallized into the Political Association of Spanish-Speaking Organizations (PASSO). Working with the Teamsters Union in 1963, PASSO elected an all-Hispanic slate to the city council of Crystal City. The victory was short-lived, but it indicated that Anglos could no longer control large Mexican American populations.
The Tejano community had social problems similar to those of Blacks. Hispanic lawyers succeeded in Delgado v. Bastrop ISD (1948) in convincing a federal court to declare segregation of Mexican Americans unconstitutional. Six years later Gustavo C. Garcia won a United States Supreme Court case, Hernández v. the State of Texas, that outlawed exclusion of Mexican Americans from juries. Henry Gonzales joined Abraham Kazen of Laredo and Anglo liberals in the state legislature in fighting against proposed state segregation legislation in the fifties. Federal actions that ended the poll tax, passed the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, and forced legislative reapportionment aided Mexican Americans as well as African Americans. Nevertheless, for many young Hispanics the struggle seemed too slow. They took the name Chicano and joined movements of direct confrontation and marches. The farmworkers' strike in June 1966, which led to a march from the Rio Grande valley to the Capitol, was a catalyst for the movement (see STARR COUNTY STRIKE). Governor John B. Connally refused to meet the marchers in Austin but met them instead at New Braunfels and announced his opposition to both a special session of the legislature to address farmworkers' grievances and a Labor Day rally for worker solidarity. The 490-mile march and the governor's rebuff encouraged the brown power militancy that lasted until the mid-seventies. The militancy took several forms. The older, more middle-class organizations, while more outspoken, still worked within the system. They founded the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund in 1968 to desegregate the schools. Chicano groups such as the Mexican American Youth Organization and the Raza Unida Party stressed separatism and opposition to Anglo racism. José Ángel Gutiérrez, the party founder, and two other party members won seats on the Crystal City school board in 1970. Two years later the Raza Unida candidate, Ramsey Muñiz, garnered 6 percent of the popular vote in the gubernatorial election, thus almost enabling Republican Hank Grover to upset Democrat Dolph Briscoe. The successes of the early seventies encouraged local Hispanics to announce for public office and break Anglo political control of the Valley. Most of the separatism that characterized the civil rights movement had faded by the mid-seventies. Pressures from state and federal agencies and infighting within the movements dissipated much of their reform energies. Nevertheless the movements galvanized many of the young into political action and helped train them in politics. Later successes of the Mexican American Democrats, organized in 1975, and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus were built upon the lessons taught in the political wars of the previous decade. In 1987 Hispanic voter registration was 47.2 percent of the voting-age population, or slightly more than 15 percent of the state's registered voters. That year 1,572 of the nation's 3,314 Hispanic officeholders were in Texas. Their number included twenty-five state legislators, four congressmen, and Mayor Henry Cisneros of San Antonio, later a member of President William J. Clinton's cabinet. For a time, Hispanic politicians moved from ethnic issues to differences in income; they spoke for a constituency whose family median income of $17,435 was about three-quarters of Anglo family income. Mexican Americans and Latino voters continued to influence state and local politics with increasing efficacy through the 1990s and into the twenty-first century.
