“Every town has the same two malls: the one white people go to and the one white people used to go to.” –Chris Rock
While the 2018 midterms are certainly in the rear view mirror by now, I, a native but transplanted Texan, have been unable to tear my nerdy self away from studying the aftermath of the Texas Senate race in fine detail. I’ve found some very interesting, unexpected data that could possibly prove necessary if Senator John Cornyn is to be defeated in 2020. Relax, this isn’t a rehash of debating a blue wave’s existence or a sore liberal’s diatribe against Ted Cruz. Rather, it is a story about the sixty-seventh largest county in the United States.
Collin County, Texas is an 886-square-mile area due north of Dallas. It is one of the fastest-growing counties in the entire country. While its current population boasts more diversity than one might expect – it’s around 60% white – it’s well understood that the initial growth was almost entirely fueled by white flight. And through, or despite, all that growth, Collin County remains quite conservative, a solid block of red.
The phrase “white flight” may not have entered the popular vernacular until the early twenty-first century, but the concept has been well, even if subconsciously, understood for decades earlier. I grew up in the 1980’s in a white flight suburb. Oh, we didn’t call it that. In fact, we white children were explicitly taught that racism was wrong. We were preemptively reprimanded by our teachers, both public school and Sunday school, that using the n-word was verboten, a relic of a shameful past. They threw Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes about character being more important than skin color at us. Yet… almost everyone was white. And that wasn’t an accident.
I grew up in Richardson, Texas, a suburb exactly due north of Dallas that abuts the city limits. Richardson is a typical 1960’s/1970’s white flight suburb. By the time my family settled there in the early ‘80’s, it was completely built out and firmly established as one of Dallas’ It Suburbs. Richardson boasted great public schools, newly built mid-century modern homes, low crime rates, cute little parks, and a close-knit communal atmosphere. It was a pretty idyllic place to grow up, if you were white and upper middle class. Just to our north was the end of Dallas County and the sister suburb of Plano, Texas. At that time, Plano was about the only built-out portion of Collin County. You’d never know Richardson and Plano were technically in different counties. To us GenX kids, they were inextricably linked. We were rival school districts always competing in sports and band competitions, and we spent inordinate amounts of time in that slightly larger town, eating in their restaurants and shopping at Collin Creek Mall.
Once you drove north of Plano, signs of developed suburbia rapidly dropped off. The highway speed limit increased, and it was cow pastures as far as the naked eye could see zipping past at 65 mph. Sometimes on a leisurely Saturday we’d drive an hour or so to Collin County’s seat, McKinney, Texas. When I was a kid, McKinney was small town Americana. It was quiet and quaint, and we had a favorite Tex-Mex restaurant. My sister Mel and I generally resented those McKinney sojourns. We would sit in the backseat of our family sedan and one of us would mouth, “There are Mexican restaurants near home!!” and the other would roll her eyes and nod. But then we’d arrive at our destination, a small, family-owned Tex-Mex restaurant, and sit down to freshly fried tortilla chips to dip into real, taqueria-style salsas and cheesy queso. Then we were treated to sizzling, homey enchiladas and tacos, flanked by piquant reddish rice and the creamiest refried beans you’ll ever taste. We’d be forced to acknowledge that the food was better and the quiet, warm atmosphere more pleasant for a laid-back lunch.
McKinney today is identical to Richardson in the 1980’s, as are all the towns in between. Collin County has experienced an unprecedented population explosion in the past two decades. Gone are the cow pastures, the small family farms, and any sense of peace and quiet. It’s all subdivisions, strip malls, and robust public school districts. Housing prices continue to soar. Collin County is the sixth largest county in Texas, and has almost one million residents. That’s twice the size of Atlanta. To me, given my childhood experience, it’s mind-boggling. And that growth was kicked off by white flight.
Between 1997 and 2015, Richardson’s public school district saw a 44% decrease in white students and a 131% increase in lower income students. Between the 2000 and the 2010 Censuses, Plano saw it’s white population decrease by almost 12%. As they had from Dallas in the 1970’s, the whites once again fled north. Dallas exurbs were born. On a visit back home about six-ish years ago, I was surprised to hear “no one shops there anymore” about Collin Creek Mall. The mall I spent hours with my girlfriends as teenagers, where we bought Easter dresses and back-to-school wardrobes and Homecoming dresses was now shunned? Upon asking why not, I was informed it was because Middle Easterners* had “taken it over.” Okay then. Sadly, I instinctively wasn’t surprised at the attitude. As the white population of Plano decreased, the white families moved further north, filling out those formerly small towns with bustling, majority-white suburbia. In 1980, Plano’s population comprised over 50% of Collin County’s total population. As of 2010, despite its own continued expansion, Plano contributes barely 33%.
