I’m writing from my hotel room in Sugar Land, Texas, a hot city, southwest of Houston, where I’m doing some reporting for our ongoing series this summer about wrong maneuvers. Stay tuned for more details on this story, and in the meantime, you can read the first, second, and third pieces in our series.
As you may have heard recently, Texas has become a kind of epicenter of conservative political extremism, as Republicans who control the legislature have pushed for the most restrictive abortion law in the United States, they have significantly loosened the weapons laws and have passed new voting restrictions. To understand why this is happening, you need to understand what is happening in Sugar Land and Fort Bend County.
Since 2010, the population of Fort Bend County has just exploded. Last year, the census counted 822,779 people living here, a staggering 40% increase from a decade ago. It is part of the suburban and metropolitan growth that helped grow Texas ’population by 16% over the past decade, making it one of the fastest growing places in the United States.
The county is also now very diverse; it is almost 32% white, 25% Hispanic or Latin, 21% Asian and 21.3% black.
“Fort Bend County is probably the most ethnically diverse county in the United States,” Stephen L Klineberg, the founding director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, which studies the demographics of the Houston area, told me. “And therefore it is a perfect model for the American future [will look like]”.
Although Sugar Land is a short drive from Houston, it is a city in good faith in itself. There is a promenade with shops and a variety of restaurants. In the center is the town hall, flanked by a huge square and fountains where last night the children were chased.
“You walk into a new restaurant, you walk into a bar, you walk into a bookstore, you see the diversity of Fort Bend County,” said Mustafa Tameez, a Democratic political strategist. “What used to be a suburb now looks a lot like an urban community – very educated and diverse voters who live very close to each other.”
The population is not the only thing that changes, so is politics. In 2012, Mitt Romney easily won the county over Barack Obama by about 10 points. But in 2016, Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by six points. In 2018, Beto O’Rourke won the county in his U.S. Senate campaign against Ted Cruz. Biden led the county in 2020.
In 2018, Democrats won all of the top positions in the county in the vote, including the removal of the county judge, the highest elected official in the county, a Republican incumbent who held office for a decade.
The winning candidate was KP George, an American immigrant and Democrat, who was truncated when he ran for county treasurer in 2010 and became a school board commissioner in 2014. He decided to run for judge when he saw how many people supported Hillary Clinton in 2016. “That opened my eyes,” she told me over the phone a few weeks ago.
These are the kinds of elections that scare Republicans in Texas, who still maintain complete control over the state government. And it helps explain why they are imposing such extreme policies on the state legislature.
“There has been explosive growth in the suburbs of Texas and this is driving the change in policy that is creating this last kind of thing for people like [Texas Lieutenant Governor] Dan Patrick, and Governor Abbott and others trying to achieve as many conservative things as can be done. Because it is not a reflection of the population and where the population is headed, ”said Tameez.
Klineberg, the demographer, added that there was no way the Republicans could stop the kind of demographic change that was taking place in Fort Bend County. “Republicans see writing on the wall,” he said.
I am also thinking of …
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed new legislation Tuesday that limits access to voting. The new law already faces several challenges in state and federal courts.
According to a notable ProPublica story, several sites see a flood of people signing up for lower-level GOP officials who could play an important role in the way elections are administered. “I’ve never seen anything like it, people come out of the woods,” a Florida GOP president told the dam.
Do you have any questions about elections and voting?
Send them to me! Starting this week, you can send me your questions about voting rights in America and I will do my best to answer them in next week’s newsletter. You can send your questions to email@example.com or DM me on Twitter @srl