The postwar years also brought significant changes in male-female relationships in Texas. Industrialization and urbanization continued the trend begun in World War II of expanding work opportunities for women outside the home; 4,165,686, or 52.3 percent, of Texas women were employed by 2000, as compared to 720,531, or 26.8 percent, in 1950. Duplicating national trends, Texas families included more two-income households, as the majority of married women were employed, and more working mothers. The 1980 census reported that almost 50 percent of women with children under six and more than 60 percent of those with children six to seventeen were in the labor force. Of these women 467,362 were single parents. Texas women continued to dominate such occupations as teaching, nursing, dietetics, and library work. Although household occupations remained overwhelmingly women's work, they employed fewer than 2 percent of working females. Women had moved increasingly into sales and clerical occupations; about one-third of all working women were employed in the latter category. The feminist movement and affirmative-action legislation had expanded opportunities for women in professional and managerial positions. But men still by far outnumbered women in higher paying jobs. By 1990 women continued to earn less than 70 percent of men's median income. Yet successes of women in the work place, increased demands for equal opportunities, and the movement of the economy from heavy industry to high-tech and service fields all pointed to a nominal decrease in sex discrimination. During the 1950s President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Houstonian Oveta Culp Hobby the first secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Women won the right to serve on juries in 1954. Feminists joined other allies in the sixties, and the National Organization for Women established chapters in the state. In 1971 women's-rights advocates formed the Texas Women's Political Caucus to promote political activism and party participation. The efforts of the TWPC and women's business and professional clubs aided the successful campaigns in 1972 for the Texas Equal Rights Amendment to the state constitution and the 1973 legislature's approval of the Equal Rights Amendment to the federal constitution. Frances Farenthold's unsuccessful but spirited campaign for the 1972 Democratic gubernatorial nomination heightened awareness of political opportunities for women. Women won a record 698 public offices in Texas in 1982. State Treasurer Ann Richards, the first woman elected to statewide office in more than fifty years, was elected governor in 1990. In 1987, three women served in the state Senate and thirteen in the House. In 1991 woman mayors headed three of the largest Texas cities: Kathy Whitmire, Houston, Annette Straus, Dallas, and Kay Granger, Fort Worth. Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison, who succeeded Ann Richards as state treasurer, became the first woman from Texas elected to the U. S. Senate in 1994.
The political wars that followed World War II took place in the changing social and economic environment that turned Texas into an urban state. Governor Coke Stevenson enjoyed immense popularity during the war, but opposition to the New Deal signaled deep divisions within the Democratic party. The schism between liberal and conservative Democrats was apparent in the 1946 gubernatorial campaign. Homer Price Rainey, whom the UT regents, dominated by Texas Regulars, had fired from the presidency of the University of Texas, announced for governor. Attorney General Grover Sellers counted on the support of conservatives. As the campaign progressed, Beauford Jester, a member of the Railroad Commission and an oilman from Corsicana, emerged as the front runner. He put together a moderate and conservative alliance that defeated Rainey in the runoff. The affable governor went on record as opposing any new taxes. He also promised to restrict the growing power of labor unions, which had begun organizing campaigns on the Gulf Coast in the war years, to fight Communism, and to uphold states' rights. In 1947 the rural dominated legislature passed a spate of laws that clearly defined Texas as an antiunion state. In 1948 the governor worked for party harmony by endorsing Harry S. Truman, who carried the state easily in the presidential election despite a Dixiecrat bolt that former Texas Regulars supported. Jester won reelection that year without campaigning. Much state political attention was focused upon the United States Senate seat that Wilbert Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel abdicated. Congressman Lyndon Johnson, who had lost a narrow election to O'Daniel in 1942, and Coke Stevenson waged one of the most acrimonious and controversial campaigns in Texas history. Johnson won the seat after a federal court ordered his name placed on the Democratic ballot. The new senator joined with Congressman Sam Rayburn to form one of the most effective legislative teams of the postwar era.