So what does this have to do with Senate races? It didn’t used to be so, but with its now-behemoth population, Collin County is of huge significance in statewide political races in Texas. So is its due west neighbor, Denton County, which has followed an almost identical trajectory as Collin. These counties are an enormous, affluent wall of red voters. Texas cities** reliably vote Democrat, as does the El Paso area and the Rio Grande Valley. But Collin and Denton Counties are becoming two of the most important constituencies in statewide races. If Democrats ever want to flip Texas blue, they’re going to have to make serious inroads there.
What about the 2018 midterms? Beto O’Rourke did make inroads there. Not enough to tip them blue, but he had a respectable showing. Some pundits weren’t surprised, as any population boom will result in some inevitable diversity. And it’s quite true that Collin County is less white than it used to be (it was over 81% white at the 2000 Census). Many view Collin County as naturally shading purple in the coming years, but on close inspection, voting data doesn’t reflect that. The data shows that instead of the predicted influx of straight ticket Democrat voters, Collin and Denton Counties are still reliable blocks of red… but within that red lies swaths of people willing to make an exception for A Democrat, provided said Democrat has what it takes to appeal and connect.
We see this when we compare the numbers of Ted Cruz versus recently reelected Republican Texas governor Greg Abbott. Greg Abbott won Collin and Denton Counties by much larger margins than did Ted Cruz. Which means significant numbers of people voted for Abbott and O’Rourke.
Now let’s look at the data for two pertinent House races. TX-32 covers mostly Dallas County, and a small block of southern Collin County. TX-03 is entirely within Collin County. Prior to the 2018 midterms, both seats were held by firmly entrenched, stalwart Republicans, Pete Sessions and Sam Johnson, respectively. Sam Johnson chose to retire; Republican Van Taylor and Democrat Lorie Burch vied for his seat. Taylor beat Burch to win TX-03 by, if not a landslide, certainly a comfortable margin. Sessions, however, ran for reelection and lost to newcomer Democrat Colin Allred – again, not by a landslide but a solid margin nonetheless. But look at these two maps: here’s TX-03. Solid red, all in the same Collin County. Now check out TX-32. Notice the stark difference? The portion of the district that lies in Dallas County went blue. But that small red block at the top? That’s Collin County. Collin County voted for Sessions by 55.1%.
I am not a trained political scientist. But my instinct tells me there’s a story lurking in this data, a consequential story that confirms the complexities of, and offers some instructions for, turning Texas blue – at least for a Senate race. Let’s do some ugly math. (Click here for the interactive map.)
Lupe Valdez – Greg Abbott’s challenger – is openly gay and Latinx. She only won 39.3% of the Collin County vote.
Lorie Burch is white but openly gay. She got 44.3% of the vote.
Colin Allred is black. He got 42.5% of the Collin County vote.
Beto O’Rourke is white and straight. He got 46.5% of the vote.
Pattern, or shapes in the clouds?
MJ Hegar. Check her out. My instincts are saying that she might be the answer to oust Cornyn in 2020.
*More likely Indian and other Asian immigrants, a demographic that almost doubled between the 2000 and 2010 Censuses.
**Fort Worth, encompassing most of Tarrant County, has remained the one urban holdout, but O’Rourke won it in 2018. Most pollsters consider it well on the way to reliably blue.
Damn Good Queso
FIERY RED SALSA:
- 1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped
- 4 habanero chiles, preferably red or orange, halved lengthwise and seeded
- ¼ medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
- 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
- ½ cup canola or vegetable oil
- 1 tbs white wine vinegar
- ¼ tsp ground cumin, or more if you really like cumin
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 1 cup store bought or homemade green salsa
- 1 pound brick-processed cheese, such as Velveeta, cut into about 1” cubes
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 1 ounce crumbled Cotija cheese (queso fresco works too)
- Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
- Tortilla chips for serving
FIERY RED SALSA:
- Add the roasted bell pepper, habaneros, onion, garlic, tomato sauce, canola oil, vinegar, and cumin in your blender. Puree until smooth. Add salt to taste and blend once more to combine. Set aside.
- Pour the green salsa into a medium saucepan and add the cheese. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the cheese has melted. Taste and add salt if necessary.
- Transfer the queso to a wide, shallow serving bowl. Spoon the guacamole into the center of the queso, then liberally spoon or drizzle the Fiery Red Salsa around the guacamole. Don’t stir it in. Garnish as you wish with Cotija and cilantro. Serve immediately with tortilla chips. Cold beer is *quite* refreshing here.