When thinking about large cities where conservatives have a fighting chance, Houston is often the first one to come to mind. With its status as the largest city in the biggest red state in the nation and its infamous lack of zoning laws, the city does indeed have a conservative streak. But to call it a fully conservative city is somewhat misleading, as it is actually one of the more politically diverse areas in Texas.
Houston’s economy is heavily based on energy, most notably oil and fossil fuels, and its location as the largest port city on the Gulf of Mexico, and therefore the waypoint for goods traveling east and west domestically, or internationally to Latin America, also makes for a prime location for transportation and shipping. Tech sector and healthcare jobs are also prevalent, and the city’s economy is incredibly diverse.
Most of these jobs are of the working class and blue-collar variety, and have the tendency to attract immigrants of both the legal and illegal varieties. While this has led to a thriving international community in the metro area, it has also led to backlash from other working class people in the Houston area who have expressed themselves at the ballot box with anti-immigrant sentiment.
This anti-immigrant sentiment led many of them into the arms of Donald Trump during the 2016 election, and he was able to garner thousands of votes in the greater Houston area. In the grand scheme of things, there was little risk of Trump losing Texas anyway, but his strength of victory in the largest red state sent a statement to those who believed Texas’ increasingly diverse population and shifting demographics could cause the Lone Star State to shift to the left.
It isn’t just the anti-immigrant sentiment that brings a solid red streak to Houston either. The city has a bit of a libertarian streak when it comes to business and economic policy — evidenced by the infamous lack of zoning restrictions here. Businesses and homes can exist side-by-side nearly everywhere in the city, leading to unique problems not found elsewhere.
Supporters of the policy argue that private property is sacrosanct and that individuals should be able to do with their property as they see fit — be it build a business, a home, or just leave it as is. Opponents argue that without zoning protections, property values are harmed for businesses and residences alike. HOAs do exist in a few areas, though even these are less powerful than in most cities around the nation.
Republicans and Democrats alike have shown little interest over time in putting restrictions on the books. It can be considered political suicide in Houston to attempt to put rules in place, as residents have become accustomed to the freedom afforded them. While the results can sometimes be chaotic, like the time when a group built an amusement park right in the middle of a bunch of homes.
The libertarian streak doesn’t end there either. Houston is one of the few Texas cities where marriage equality isn’t a controversial topic. While the rest of the state was aggressive about stamping out the freedom to marry — going so far as to pass laws nullifying marriages conducted elsewhere — Houston voters were much more favorable to the idea. The same goes for abortion. It can be nearly impossible to find a clinic anywhere in the state, but Houston has at least three providers for the service, though numbers vary by source and can change as state laws continue to try to restrict the right.
It isn’t all sunshine and roses in Houston, however. The city’s government is among the most corrupt in the nation, often drawing comparisons to Chicago. Strong-arm tactics by both the left and the right have been used to enrich politicians, and the city has never been shy about using force to extort money from businesses and individuals.
Crime rates are also extremely high in Houston, thanks largely to its status as a major shipping center. Drugs flow in and out of the country through the ports here, and the murder rate is sky-high — comparable to Baltimore and Chicago. Police abuse is also commonplace as the drug war offers cover for bad cops to violate individual liberties and use force against innocent and guilty alike.
The high crime rates have also led to a law and order mentality among citizens who fear the criminals. This served as another impetus to drive many into GOP arms as they ran on the platform of supporting the police.
The political future of Houston remains murky, however. President Trump is in little danger of dropping the state in 2020, but Houston’s increasing diversity and growing population are leading it leftward. While much of the immigration is from international sources — especially Mexico — large numbers of Americans have also relocated here, most notably from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. These shifting demographics point to Houston’s future as a blue stalwart in a massive sea of red.