Becoming an Informed Voter Essay
Becoming an Informed Voter
What is the Political History of your district and State?
Harris County in the state of Texas was formed in the winter of 1836, and was first called Harrisburg County after an early settler named John Richard Harris. The name changed from Harrisburg County to Harris County in 1839. In the United States House of Representatives, Ted Poe, a Republican, currently represents my district (Northwest Harris County). John Whitmire was elected in 1983 as a Democrat, and he represents Northwest Harris County in the Texas Senate. There are seven major districts that are represented in the Texas Legislature. “Over the period since initial statehood in 1845, the constituencies and ideologies of the two major parties we know today have experienced profound transformations. The Republican Party didn’t even exist in the United States until just before the Civil War, and barely existed in Texas and the rest of the former Confederacy for several decades after Reconstruction. The Democratic Party evolved from a party closely identified with white racial supremacy to a coalition of groups that included African Americans and ethnic minorities, while the Republican Party slowly gained majority status as a home for social conservatives. Both parties today remain economically conservative, resisting tax increases and regulations on business, while promoting government support of business initiatives.” (The University of Texas at Austin, 2009.)
The Populist Party existed from the 1880’s to the 1910’s, and was very significant on both the state and national levels. The Populist Party was formed to represent the interests of laborers and farmers in the 1890s, and was known for advocating the unlimited coinage of silver. Ross Perot, a Dallas billionaire, created the Reform Party in the late 1990s. The Reform party believes in the basic values on how the government should work today. The top priorities that the Reform party issued to the government are: “Setting higher ethical standards for the White House and Congress, Balancing the budget, Campaign and election reform, Imposing term limits, Tax system overhaul, Revisions to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security plans, Revising trade and immigration policies to promote jobs in the U.S., and Lobbying reform.” (Elissa Haney, 2014) Other parties, such as the Libertarian party and the Green party have enjoyed the support of a small number of devoted citizens throughout the county. “Texas political culture and ideology are well described by the combination of three main philosophical streams: classical liberalism, social conservatism and populism.” (The University of Texas at Austin, 2009.)
How have they voted in recent presidential and congressional elections? Presidential elections:
During the 2008 presidential election, Democratic candidate Barack Obama won the majority of votes in Harris County, Texas, which includes the city of Houston and surrounding communities. It was a narrow victory in Texas’ biggest county, with Obama winning only 50.5% of the vote against the Republican candidate, John McCain. In the most recent presidential election of 2012, the margin of victory was even smaller when they elected Democratic President Barack Obama with 49.39% of the vote, over his challenger, Mitt Romney, with 49.31%. However, in the statewide vote for the presidential candidates, Mitt Romney won Texas with 57.17% of the voters, and Barack Obama only got 41.38%. Even in 2008, John McCain won Texas with 56% of the voters, and Obama only got 44%.
In the recent congressional elections, the majority of the district voted for Republican candidate, Ted Poe. He defeated the democratic candidate Nick Lampson by a margin of 55.5% to Lampson’s 43%.
Can your district or state be considered to be leaning Republican or leaning Democratic? The major metropolitan areas of Texas, Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio, have been voting for more liberal platforms (Democratic) for a number of years now, however, the state as a whole has been leaning in a more conservative direction and voting Republican. States’ rights, the fight for the unborn and their right to life, and resistance to gun legislation, tend to be some of the top issues for conservative Texas voters. The last time a Democrat carried the state of Texas was in 1976, when Jimmy Carter won the Presidential election. During the 2004 presidential election, then President and Republican candidate, George W. Bush, won with 61.09% against 38.30% votes for the Democratic candidate John Kerry. However, in the more recent Presidential elections that were held in 2008 and in 2012, the very popular Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, did not win the majority vote for Texas. Thus, looking at this information, it can be said that the state of Texas tends to lean more towards the Republican side.
Are the parties relatively even or does one party dominate the elections? Looking at the election results derived from Texas in the past, it can be said that the Republicans have had the upper hand over the Democratic Party in this state for quite some time, but the cities tend to be very liberal. There are currently only 12 Democratic representatives and 24 Republican representatives to U.S. House of Representatives. (Govtrack.us). Since 1846, in the state of Texas, there have been 39 Democratic governors, 5 Republican, 1 Unionist, and 1 Independent, with the Republicans holding on to that position for the past 20 years. (Texas State Library and Archives Commission)
Does your district have a long tradition of supporting one party or has it been changing in recent years? The Democratic Party had a majority stronghold in my district from as far back as March 30, 1846 until January 3, 2005, when Republican candidate, Ted Poe broke the line of Democratic succession. Today, he continues to represent the Texas 2nd Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. After the U.S Census in 2010, both Houses of the Texas Legislature introduced bills to redraw the state congressional and legislative boundaries. Due to this process, Texas gained four Congressional seats in the U.S House of Representatives, which was more than any other state. As a result of redistricting, the 2nd Congressional District became more conservative by a small margin, which gave Ted Poe the advantage for re-election. The demographics have also changed quite a bit over the past 20 years. In the 1990s, the estimated number of people in Harris County was 2,818,199. In 2010, the number rose to 4,092,459. In 2013, there are now 4,336,853 people (U.S Census records). Demographics have changed as well. In 2010, the demographics in Harris County, Texas were as followed.
