Political Parties in Texas GOVT 2305
In the previous sections we discussed elections and the rules that govern how people get elected to office. This creates incentives for organizations to develop to effectively compete in those elections.
Parties are not mentioned in the Texas Constitution, but have grown into seemingly permanent parts of the Texas political environment.This is true for the nation as well.
What is a political party?Here’s a reasonable definition: “A political party is defined as an organized group of people with at least roughly similar political aims and opinions, that seeks to influence public policy by getting its candidates elected to public office.”
Here’s a huge point: The simplest goal of a political party is to win elections.
Parties dominate the political system in the USExample: no independents serve in the Texas Legislature. They are all either Democrats or Republicans.
That should explain everything you need to know about what motivates parties and why they do what they do. If they don’t win office, they cannot control governing organizations, meaning that they cannot dominate the public policy process. They will not be able to determine who the winners and loser are.
Throughout American history, elections have been fought over by two major political parties – the precise parties changed until the election of 1856. In that election, and in every elections since (with the exception of the election of 1912) Democrats and Republicans have been the dominant two parties.
The reason there are only two major parties is a subject we cover more fully in GOVT 2305, but it is held that it comes down to the winner-take-all system. Whenever candidates have to compete in winner take all races leads inevitably to the creation of two large political parties.
The fact that there are two large parties means that neither major party (the Democrats or Republicans) are cohesive – they are composed of various factions that fight for influence within the party.
Its worth noting that parties exist on all levels of government. Democrats and Republicans have a presence on the national, state and county levels. What’s more, there can be conflict between the organizations on each of these levels about what the parties actually stand for.
Click on these for historical detail from the TSHA about the Texas Democratic and Republican Parties.
Those are the two parties that dominate elections on the national level, so they dominate elections in Texas as well.Further, they also dominate elections at the state and local levels as well.
As we will see below, political parties exist in a very decentralized, somewhat hierarchical, environment. Party organizations exist at the national, state, county, state senate, and precinct levels.
Prior to the 1828 US election, politics in the US was restricted to elites. Property rights requirements made mass participation difficult. Remember that this was one of the factors leading to the establishment of Texas.
The Democratic Party was first competitive in the election of 1828. It splinted off from the Democrat-Republican Party and was developed to support the candidacy of Andrew Jackson. It represented the interests of the agrarian states of the South and in many ways picked up the positions supported by the Anti-Federalists years before that.
The chief opponent of the Democratic Party was the Whig Party until the Republican Party developed in the 1850s. It represented the interests of the emerging abolition movement, as well as those of the commercial sector.
As you might know from history classes, the Democratic Party quickly became the party of the South and the Republican Party became the party of the North. And a little fight broke out between them.
Prior to becoming a state, parties – unofficially – developed in the Republic of Texas. To a lesser extent, this also occurred when Texas was a Mexican state, but the legality of these groups was questionable.
During the Texas Republic, groups tended to cluster around support for Sam Houston and his desire to join the union, and Mirabeau Lamar and his goal of maintaining Texas independence, and expanding the republic westward to California.
As discussed previously, the annexation of Texas was controversial and was a subject in the 1844 US election.The Democrats favored the annexation while the Whigs opposed it. The dispute hinged largely on slavery and what Texas’ annexation would mean for the balance of power between the slave and free states.
Since Democrats supported Texas’ annexation, there’s little wonder the Democratic Party dominated the state from the start. It also helped that most of the emigrants to Texas were from southern US states that already identified with the Democratic Party.
A majority within the state developed a hostility to the Republican Party that would lock the state up for Democrats until 1964. The two key events driving this were the Civil War (fought by a Republican Commander in Chief) and the Great Depression (initially presided over by a Republican president who saw no need to provide assistance to Southern States.
Identification with the Democratic Party became so strong that the term Yellow Dog Democrat became popular.This referred to a Democrat who would "vote for a yellow dog before they would vote for any Republican". There were many in Texas.