When the Fifty-first Texas Legislature convened in January 1949, Jester and Lieutenant Governor Shivers surprised the lawmakers with an agenda that for the first time addressed the problems of urban Texas. The legislation included improvements in eleemosynary institutions, a law against lynching, reform of the prison system, and minimum requirements for persons engaged in health services. Three acts sponsored by representatives Claude Gilmer and A. M. Aikin, Jr., were possibly the most important accomplishments of the session. The Gilmer-Aikin Laws reorganized the funding and administration of the Texas public schools and formed the basis for the current school system. Nevertheless the legislature refused to pass new taxes. When Jester died of a heart attack in 1949, the forty-one-year-old Shivers succeeded him. The new governor presided over a special session of the legislature that had failed to appropriate funds for needed state services. He called for new taxes in a famous "goat speech" that characterized Texas as "first in oil and forty-eighth in mental hospitals" and "first in goats and last in care for state wards." The result was an increase in already existing taxes and new appropriations for colleges and hospitals. Shivers easily won reelection in 1950 and again asked for reform. The legislature passed the first bill that expanded taxes in sixteen years. The new taxes concentrated on consumer levies, but they included a gathering tax on natural gas pipelines that was later declared unconstitutional. Laws enacted included the first redistricting bill in thirty years and more money for roads, schools, prisons, and the mentally handicapped. Yet by 1950 Shivers was drifting away from the national Democratic party. Truman's administration had come under increasing conservative fire. Conservatives accused the president of being soft on Communism and too committed to fighting a "no win" war in Korea. These criticisms dovetailed in Texas with the more volatile issue of control of the tidelands, adjacent underseas lands that were thought to be rich in oil deposits. The Tidelands Controversy dominated the 1952 presidential election in Texas. The Democratic party split when the governor, who controlled the party organization, refused to support Adlai Stevenson. Instead, Shivers endorsed both Dwight Eisenhower and a 1951 law that permitted candidates to cross-file on both parties' tickets. The alliance of "Shivercrats" and Republicans carried the state for Eisenhower, and the conservatives continued their control over the Democratic party, as Shivers defeated Ralph Yarborough and Attorney General Price Daniel, Sr., beat a Truman supporter, Congressman Lindley G. Beckworth, for the spot vacated by Thomas T. Connally in the United States Senate.
Eisenhower signed a quitclaim bill in spring 1953 that gave the states control over the tidelands, which included recognition of historic state claims in Texas and Florida of a three-league boundary. Republicans hoped that Ike's successes would lead to an exodus of conservatives from the Democratic party into theirs, but such was not to be. Eisenhower's election was more of a personal than a party triumph. Moreover, his administration faced other problems that affected Texas Republicans. The party lost control of Congress in 1954, and the president's legislative program depended upon the good will of Johnson, the majority leader in the Senate, and Rayburn, the speaker of the House. If Eisenhower had tried to build the Republican party in the state through appointments and patronage, he would have alienated those two powerful Democrats. Generally speaking, Eisenhower’s policies were more moderate than those of some Texas Republicans at the time, many of whom objected to such measures as the Civil Rights Act of 1957 (guided through the Senate by Johnson), the sending of federal troops to Little Rock, and the president's failure to support Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. When Eisenhower defeated Stevenson in 1956, he carried Texas by a larger margin than in 1952. Shivers endorsed the president, and cross-filing, to the chagrin of local Republicans, protected conservative Democratic candidates. The lone Republican victory in 1956 was that of Congressman Bruce Alger of Dallas, a conservative who first won office in 1954 in a campaign in which liberals refused to vote for Wallace Savage, the state party chairman of the 1952 Democrats for Eisenhower organization.
A sharpening division between liberals and conservatives characterized Democratic politics in the mid-1950s. Governor Shivers announced for an unprecedented third term in 1954, when he seemed to be at the height of his political popularity. The legislature responded that year to his demands for increased taxes to support education and expanded state services. He pushed through legislation that made membership in the Communist party punishable by jail sentences of twenty years and a $20,000 fine, thus augmenting earlier acts that outlawed the party and required loyalty oaths of state employees and public college students. Shivers's actions were in part an attempt to defuse Yarborough's campaign to replace him as governor. In the bitter 1954 contest Yarborough sought to link the governor's administration to the lax state laws that allowed insolvent insurance companies to operate in Texas and accused Shivers of shady real estate transactions. The governor in turn charged that his challenger was controlled by Communist-dominated unions and that Yarborough endorsed the Brown integration decision. The vituperative campaign ended with a runoff victory for the governor. But his power diminished in his last term in office. Insurance scandals rocked the state for the next two years. The failure of the United Services Trust and Guaranty Company brought new regulatory laws and exposed an unseemly connection between some legislators and corporations. Reporters exposed irregularities in the operation of the Veterans' Land Board that ended with the sentencing of the commissioner of the General Land Office, James Bascom Giles, to six years in the penitentiary. Since the governor and attorney general were members of the board, they were linked in the public's mind to the scandal. Shivers chose not to run in 1956.
