With an explosive population growth in Texas in the last decade, Hispanics are closer to reaching parity with whites
in the second most-populous state and transforming its politics.
Hispanics were at the leading edge of the state's population surge in the last decade, accounting for more than two-thirds of the growth, making up 38 percent of the state's 25.1 million people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's latest figures. The state's population growth was bigger than any other state, with only California having more people.
Most remarkable, Texas' non-Hispanic whites – widely referred to as Anglos – are no longer the majority ethnic group in that fiercely tradition-bound Anglo culture. Whites now make up only 45
percent of the state's population, down from 52 percent in 2000. Blacks stayed the same at 11 percent.
"It's not just a sea change, it's a tipping point
," state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, where two-thirds of the residents are Hispanic, told The New York Times. "San Antonio looks like what Texas is going to look like in 15 years."
These changes will have a long-term impact on politics in Texas, where Republicans hold sway while Democrats are making inroads in cities like Dallas and Houston, whose voters favored Barack Obama for president in 2008 even though the Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, carried the state.
The new population figures will give Texas four additional seats in the U.S. House
of Representatives, expanding its political clout and share of the Electoral College pie. Census data will be used to redraw districts for Congress
and the state Legislature. Some liberal analysts caution that the Republican-controlled Legislature in Austin, which may not want to strengthen the influence or voice of Hispanic Democrats, will be doing the redrawing of boundaries.
Still, the national political implications of Texas' Hispanic growth and overall population gains include short-term and long-term changes, namely, will bigger Hispanic clout turn a red state into a purple state?
With the second largest number of electoral votes, Texas has always loomed large in presidential campaigns. For now it will likely stay in GOP hands. But soon the Texas electorate will be that much larger, more diverse and less predictable.
More dramatic is the realistic prospect that Texas -- with a budget larger than some nations and a powerful economic engine of its own -- could have more Hispanics than Anglos.
"The Texas of today is the U.S. of tomorrow,
" said Steve H. Murdock, a former Census Bureau director who is now a Rice University sociology professor, told USA Today.
There is a downside to all this. For one thing, the population growth will put even more pressure on the state's mediocre public school system at a time when Texas like many other states -- Wisconsin is a scary example -- plans cuts in education, including teacher layoffs, school closings and other unpopular belt-tightening measures.
Texas' rapidly changing demographics are so crucial and complex that The Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization, has summoned a daylong symposium on Feb. 28 at the LBJ School of Public Affairs in Austin to discuss the impact that the coming Hispanic majority
will have on the state – from public education, higher education, energy, health care, workforce development and criminal justice.
How did the Lone Star State grow so much so quickly in the last decade?
Texas drew people from other states,
like California, Florida and Arizona, attracting professionals, retirees, blue-collar workers and tech entrepreneurs with jobs and low taxes. The state also became home to refugees from Hurricane Katrina and remained a destination for legal and illegal immigrants.
Unlike Arizona, Texas has a relatively benign approach to illegal immigration and it also enjoys a largely skilled or educated and political savvy immigrant population, and it has pro-immigrant liberal enclaves in the cities and suburbs of Austin, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston.
Texas, like California, Florida and elsewhere, has an expanding middle-and-upper-income Hispanic population – college educated professionals, business executives, entrepreneurs, politicians, professors, doctors, lawyers – that exerts considerable influence in development, commerce and culture. San Antonio, with its rich Mexican-American history, has been at the vanguard of Hispanic influence in the state. It was the first major American city to elect a Hispanic mayor (Henry Cisneros, 30 years ago) and its mayor today, Julian Castro, a Democrat, is seen as a future national political figure.
The fastest-growing counties
are in the suburbs of Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where rural towns have been turned into middle-and-upper-income exurbs that together make up sprawling metropolises. The San Antonio-Austin corridor and the counties along the Rio Grande enjoyed large growth while the rural areas of West Texas shriveled.
The Texas of endless plains, cowboys and cattle ranches has become a bit emptier while the populous cities sprawl farther out, and the state becomes more urban, more dense, more Hispanic.