When Joe Barton was first elected to Congress in 1984, he was one of six Texas Republicans to win upset victories. That was also the year that President Ronald Reagan won reelection in a landslide. Barton, who is the last member of what was then called the “Texas six pack” still in Congress, announced Thursday that in the wake of a sexting scandal, he would not seek reelection.
Back in 1984, Texas was transitioning from a staunchly Democratic state to a Republican-dominated one. Barton’s sixth district predecessor, Phil Gramm, had famously been elected as a Democrat, but changed parties and resigned, later running for and winning a Senate seat as a Republican.
Professor Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University, says Democrats still won statewide offices in the 80s, including the 1982 governor’s race, which Mark White won. And Democrats dominated local and judicial offices across the state. But national rightward trends were affecting Texas, strengthening the GOP in Congressional races.
“At that time, a number of judges, as you may remember, began switching parties from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party,” Riddlesperger says, “as their opportunities to be reelected seemed to be better in the Republican Party.”
Barton’s House seat won’t be the only open one in Texas. Riddlesperger says that indicates a change is coming, though it’s not clear whether it will occur along party lines, or more ideological ones.
“Obviously, nationally, the election of Donald Trump has changed the entire environment of politics in the United States, and it’s not just in Texas that we’re seeing a number of people retire from Congress,” Riddlesperger says.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.