That year the moderate conservative Price Daniel became governor by narrowly defeating Yarborough, who won the special election for the vacated Senate seat. Much of Yarborough's support was generated by the newly-organized Democrats of Texas, liberal political clubs that operated outside state party machinery, by organized labor, and by the Texas Observer. Frankie Randolph of Houston financed this liberal paper and participated in the organization of the DOT. Yarborough defeated William Blakley in the 1958 Democratic primary and Republican Ray Wittenburg in the general election. His triumph gave hope to the liberal forces, an inchoate group in the late fifties that loosely advocated corporate taxes, civil rights, expanded state services, and loyalty to the national Democratic party. Despite liberal expectations, however, the moderate-conservative wing of the Democratic party largely controlled politics throughout the late-1950s and 1960s. Daniel defeated the liberal Henry B. Gonzales in the 1958 primary and the conservative Jack Cox two years later, though his three terms in office were more popular with the voters than with the legislature. The governor's major accomplishments included a water-development program, regulation of lobbyists, a code of conduct for state officials, a statewide safety program, and the reorganization of the state insurance board. The issue of taxing took up much of his administration's energies. Although Daniel strongly opposed a general sales tax, the refusal of the legislature to consider alternate taxing sources brought in a 2 percent sales tax in 1961.
Lyndon Johnson dominated much of the state and national political landscape throughout the 1960s. In 1959 he persuaded the state legislature to move the Democratic primary to May so that he could be a candidate both for the Senate and for the presidency. In the general election of 1960s, Johnson fought back a surprising Republican challenge from John Tower, a little-known member of the faculty of Midwestern University. Johnson continued to campaign for the presidential nomination, but he lost to John F. Kennedy at the Democratic convention in Los Angeles and then astounded supporters and detractors by accepting the second slot on the ticket. Johnson's vice-presidential nomination confused Democratic politics in the state, as conservatives disliked the national party platform and liberals harbored suspicions because Johnson typically supported the moderate-conservative wing of the state party. In November 1960 Texans voted for Kennedy and Johnson over Republicans Richard M. Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge III by a mere 26,000 votes. Less than a year later, Tower defeated the conservative Democrat Blakley in the 1961 special election to fill Johnson's vacated Senate seat. The refusal of liberals to support a conservative nominee of the Democratic party may well have precipitated the election of the first Republican senator from Texas since Reconstruction. Nevertheless, Tower's election raised the Republicans' expectations, momentarily unified the GOP, and launched what would eventually become a dominant Texas Republican Party. Meanwhile, Texas Democrats were racked with dissension between the Johnson and Yarborough contingents. In the Democratic primary of 1962, John B. Connally, considered a Johnson protégé, ran ahead of Don Yarborough and Price Daniel, who tried for a fourth term. Connally won the runoff, but Yarborough claimed 49 percent of the vote. In November Connally defeated Jack Cox, a former Democrat turned Republican in 1961. The Republicans, however, added a congressmen and won eight state legislative races, while Cox garnered almost 46 percent of the vote in the governor's race. The Texas GOP looked forward to a 1964 presidential contest that they anticipated would pit the conservative Republican senator from Arizona, Barry Goldwater, against John Kennedy.
