Collins writes that she has been fascinated with Texas and its role on the national stage since 2009 when she heard Gov. Rick Perry address a tea party rally in Austin where he touted the idea of secession. From there, she began to connect the dots to make the case that Texas dominates national politics and that that's not always a good thing.
Collins makes a compelling argument, and she does a good job of showing how various policies got their footing in Texas. But the book falters in that she never really explains why the rest of the nation goes along with the scheming and often bumbling Texans. She also doesn't prove that many of these policies truly originated in Texas, as opposed to the state's being one of many incubators.
Her politics are clear from the outset: The "empty-world vision" is not a good thing. The book likely won't find a hallowed place on the bookshelves of Republicans because, as Collins sees it, their policies and politics are misguided at best and perhaps just downright ignorant and mean at worst.
Her writing style is sharp. Collins is a master at sarcasm: "Becoming a Republican worked very well for Phil Gramm, who not only won the 1983 special election to replace Democrat Phil Gramm in the House, but then moved on up to the Senate two years later."
Or, "(Outside of Lyndon Johnson's post-Kennedy-assassination victory in 1964, the only native-born Texan ever elected president was Dwight Eisenhower, who moved to Kansas when he was 2.)"
And the book is an easy read. It's chock-full of facts and Collins' interpretation of them. There's a veritable who's who in Texas politics: Phil and Wendy Gramm, Ross Perot, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and his twin, State Rep. Joaquin Castro, the Bushes 41 and 43.
Collins starts out by examining the Alamo and early Texas history to explain what shaped Texas and how it still views itself, describing the spirit as "Outsized and brave. And frequently somewhat lunatic."
The first chapter is dedicated to Texas history and Texans' love of it. She even points out that Texas children are taught Texas history in elementary school and they pledge allegiance to the Texas flag. All of which reinforce the state's glowing opinion of itself.
Collins examines Texas politics from the closing decades of the 20th century to the present. The history is a fascinating compilation that includes the debate over the content of textbooks and education funding, how charter schools bested vouchers in the political debate, the savings-and-loan crisis, and the roots of the most recent economic collapse.
Texas is a major player in the textbook market. Collins writes that California has more public students but because it focuses primarily on the content of elementary textbooks, which it likes to be California-centric, the Lone Star State might actually be the most influential. Its size and purchasing power mean textbook companies are likely to tailor books to the ideals and values of the Texas State Board of Education. So Texas is likely dictating what many American children are being taught.
She attributes the savings-and-loan debacle of the 1980s to the influence on federal regulators of Texas' success with deregulating its savings and loans, never mind that the state would eventually lead the nation in failures.
The book has four parts. The fourth, which considers where things are headed, is the weakest. Collins just can't draw a clear picture of what the changing demographics of Texas and the nation will mean.
Still, for a vivid retelling of the past decades of Texas political history, As Texas Goes is a good read.
Jean Marie Brown's review originally appeared in the Forth Worth Star-Telegram.