The transformation of Texas from a one-party state, which began with the election of Republican John G. Tower to the U.S. Senate in 1961, appears to have reached the pivotal stage of parity this year.
For the first time in the 20th century, as many Texans identify with the GOP as with the Democrats, according to a poll conducted this month by the University of Houston Center for Public Policy. In the poll, 34 percent of the respondents said they were Democrats, 33 percent called themselves Republicans and 33 percent were independent.
Voters in Texas, as in most of the South and Southwest, have been turning toward the Republican Party gradually over the past three decades as the Sun Belt has become more suburban. But even as late as 1978, when Bill Clements became the first Republican governor of Texas since Reconstruction, polls indicated that 48 percent of the voters were Democrats and only 14 percent Republicans.
That is just another bit of tough news for Hugh Parmer, the Democratic state senator who is struggling in his underdog effort to unseat Sen. Phil Gramm (R). With Gramm leading by 2 to 1 in the polls, Parmer last week went on the offensive, linking the incumbent to the sticky savings and loan issue. Parmer, following the lead of a Houston Chronicle investigation of Gramm, said that Gramm had received at least $220,000 from the S&L industry.
"Our numbers suggest that Senator Gramm is the No. 1 recipient of savings and loan money in the United States," said Parmer, who earlier this year made a point of returning a contribution from a donor who had been convicted in a thrift fraud case.
Gramm aide Larry Neal called Parmer's charge "the last gasp of a dying campaign."