Two avocations are sacred in Texas: Friday night high school football, and politics. In 1986, a business trip to Austin afforded me the opportunity to taste pure Texas politics.

It was late spring and the season of the Texas primary.  The state’s beloved bluebonnets had bloomed, a scent of change wafting in the air. Texas was undergoing a metamorphosis from being a Democrat–led state to a hotbed a bastion of Republican sentiment. President Ronald Reagan had just won over the Texans in 1984—and by a wide margin at that. Several prominent Democrats—current Senator Phil Graham among them—had just defected to the GOP. Me, I was a Reagan Republican, and being from California, a yankee.

Actually, the national Democrat Party had begun leaving Texas long before most Texas Democrats left the national party.  In the early 1960’s, President Kennedy, a Democrat, espoused what would appear by today’s standards to be a quite Reaganesque Republican agenda. A fervent anti-communist, Kennedy had just pulled off one of the biggest reductions in the federal income tax rates.  In his inaugural address, he called the citizens to action: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Not exactly words of a social welfare attitude.

In 1963, Texas Governor John Connelly had seen the beginnings of the fragmentation of the Democrats’ “solid South.”  In November, Kennedy visited Texas to mend fences. Connelly was severely wounded riding in the convertible which saw President Kennedy’s shocking assassination.

By the time the national Democrat Party had nominated presidential candidate George McGovern in 1972, Connelly had registered Republican.

Now, for some terminology: a “yellow dog Democrat” (YDD) would rather cast a ballot for a mangy yellow dog than cross party lines and vote Republican.  This populist carryover was felt by generations of Southerners.  After all, it was the Republicans under Ulysses S. Grant—of Civil War fame—who forced harsh measures on the South during Reconstruction in the late 1860’s and 1870’s.  Although the roles of the parties were destined to reverse in a hundred years, there still existed a number of stalwart Democrats more inclined to vote a yellow dog into office than to succumb to the opposition.  Usually older, these YDD’s were set in their ways and displeased with the direction being taken by the politics in their beloved Democrat Party.

So Texas’s primary season was well underway during my business trip. The Democrats had planned a post–election party at the Driskill Hotel, and the Republicans were gathering at the Four Seasons.  The two hotels were mere blocks apart.

My clients—solid Republicans—invited me to join them in watching election returns.  After a polite period ensconced with them at the Four Seasons, I ambled over to the Driskill to check things out.  On the surface it looked and sounded similar, with music, balloons, and the buzz of excited activists, campaign workers, and politicians.

But part of this crowd had a more mature facet to it—they seemed noticeably crustier.  As sure as Texas’s soil is red, I had just encountered a sampling of the last of the Yellow Dog Democrats.

While wandering about, soaking up this local culture, I hatched a plan—a plan for a little good clean fun.  At the time, the Texas Democrats were enjoying a political renaissance with the recent election of Governor Mark White, who was slated to address this crowd in an hour.

Whenever I knew I was conversing with a real live YDD, I’d adopt my “newly arrived Democrat” act, asserting provocative lines like: “Ya know y’all lost Connelly, and you lost Graham,” and I’d rattle off names of other recent defections.

Each time, my YDD would sputter, “Yeah, but….”

I proceeded to start a rousing game of “post office.”

“May be, but I hear that even Mark White is contemplatin switching after the election, and Senator       Bentsen’s gettin pretty friendly with Reagan.”

My words were met with an awestruck look of shock, disbelief, and despair.  After spreading this message to a half–dozen or so YDD’s, I wandered toward the door.  Just as I was leaving, I spied a couple of my victims talking to each other and pointing at me!  Little did they know that their Governor Mark White would be defeated that fall by Republican Bill Clements.

By the expression on their mugs, I realized how very seriously Texas folks take their politics. My instinct to move to the door served me well. I walked briskly back to the Four Seasons. This friendlier crowd got quite a kick out my tale. But soon I donned my sport coat, grabbed a souvenir cowboy hat, and with dark glasses, escaped to my own hotel to relax for the rest of that peaceful spring evening.

Mark Lindberg is a mechanical engineer(HVAC)  in the commercial building industry, flight instructor, history buff, and political junkie. As horse owner and member of the Mounted Patrol of San Mateo County, The American  West is a favorite subject. This photo was taken during  Armadillo racing at a convention in Austin, TX