In Dallas, however, on November 22, 1963, an assassin killed Kennedy and seriously wounded Connally (see KENNEDY ASSASSINATION). Johnson succeeded to the presidency, and Connally subsequently secured control of the state's Democratic party machinery. Waged under the lingering cloud of national mourning, Republicans fared poorly in 1964. Johnson skillfully portrayed Goldwater as a right-wing extremist, and by inference a like label was applied to all Texas Republicans. The Democrats swept the state. Goldwater received fewer than a million votes of the 2,588,000 cast. Ralph Yarborough defeated George H. W. Bush for the Senate, and Connally trounced Don Yarborough in the primary and Republican Jack Crichton in the general election. Even Bruce Alger failed to win re-election, losing to Dallas mayor Earle Cabell. The lone survivor of the Republican victories of 1962 was a state representative from Midland. Connally, who easily won reelection in 1966, dominated Texas politics during his three terms in office. Although closely identified in many voters' perceptions with Johnson, he carefully distanced himself from the Great Society. His moderate conservatism, much like the business progressivism of the 1920s, stressed economic growth through long-range government planning, improved higher education, increased tourism, and attraction of out-of-state industries. Thus he pressured the legislature to increase faculty salaries and university building programs, to strengthen the Texas Commission on Higher Education, to institute a fine arts commission, and to fund tourist and industrial commissions. New intergovernmental agencies to coordinate and plan the activities of the various subdivisions of state and local governments were organized. Liberals maintained that Connally tried to expand the economy at the expense of the needs of the poor and minorities, and the legislature turned down some of his requests, such as legalizing horse racing and liquor by the drink, four-year terms for governors and annual legislative sessions, and a revision of the constitution. Yet few would deny his attraction to Texas voters. Connally could probably have been elected senator if he had wished it. The attraction of the strong and dynamic governor to mainstream and conservative voters slowed both the growth of liberalism and a two-party Texas. Ironically, Connally himself would eventually hasten the growth of the Texas Republican party. Having served as secretary of the treasury under President Richard Nixon from 1971 to 1972, Connally chaired the highly influential national Democrats for Nixon campaign during the presidential election of 1972 and subsequently announced his defection to the Republican party in 1973. President Gerald Ford and Governor Ronald Reagan waged a bitter fight for the Republican nomination in 1976 and viewed Connally’s endorsement as one of the most important battlegrounds of that fight. Connally himself contended for the Republican presidential nomination in 1980.
Both President Johnson and Governor Connally announced that they would not seek reelection in 1968, and the Democrats nominated Vice President Hubert Humphrey to oppose Republican Richard Nixon for the presidency. The former governor of Alabama, George Wallace, also waged an important third-party campaign for the presidency that year and even carried five Deep South states, those being Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Humphrey carried Texas by fewer than 40,000 votes and an overall percentage of just under 42, while Wallace carried 19 percent of Texas votes, almost exclusively among East Texas counties. Nixon, however, won the national election. Although cheered by Nixon's victory, Republicans failed to gain as much as expected. Tower won reelection in 1966, when liberals refused to support his Democratic opponent, Waggoner Carr. Tower and three congressmen, including George H.W. Bush of Houston, constituted the party's national congressional delegation. The party elected eight members to the Texas House and two state senators. Results were more disappointing for liberals. The elimination of the poll tax and one-man, one-vote court rulings did not produce the anticipated new liberal constituency. Lieutenant Governor Preston Smith defeated Don Yarborough in the Democratic gubernatorial primary and Republican Paul Eggers in the general election. Smith claimed an easy reelection victory in 1970, a year that brought further disappointments to liberals and Republicans, when Lloyd Bentsen, Jr., supported by conservative Democrats and business interests, unseated Ralph Yarborough in the primary and turned back the challenge of George Bush in the general election.