How did your representative and senator come to power? (Thoroughly describe their backgrounds.) Representative Ted Poe attended Abilene Christina University, where he achieved his Bachelors degree in political science. “Ted Poe served in the United States Air Force Reserves, taught high school and college classes and earned a law degree from the University of Houston. Soon after graduation, he accepted a position as a prosecutor in Houston, Texas.” (U.S. Congressman Ted Poe, 2014) In 1973, he also received his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Houston Law Center. Before entering into politics, he served in the United States Air Force Reserves’ C-130 unit based out of Ellington Air Force Base from 1970 to 1976. After serving in the military for 7 years he changed his life track and became a chief felony prosecutor in Harris County for about 8 years. He then was appointed a felony court judge in Harris County in 1981, making him on of the youngest judges in the state of Texas. “Prior to serving in Congress, Ted Poe served for 22 years as a criminal court judge in Houston where he garnered national media attention for his innovative sentences – dubbed “Poetic Justice.” Prior to that, he served for 8 years in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, where he became the chief felony prosecutor and never lost a jury trial.” (U.S. Congressman Ted Poe, 2014)
Senator John Cornyn was born in Houston, Texas, and is a graduate from Trinity University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. He earned his Juris Doctor from St. Mary’s University School of Law in 1977. While he was serving as a Justice on the Texas Supreme Court, he was attending the University of Virginia School of Law where he achieved his Master of Law degree. Cornyn was elected as a Judge for Texas’ 37th District Court from 1985 to 1991. He then was elected as an Associate Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, and served in that position from 1991 to 1997. In 1998, Cornyn decided he wanted to become the Texas Attorney General, and campaigned against Barry Williamson, defeating him by a margin of 58% to 43% in the primary. In the general election, he defeated Jim Mattox, who was the former Attorney General and a U.S. Congressman. John Cornyn is only the second Republican to become an Attorney General in the State of Texas.
In a long running Senate campaign that cost each candidate over $18 million dollars, Cornyn was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2002, after defeating five other candidates in the Republican Primary, as well as the Democratic candidate, Ron Kirk, by an electoral margin of ten to one. Senator Cornyn succeeded Senator Phil Gramm, also a Republican. He continues to earn the respect from fellow Texans every year by successfully taking state policies and issues to Washington D.C. “Senator Cornyn now serves as Minority Whip for the 113th Congress. He serves on the powerful Senate Finance Committee, which shares jurisdiction over health care legislation, and the Senate Judiciary Committee, which questions President Obama’s nominees to the Supreme Court of the United States.” (Texans for Senator John Cornyn, Inc. 2014.)
How do the interest groups (ADA, ACLU, ACU, CC or FRC) rate your representative and senator? Include the exact scores from each of these groups. American for Democratic Action—
-John Cornyn=0%—Ted Poe=10%
Family Research Council—
-John Cornyn=88%—Ted Poe=100%
-John Cornyn=100%—Ted Poe=100%
American Civil Liberties Union—
-John Cornyn=0%—Ted Poe=0%
American Conservative Union—
-John Cornyn=88%—Ted Poe=88%
Based on these ratings, would you classify your representative and senator as conservative or liberal? Justify your answer. I would say that both my senator and representative are conservative, because of the ratings from these three interest groups. The ADA and the ACLU are both liberal leaning and gave low scores. The conservative groups, ACU, FRC, and Christian Coalition all marked both men high on conservative issues. For instance, Senator Cornyn opposed President Barack Obama’s health reform legislation, and he also voted against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (which is known to be Obama Care). In 2007, Ted Poe received a “zero” rating from the abortion rights group, also known as NARAL, because he is firmly pro-life (which is primarily a conservative view). He also does not support the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, calling it “government run health care.” (Ted Poe, 2009). I personally appreciate both my senator, and representative for Texas and Harris County, as their positions line up with my values, they understand that the government is moving in the wrong direction, and will do whatever it takes to appropriately represent the people of Texas.
Stephen Witham. Becoming an Informed Voter. Liberty University, 2014. Texas Politics. The University of Texas at Austin, Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services, 2009. Retrieved from http://texaspolitics.laits.utexas.edu/6_printable.html Barone, Michael. The Almanac of American Politics 2014. University of Chicago Press, 2013.
Wilson Q. James. American Government, Brief Version. 11th ed. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning. 2009, 2012, 2014. Gu, Paul. Harris County History. TX Political Almanac, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.txpoliticalalmanac.com/index.php?title=Harris_County http://www.votesmart.org
About John. Texans for Senator John Cornyn, Inc. 2014. Retrieved from
http://www.johncornyn.com/about-john/ Poe, Ted. Ted Poe, U.S. Congressman 2nd District of Texas. United States House of Representatives, 2014. Retrieved from http://poe.house.gov/index.cfm/biography Harris County, Houston County Website. Harris County History. CountyWebsite.com, Inc. 2014.
Governors of Texas, 1846-present. Texas State Library and Archives Commission, 2014. https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ref/abouttx/governors.html
Elissa Haney. Reform School: A primer on the political party founded by Ross Perot and boosted by the governorship of Jesse Venture. Pearson Education, 2000-2014. http://www.infoplease.com/spot/reformparty1.html