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What's behind the rise of Texas?

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., Special to CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S. Census shows growth in Southwest, with Texas gaining quickly
  • Lone Star State is gaining four seats in House, the most of any state
  • He says people are coming in search of lower taxes, less regulation, cheaper housing
  • Growth of Hispanic population is a major factor driving increase in Texas, he says

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a nationally syndicated columnist, an NPR commentator, and a regular contributor to CNN.com

San Diego, California (CNN) -- Nearly six years ago, I left Texas to move back home to California.

I must have been the only one. U.S. Census Bureau data released this week confirm that, during the last decade, the tide was definitely going the other way.

The Lone Star State was the undisputed winner in the 2010 population sweepstakes. Its prize: more congressional seats awarded through reapportionment than any other state. Texas added four House seats and increased its number of electoral votes to 38. That will be second only to California, which has 55 electoral votes.

California, which grew rapidly through the 20th century, only increased at the national average in the past 10 years. It didn't add any House seats this year.

The other winners in the census lottery include Florida, which picked up two new seats in Congress. Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Utah, South Carolina and Washington all picked up one extra seat. It is a much bleaker story in Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Massachusetts, which lost seats.

Why did you move -- or stay -- in the last few years? Tell us on iReport!

It makes for quite a sea change. We are seeing the transfer of influence and prominence away from what has long been considered the power corridor of Boston, Washington and New York and toward the Sunbelt.

Texas is the buckle in that belt. If you want to catch a glimpse of the future, you don't go to Alexandria or Syracuse or Worcester. You go to Austin, Houston or San Antonio.

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A generation or two ago, Americans left the Northeast and headed west to California in search of the Pacific, milder climate, bountiful farmland and a spirit of tolerance. Now, they're still leaving the Northeast -- but also leaving California -- to head to Texas in pursuit of lower taxes, less government regulation, lower home prices and a spirit of independence.

I have plenty of friends and family in Texas, and they have good reason to celebrate this holiday season. After all, this is a place that is used to coming in second. Texas is the second-largest state in area, behind Alaska. And it's the second-most populous state next to California. But in terms of population growth, it's second to none.

Texas is a beautiful and extremely livable state, with scenic vistas and hospitable people. But somewhere in its bloodstream, there is an inferiority complex. It's just as well that my friends in Dallas can fly to Los Angeles or New York in just a few hours, because the city is always aspiring to be thought of as being sophisticated as Los Angeles and New York.

While some pundits are saying that this population shift to the Southwest is good news for Republicans, I'm not so sure that's true.

Texas is still a red state, but there is some evidence that it's trending purple. Election results confirm that Dallas County and Harris County, which includes Houston, are home to more Democrats than they used to be. There is still a lot of red in the panhandle and western Texas, to be sure.

But demographics don't lie. You can't talk honestly about population growth in Texas without acknowledging two things.

First, much of it is coming from transplants from blue states such as California. They are packing up preformed liberal tendencies and taking them into the land of the blue bonnets. According to The Dallas Morning News, an average of 80,000 Californians moved to Texas each year from 2006 to 2008.

Second, much of the rest of Texas' population growth is tied to the phenomenal increase in the Hispanic population. That's another subset that tends to lean left politically. According to Bill Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, Hispanics made up more than half the new arrivals to Texas. The same goes for Arizona, Florida and Nevada.

That's not surprising. The larger story likely to come out of the 2010 census is that the Hispanic population is exploding.

The data showing the racial/ethnic breakdown of the U.S. population won't be released until February. But already there is reasonable speculation that the Hispanic population could be somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 million, or about 19 percent of the total U.S. population, which is now 308.7 million. And in Texas, Hispanics will likely account for nearly 40 percent of the state's population.

There is no question that, as a result of the population shifts of the past 10 years, Texas and states out West are coming into their own and will have more power and influence to steer a new course for the country. But who will these states be steered by? Whom do you think?

Welcome to the new America. Or should I say, "Bienvenidos?"

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette Jr.