Conservative Democrats controlled politics as the seventies began. Smith did not push his legislative program with the intensity of the more articulate and colorful Connally. The governor proposed a state minimum wage, a lower voting age, a water plan for West Texas, additional taxes, and a new medical school for Texas Tech University. The voters turned down the water plan, and the legislature vetoed higher taxes. The legislature, ruled by Speaker Gus Mutscher, was opposed to reform and identified closely with large financial interests. Most political observers thought that Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes, a Connally protégé, was destined for the governorship and possibly national office. But rumors of scandal erupted in 1971. The Federal Securities and Exchange Commission began a probe of state officials, charging that in 1969 Mutscher and some of his supporters had received loans from Sharpstown State Bank in Houston to purchase stock in the National Bankers Life Insurance Company (see SHARPSTOWN STOCK-FRAUD SCANDAL). Frank Sharp owned both of these enterprises, and investigators alleged that in exchange for quick profits Mutscher had guided two bills through the legislature that would have allowed the tycoon's bank to avoid federal regulation. A "Dirty Thirty" coalition of liberals, Republicans, and others unhappy with Mutscher's high-handed rule led a legislative revolt to oust the speaker and to institute reform measures, but the speaker had enough votes to thwart reform and to draw a redistricting plan that he hoped would defeat the Dirty Thirty in the coming election. A federal district court overturned the Mutscher plan in January 1972, and, after a series of court battles, in 1975 all 150 House members represented single-member districts.
The year 1972 was not good for incumbents. Mutscher was defeated and later convicted on charges of bribery and conspiracy. Barnes and Smith announced for governor. Although they were never charged in the Sharpstown scandal, their executive duties linked them to the original bill, and they ran third and fourth respectively in the Democratic primary. Conservative Dolph Briscoe defeated Frances Farenthold, a member of the Dirty Thirty, in the second primary, and Republican Hank Grover in the general election. The Republicans profited from the new single-member House districts and won seventeen seats. Nixon trounced his Democratic opponent, George McGovern, and Tower won a third term in the Senate. But the defeat of the incumbents did not bring substantive changes to Texas politics. Governor Briscoe continued conservative Democratic policies. His programs stressed no new taxes and support for strengthening law-enforcement agencies and enforcement of criminal law. Despite a comfortable reelection in 1974 to a recently approved four-year term, he never exercised strong executive leadership. The legislature passed ethics legislation that included a financial-disclosure law and the filing of lists of campaign supporters. The reform atmosphere generated by the Sharpstown scandals encouraged the public to authorize a revision of the constitution. A legislative constitutional convention, with Speaker of the House M. Price Daniel, Jr., presiding, met in January 1974. After much wrangling, the legislature refused to approve of its own work. Public indignation forced the 1975 legislature to reconsider the issue of constitution revision. Eight amendments were submitted to the voters in the November elections that would have amounted to a new state constitution, but they were turned down by a three-to-one vote. The impulse for reform had waned by the mid-seventies.
The decade ended with surprises for seasoned political observers. The long shadow of the Watergate scandal fell over the Republican party, while lingering memories of Sharpstown undermined faith in incumbents and established politicians of all stripes. Texans and the nation elected Democrat James E. Carter over President Gerald Ford in 1976 for the presidency. No Democratic presidential nominee would carry Texas again for the rest of the twentieth century. Meanwhile, the state Democratic party rallied in support of its candidates, and the harmonious effort sent Bentsen back to the Senate.. Briscoe announced for a third term in 1978—not unusual in Texas politics, except that reelection would have accorded him an unprecedented ten years as governor. His opponent, the moderately liberal attorney general John Hill, won the primary, largely because of Briscoe’s overconfidence and indifference to campaigning. As a result, Dallas oilman William Clements, who had close ties to Ronald Reagan, challenged Hill in the general election and, after a well-organized and lavishly funded campaign, astounded a complacent Democratic party with an upset victory. This victory, along with Tower’s surprising election in 1961, is considered a watershed in the history of Texas Republican politics. Not only had the GOP elected the first Republican governor of the state in more than a hundred years, but Tower withstood a strong challenge by Congressman Robert K. Krueger for the Senate, and the GOP increased its state legislative strength to four senators and twenty-three House members. Republicans claimed that two-party politics had come to Texas. Such forecasts proved accurate. In the coming years, Texas voters overwhelmingly supported Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984. When Tower chose not to run for reelection in 1984, Republican Phil Gramm, formerly a Democratic congressman, won the race for the United States Senate. The attraction of the top of the ticket that year helped the party to send ten congressman to Washington and fifty-five representatives and six senators to Austin. Republican strength also appeared in county and district races; the party's local officeholders increased from 278 in 1980 to 494 in 1986. Observers attributed Republican successes to several factors. The eighties were simply more conservative than the sixties and seventies, they claimed, and much of the conservatism came from the Sun Belt cities, which lacked the tradition of liberalism of their northeastern counterparts. Court rulings that ordered redistricting and urban growth therefore increased the Republican constituency. The popularity of the party in the suburbs led state GOP chairman George Strake to predict that Republicans would be the majority party with the mandated 1992 legislative redistricting.