This was well before ideology became a major dividing line between the parties. Prior the 1960s, there were liberals and conservatives in each party, issues cut across ideological lines so moderates held power. Whichever side the moderates voted with, won. There was an incentive for ideologues to be moderate – that incentive no longer exists since the parties have become polarized.
Southern Conservative Democrats – Texans especially – became a vital part of the New Deal Coalition (along with progressives, union members and workers in general). This granted them a lot of power.
Here are some names of prominent Texans in Congress: Sam RayburnJohn Nance GarnerLyndon Johnson
Texas was beginning to have a troublesome relationship with the Democratic Party around this time. In the early years of the 20th Century, in order to increase its voting strength, the national Democratic Party reached out to the Progressive movement and to labor unions. But the increasingly wealthy members of the oil sector did not like unions – but they liked the government contracts. This is how a lot of the petro-chemical industry was developed around here. They made compromises with the national party because the saw a material interest in doing so.
The principle reason the New Deal Coalition was kept together was that Franklin Roosevelt, who was responsible for it, ignored the one issue that he knew would drive the coalition apart: civil rights. In all major pieces of legislation concessions were made to the segregationist South. Harry Truman did not continue to do so and the Democratic Parties in southern states began to slowly pull away from the national party.
Truman desegregated the armed forces and promoted the development of a civil rights agenda. This led to the development of the States’ Rights Party (the Dixiecrats) with Strom Thurmond as its candidate in 1948. It was an early indication that southern state Democratic Parties were dissatisfied with the national party.
Thurmond received a fair amount of votes in that election:Election, 1948*Harry S Truman (Democrat)..........................750,700Thomas E. Dewey (Republican).....................282,240J. Strom Thurmond (States Rights)................106,909Henry A. Wallace (Progressive)..........................3,764Claude A. Watson (Prohibitionist).......................2,758Norman M. Thomas (Socialist)..............................874 Total Vote............................1,147,245**
The Texas Democratic Party was still segregated at this time.Until the Supreme Court case Smith v Allwright, only whites could vote in the Democratic Party Primary. The party argued unsuccessfully before the court that they were a private organization and the federal government had no authority over it. The court argues that since they provided a public function, they could be.
Tension in creased between the between the national and Texas Democratic Parties.
All during this time the only party that mattered in Texas was the Democratic Party. Republicans not only had little presence in the state, but still carried with them a bad reputation dating back to the battle over annexation.
The only period of strength the Republican party had (until recently) was during Reconstruction when union interests, immigrants from other states and African-Americans formed its core. Ex-Confederates had yet to be allowed to become politically active again.
The fact that the state was controlled by one party was beneficial to the power of the state on the national level. The state and county parties could dominate the primary process and ensure the incumbents were not challenged. Since the Democratic nominee was guaranteed a general election victory, incumbents could serve for long periods of time.
This allowed them to amass a great deal of power in the US Congress due to strict seniority rules. The committee members who was also a member of the majority party and had the longest service on the committee automatically became the committee chair. Many Texans became committee chairs as a result could direct federal dollars to the state and their local districts.
Texas – businesses especially – benefited heavily from the situation. It helps explain the reluctance of the Texans to leave the Democratic Party as long as it continued to be the majority party in Congress.
It took decades for the Republican Party to grow in strength.
The only period of strength the Republican Party had (until recently) was during Reconstruction when union interests, immigrants from other states and African-Americans formed its core. Ex-Confederates had yet to be allowed to become politically involved again.
Previously we discussed how the 1869 Constitution was written by these groups and that the document reflected a desire to make Texas comply with national directives and to give the state power over local areas.
The backlash against this made the Republican a minor party in Texas until the national Democratic Party started shifting its positions on civil rights and other issues as mentioned above.
The Republican Party was beginning to make inroads in the state.
The first Republican elected to high office was John Tower in 1960 who replaced Lyndon Johnson in the Senate after he became elected Vice-President. He was the first Republican Senator from the South since reconstruction. FYI: There were rumors Johnson supported Nixon over Humphrey in the 1968 election.