The question is not how many people will vote Tuesday.It’s how few.In the last five gubernatorial primaries, 3 to 6 percent of Texas voters chose our state’s leaders.Two years ago, Ted Cruz went to the U.S. Senate after winning a primary runoff with votes from 1 out of 20 Texans.Taking over Texas is that easy.If nobody else shows up to vote in the telling Republican primaries and runoffs, the most driven 600,000 or so voters get their way.In Tarrant County, it’s even more important to vote.Republican primary voters have decided all countywide offices for 20 years and will choose the next district attorney Tuesday and maybe the next state senator.Democrats in Fort Worth and east Arlington will decide a congressional seat, and central-city Fort Worth Democrats face other choices.But in most of Tarrant County, the state and local Republican candidates nominated Tuesday or in the May 27 primary runoffs are those who will govern for the next two or four years.Sure, Texas Democrats always talk a good game.But “the reality is that Tuesday’s [Republican] primary is the de facto election,” Southern Methodist University political science professor Matthew Wilson wrote by email.The stakes are high.But voter interest is low.Primary voters tend to be more ideologically extreme than Texans as a whole, Wilson wrote, which is how guns, gays and immigration become fodder for even down-ballot campaigns.But there’s another reason the most extreme Texans hold all the power.The rest of us get distracted and don’t vote in the primary, or we’re disenchanted with the campaigns.Or out-and-out disgusted.Texas’ best recent primary turnout was in 1978, when Democrat John Hill upset Gov. Dolph Briscoe. But Hill lost on Election Day to the late Dallas Republican Bill Clements. Since then, Democrats have lost numbers, and some independent voters have lost the connection.Most Texans see politics “as a game dominated by the lobby and wealthy donors,” SMU political science professor Cal Jillson wrote by email.“The average voter, looking at a long list of five- and six-figure contributions to a Texas governor’s race, knows intuitively that the Texas political system is not built to respond to them,” he wrote.The results are a government dominated by the most extreme or most obsessive and the worst voter turnout of any state.You read that right.We’re No. 51.
Bud Kennedy’s column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538 Twitter: @BudKennedy Get alerts at RebelMouse.com/budkennedy