State politics did not immediately verify Strake's optimism. Clements's first term in office was only a moderate success for Republicans. His relations with his own party were generally quite good, but his somewhat abrasive and outspoken manner may have alienated prospective voters. He ran as a political outsider, and his somewhat cool relationship with the Democrats led to the rejection of most of his agenda in the first legislative session. His promise to cut governmental expenses and reduce the number of state employees failed. In the second session the governor proposed more limited goals and succeeded in passing most of his anticrime package. His vigorous support for Reagan gave him national visibility, and that, combined with the state prosperity of the early eighties, encouraged supporters to expect the governor's reelection. But the 1982 gubernatorial campaign once again confounded political prognostications. The Democrats nominated Mark White for governor. He had worked in Briscoe's 1972 campaign, was appointed secretary of state, and upset Price Daniel, Jr., in the 1978 race for attorney general. Observers classified him as a conservative. Other Democratic nominees for public office represented the broad perspective of the party. Bentsen announced for reelection, as did Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby. They campaigned vigorously for a ticket that included progressives Jim Hightower for commissioner of agriculture, Ann Richards for state treasurer, Jim Maddox for attorney general, and Gary Mauro for land commissioner. White won with 54 percent of the vote, and the Republicans failed to gain any down-ballot, statewide offices. White's victory was credited to high voter turnout in the Hispanic and Black communities, support from rural areas, and disenchantment of schoolteachers with Clements's administration.
White's victory amplified some of the changes that occurred in the Democratic party during the postwar period. The fierce divisions between conservative and liberal factions had subsided since the Yarborough-Shivers shootouts and the volatile sixties. Democrats needed high turnouts in minority and low-income precincts to win statewide elections. This necessity, along with the desertion of conservative Democrats to the Republicans, had moderated the party's economic and social views. Success depended on turning out voters in a period of increasing political apathy to support a ticket that represented a broad political appeal and that had attractive statewide candidates. Governor White's administration soon encountered political difficulties. The economic troubles of the eighties caused a shortage of state revenues, while demands for improved education and higher teachers' salaries, a court-required expansion of the prison system, and a needed improvement of the highway system necessitated more money. In addition, the governor tied a teacher pay raise to an upgrading of public education. The legislature responded with the Education Reform Act of 1984, which included an appointed school board, competency tests for students and teachers, and the "no pass-no play" rule for extracurricular student activities. This controversial measure offended some teachers, students, and parents. Like all governors since Connally, White promised no new taxes. Yet to pay for the needed state services, the legislature raised revenues slightly in 1984. Two years later, as oil prices dropped, the governor called a special session that temporarily increased taxes, deferred revenue payments, transferred special money into the general-revenue fund, froze state employee raises, and cut expenditures. The bill was a compromise, marked by acrimonious debates, and clearly a stop-gap solution. Both White and Clements announced for governor in 1986. The tax and "no pass-no play" issues seemed to dominate the campaign, in which the bitter political rhetoric called back memories of the fifties. Clements beat White, who received 36,000 fewer votes than he had four years earlier. Analysts credited low turnouts in Hispanic and rural areas, the economic depression, and doubt about White's leadership abilities as the reasons for his defeat. Democrats once again won the down-ballot elections in the statewide races, however.
