In 1980, I met on a train through Italy a couple of English soccer hooligans who were headed for a post-match riot in Turin. When they asked where I was from, I replied, â€?Houstonâ€?, where I had just graduated from college. They had never heard of Houston, so I suggested â€?Dallasâ€? as a reasonable approximation.
â€?Who shot J.R.?â€? the yobs exclaimed in happy unison.
By 1980, Houstonâ€™s Harris County was the third most populous in America, and the downtown business district had sprouted the most outlandish skyline west of the Mississippi (although Dallas wasnâ€™t far behind).
Unsurprisingly, except apparently to the banks, oil prices eventually came down and the Texas bubble popped. Yet the modern Republican Partyâ€™s state electorate was forged in the 1970s. In contrast to the housing boom of the last decade in California, in Texas back then construction wasnâ€™t considered â€?a job Americans just wouldnâ€™t [or shouldnâ€™t] do.â€? Nor was it yet universally assumed by the Establishment that high wages for American workers were an evil to be fought at all cost.
Back in the 1970s, strong demand bid up workersâ€™ wages in Texas. That lured in large numbers of American workers to Texas from the declining cities of the Rust Belt. Although American newcomers to Texas in the 1970s typically came from places where the Democrats had ruled at least since FDR, they joined with native Texans in trending Republican.
After voting for Carter in 1976, Texas went for Reagan in 1980 and hasnâ€™t wavered since. Texas kept the GOP viable at the national level when California, which voted for nine out of ten Republican Presidential candidates from 1952-1988, flipped Democratic.