What, Then, Shall Texas Become?

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by George Seay, originally published by the Texas Tribune

The Brett Kavanaugh nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court brought to light what was already apparent to many: America is bitterly divided ideologically, culturally and socially. Middle ground hasn’t disappeared, but it is rapidly fading from view. Both the left and the right have sharpened their views, become angrier, less tolerant of others and less magnanimous.

Although the Kavanaugh circus is the latest and most prominent example of this powerful trend, we have plenty of examples within Texas — debates over sanctuary cities and control of the border, as well as changing perceptions of gender, race, ethnicity and sexuality. It’s both stunning and counterintuitive that in the greatest era in the history of Texas, for prosperity, quality of life and advancement of all Texans, political animus seems to generate continuous primal screaming at both ends of the ideological spectrum. Are we ungrateful or easily distracted from the more important elements of life? Or both?

Texas today faces an existential threat to its unity, identity and future, which almost no one is talking about. We can follow the rest of the country into bitter strife, disunion and cacophonous division into factions (James Madison’s greatest fear in the Federalist Papers), or we can follow our forebears’ example and pursue unity, independence and forward-thinking vision.

The simpler course would be to break off into factions, focusing on what divides and enrages us, emphasizing ideological, racial and gender tribalism, and the pursuit of selfish gain at the expense of others. “My tribe wins, everyone else loses.” The harder course is to roll up our sleeves as Texans, and tackle the great challenges threatening our current quality of life and the future of our children and grandchildren — our heirs and inheritors.

Texas could double in population over the next half century. Our population has already doubled since 1980. If we double in population again, Texas is likely to become the largest state in the union, with over 50 million people, as we are growing more rapidly than California, the current number one in population.

Texans have a long history of suspicion towards government. Government’s utility is viewed as providing basic services and public safety, and to otherwise stay out of the way of freedom-loving, independent Texans who view it as a constant potential problem, a threat to prosperity rather than a conduit. If Texans continue to take that viewpoint, government may become an actual problem rather than a potential one, due to all the state’s prospective challenges.

A doubled population will require much more extensive public infrastructure — more water, more roads, more electricity, more energy, more everything. Additionally, we will require more keepers of the peace, more effective border and immigration control, and additional ways to preserve the quality and quiet enjoyment of the Texan way of life. Our burgeoning population, particularly among the Hispanic demographic, will require an educational system preparing our young people for the challenges of the remainder of the 21st century. Our educational system — primary, secondary and higher ed — will need to build on its current excellence (for a large state at least) to provide the next generation with the skills to compete effectively in the global economy. And the ever-expanding cost of health care, in particular the Medicaid system, will need to be clipped, the rate of growth diminishing to a level that won’t inevitably bankrupt state government.

Whether one accepts it or not, Texans count on government to provide infrastructure, public safety, education and other basic services necessary for the current quality of life we demand in our state. Suspicion of and hostility to our state government and its employees work against meeting the future challenges head on; elected and career state workers successfully hurdling key statewide issues with excellence demands both strategic planning and private sector-level performance from government.

Fiscally conservative Republicans have controlled state government, its bureaucracy, and its employees for a generation now. Meeting all these challenges effectively, while maintaining fiscal discipline, will require every ounce of effort our state leadership can bring to bear. Policy and political divisions will produce neither joy nor results.

Our government leadership must lead — to bring results to our people, to all Texans. Where the majority party can find unity with the minority party, the hand of cooperation and friendship must be extended. And where there is opposition, the majority leadership should cheerfully accept and fulfill its duties nevertheless. All Texans count on governmental performance and maintenance of the public trust. All Texans are counting on government to fulfill its duties consistently and well, so that the private sector remains liberated to create jobs, growth and prosperity for all.

Wise Texans would do well to ignore and/or stamp out division, acrimony and ideological battles that distract from the core task at hand — preserving Texas culture, ways of life and future potential. If current leadership won’t focus on what unites us in common purpose, Texans will find new leaders.

The Texas story of success over preceding decades is historical in size and scope, but the way forward requires both wise decision-making and ruthlessly efficient execution. We can keep government efficient, effective and as “out of the way” as possible, as we have in the past. But the next several decades will require better performance than ever before, as the challenges are more formidable. Growth is wonderful, but it increases the calls on state resources.

We must demand that our leaders focus on the material challenges facing all Texans, and refuse to embrace the politics of division, disruption and hatred. In doing so, we can set an example for a divided and demoralized country. Texas is truly a shining city on a hill; we can show the rest of the country how to return to that city from the dark places below into which we have temporarily plunged.