Welcome to May, Texas, population 285. The only place to grab a snack here is J and H Station, a convenience store and take-out stop in an old gas station. Most mornings, James Hardy, a retired oil field worker, eats breakfast here with the same group of friends.
“Used to be a real town,” Hardy says.
The closest stoplight is eight miles away, and from there it’s another 27 miles to Interstate 20. Traffic that does pass through May has to slow down.
“I guarantee if anybody from city or whatever drove by and saw us out here, ol’ country folks and everything else, that’s their first thing, ‘Look at them ol’ racist guys.’ And that is far from the truth!” says Sonny Garman who runs J and H.
“We have black folks here. We have Hispanic folks here, and everything else. And we all get along fine.”
Photo by Heather Claborn
These guys tell me they don’t trust the media, and that they see a big difference between the values of Texas’ city-dwellers and those of the people who live in the state’s sprawling rural areas.
As they talk on this early morning, the sun paints the sky pink and gold over fields with cows and rolls of hay in the surrounding ranch and farmland.
The whole group – Sonny and James Hardy, Gary Lancaster and Jim Brown – say they vote for conservatives.
Jim Brown says he draws a hard line on abortion and gun control: to Brown, abortion is killing an unborn person; and a gun is like any other tool.
“It’s been said you can’t legislate morality. I agree with that,” Brown says.
Still, he says he looks for politicians who will follow the Constitution and demonstrate some moral standards
“History has shown that when you have a godless society and a godless government things tend to go downhill,” Brown says.
Sonny Garman says, regardless of party, he’s frustrated with Congress.
“Quit fightin’ amongst each other just because of politics. And be for the American people instead of for their party. Cause that’s all it seems like: they’re not for the American people; they’re just for promotin’ their political party and gettin’ rich,” Garman says.
Garman and his friends say they don’t feel represented in Austin or Washington, D.C.
And that’s the view from May, Texas.
Houston, a city of 2.3 million people, is 300 miles southeast of May.
At Axelrad, a bustling beer garden in Houston’s Midtown neighborhood, Mark Ellis is out with his coworkers.
“A lot of times we’re here playing board games,” Ellis says.
Games aside, he says he votes in every election, and says he doesn’t necessarily think rural voters in Texas misunderstand his perspective.
“It’s probably less that they don’t understand the city, but they probably feel like the city doesn’t understand them, and that they’re sort of being left behind and forgotten,” Ellis says.
To him, differences in income and religious leanings drive a wedge between rural and urban areas.
“You can probably, I mean, look at a map and say, based on how rural it is, what the political leaning or even the cultural learning might be in the area, and that makes it hard to feel unified,” Ellis says.
The beer garden is busy every night. A young crowd is spread across picnic tables and colorful hammocks; sitting in one of the hammocks Nicola Gardner. She’s originally from California, but has been in Houston for about 10 years. She says she doesn’t think the divide in Texas is urban versus rural, rather it’s racial.
“In all of Texas, no matter where you go, it’s still very much: you’re either white, Mexican or black. So, everyone does not come together like that, no,” Gardner says.
Gardner describes herself as apolitical. She does not vote, and says she prefers to just go with the flow.
As for Mark Ellis, he’s a Democrat, and he isn’t convinced that Texas is a truly red state.
“If you look at what people actually believe, like each person individually, the state is much more Democratic than it is Republican,” Ellis says.
Next door at Luigi’s Pizzeria, Houston native Cashuna Anthony sits outside, sharing chicken wings with her coworkers. Anthony says she isn’t happy with the people in power.
“They don’t represent our culture … and because they don’t represent our culture or they don’t think about our concerns, they’re not aware of what things affect African-American people,” Anthony says.
She says she votes in every election but hasn’t decided who she’ll vote for in November.
“I used to call myself a Democrat, but at this point I would hope to see some new party come into place. I would hope to hear them talk about issues that, like we said, that affects the average person,” Anthony says.
And that complaint, that lawmakers are out of touch with real people’s concerns, seems to be something Texans can agree on no matter what party they support, or where they’re from.