Shortly after he assumed office, investigations linked Clements to a football scandal at Southern Methodist University, where as the head of the governing board he had authorized the paying of athletes. Temporary revenue measures forced the legislative session of 1987 to pass a new tax bill in violation of the governor's promise. The $5.7 billion tax increase was the largest approved by any state at any time ever. Clements's popularity plummeted in opinion polls as Texas geared up for the 1988 elections. Though Lloyd Bentsen was easily able to secure his reelection to the Senate, Republican George H.W. Bush captured Texas in the presidential election; the Republicans also finally demonstrated their ability to win seats at the local level, where they increased from 494 district and county level offices in 1986 to 616 in 1988.
In 1990 Governor Clements announced he would not seek a third term, and the Republicans put forward West Texas newcomer Clayton Williams. Ann Richards defeated Mark White and Jim Mattox in the Democratic primary and narrowly squeaked to victory in the governor's race. Williams's "Good Old Boy" campaign, initially attractive to conservative Republican voters, suffered from a series of unguarded crude remarks that alienated many Republican women and independent voters. Meanwhile, Phil Gramm easily defeated Hugh Parmer for reelection to his Senate seat. William P. Hobby, Jr., chose not to run for lieutenant governor again in 1990, thus ending his sixteen years in that office, the record to date. He was succeeded by Democrat Bob Bullock. Two years later, Texan Ross Perot's third-party candidacy in the 1992 presidential election helped split Democratic support in Texas; the incumbent President George H.W. Bush carried Texas, though Democrat William J. Clinton won the national election. National Republicans blamed Perot’s third-party candidacy for Bush’s loss, though subsequent analysis suggested that Perot won a relatively even percentage of votes among Republicans and Democrats, along with a sizable number of otherwise disaffected voters who might otherwise have avoided participating at all. When Lloyd Bentsen was chosen as secretary of the treasury by Clinton, Kay Bailey Hutchison won the special election in 1993 to take his Senate seat. In 1994 Texas voters handed the Democratic party a significant defeat and continued the trend to parity between the parties. Hutchison defeated Richard Fisher in 1994 to win a full term. Republican George W. Bush defeated incumbent governor Ann Richards by a substantial majority, winning more than 53 percent of the vote. As a result, Texas had two Republican senators, Gramm and Hutchison, and a Republican governor for the first time since Reconstruction. The Republicans also retained the office of agricultural commissioner, gained all three seats on the Railroad Commission, gained a Republican majority on the State Supreme Court, and picked up two congressional seats. The Democrats still retained control of the state legislature after the election of 1994, with seventeen Senate seats to the Republicans' fourteen, and eighty-eight seats in the House of Representatives to the Republicans' sixty-two.
Nevertheless, the midterm elections of 1994 signaled the growth of Republican power in Texas, a trend that continued into the twenty-first century. Republicans won 27 out of 27 statewide races in 1998, and George W. Bush won a second term as governor, carrying 49 percent of the Latino vote and emerging as a clear frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination of 2000. Bush won the presidency two years later, serving two tumultuous terms in the White House from 2001 to 2009. Bush’s initial election to the White House coincided with Republican control of the Texas Senate with a 16–15 majority, as well as near parity in the Texas House, where Democrats held a slim 78–72 advantage. The state’s congressional delegation to Washington also reflected waning Democratic power, with Democrats holding a 17–13 majority. Democrats had held 21 of 22 congressional seats in 1961, and 19 of 24 in 1981. Clearly, the days of the so-called “yellow-dog Democrat” were at an end. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the state’s political culture had trended clearly toward a national conservatism that was itself a reflection of Texas-led Republicanism – with emphases on deregulation of industrial and financial sectors, lower and flatter taxes, and a fervent rhetorical commitment to traditional family values, particularly within the context of national debates over abortion and sexuality. All told, the social, cultural, and economic trends of the American postwar era inarguably positioned Texas as one of the nation’s most powerful and influential states.