The health of democracy in Texas

The Texas Tribune continues to show signs of developing into a tremendously valuable resource on Texas politics. Their latest contribution is a data base of candidates of office and some analysis about how much political competition we have in Texas.

In their story Ross Ramsey and Dan Leyendecker report that 89 of the 150 members of the Texas House and 9 of the 16 Texas Senators on the ballot will have no major party competition in the 2010 election. I don’t like limiting a measure of competition to that between parties. I think that facing meaningful competition within party during the primary is another sign of a healthy democracy. There are plenty of places in Texas that are heavily conservative or liberal and a candidate from within the incumbent’s party represents a much more threat than one from another party. Affiliation with a “major” party candidates doesn’t keep you from being a minor candidate.

The cool thing about the Texas Tribune is that they give you the original data if you want to do your own analysis. I counted 47 members of the Texas House facing no competition from other candidates–primary or general election. You can debate over how significant minor party candidates are or how many of those primary election challengers are serious. However, it’s clear that no competitors means no competition and almost one out of three members of the Texas House are not competing.

Another 27 members face only a Libertarian party candidate in the general. While some of my Libertarian friends will not like the implications, but the Libertarian party is neither a major party or serious competition.

So, almost exactly half of the Texas House faces no or minor competition this election. This might make more sense if Texans were happy with their legislature. They’re not, but half of their legislators are waltzing back to Austin on a free pass.

Texans often talk about freedom and democracy. However, it looks like democracy is another case of Texans failing to practice what we preach. While the 2010 election is going to produce some very visible (and very nasty) competition for the governor’s mansion, many other incumbents are going to waltz back into office without competition.

It’s always tempting to blame the politicians and the parties for the lack of competition. However, the truth is that Texas voters are better at complaining about incumbents than supporting challengers.


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