Party Organization In Texas GOVT 2306
In these slides I’ll try to walk through the structure of the major political parties in Texas. This will include a look at how Texas parties are connected to their national compatriots.
A distinction will be drawn between the organization that organizes each party on an ongoing basis, and the organization that exists temporarily during the election season.
It’ll conclude with a look at the current state of the organizations of the Democratic and Republic an Parties.There will be some information about how minor parties in the state are organized.
The respective party websites will be resources for us as we proceed. You may want to familiarize yourself with them before you proceed: Texas Democratic PartyTexas Republican Party
I recommend this page which reviews the party structure of the Republican Party of Texas. Similar information about the Texas Democratic Party can be found in different places on its website – click “Our Party” and “Resources” in the drop down menu.
The county party websites are worth looking at as well.Brazoria County Democratic PartyBrazoria County Republican PartyHarris County Democratic PartyHarris County Republican Party
A quick reminder: Political parties in the US are decentralized, much like the entire governing system. They are organized at the national, state, county and precinct local levels. As a result they are very decentralized. Conflict is common between each level. In fact there is as much conflict within the two parties as there is between them.
Here’s a fancy applicable word: Stratarchy: a political system where power is diffused among and within levels of party organization.
Here is one of many definitions of “political party.”“A combination of people and interests whose primary purpose is to gain control of government by winning elections.”
I found this language from the Republic Party of Texas’ “About the Party” page interesting: “The RPT is legally classified as a general purpose political committee whose structure is determined by Federal law, State law and by Party rules not in conflict with State law.”
So, in a strictly legal sense a political party is actually a: general purpose political committeeNow you know
In order “to gain control of government by winning elections,” parties have evolved into distinct institutions in the state that are intertwined with the electoral and governing systems in the state.A handful of functions related to elections are delegated to political parties and are defined in state law.
State elections code covers aspects of party organizations – this despite the fact that parties are not mentioned in the Texas Constitution.Click here to go to the State Election Code – look under Title 10 for laws related to parties.Each party is chocked full of lawyers who know this code back and forth, in addition to elected party members who can make strategic changes to these laws for advantage when appropriate.
The election code establishes a very similar structure for each party. Again – walk through Title 10 of the Election Code (named Political Parties) to get an idea of how the state structures parties, party rules an defines the roles of parties in the electoral process.
Now let’s look at how parties are organized – generally - in the state.Again – a reminder – more detail can be found in the webpages of the state and county parties.
Note that the following refers to the Democratic and Republican Parties in the state. Smaller parties are organized differently – they operate without conventions. More on them later. For now you click here for the local Green Party, here for the state Libertarian Party, and the Harris County Libertarian Chapter here. Rules are different for these parties due to their small size.
First point: Party organizations can be broken down into two broad types: Temporary Party OrganizationPermanent Party Organization
Temporary Party OrganizationThis refers to the short lived organizations that exist following primary elections and are terminated at the conclusion of the national party convention. They are the precinct, county or district, state and national conventions that allow rank and file voters the opportunity to influence the state party’s decision-making process. The purpose of this organization to connect the preferences of precinct voters to the state and nation.
The temporary party organization is a relatively recent development in Texas politics, well – if you consider developments since the early 20th century as being recent. It is the result of the introduction of the political primary election in Texas – a subject discussed elsewhere. The purpose of the primary was to limit the power of party machines, which were often organized around a powerful elected official, usually a county judge. The judge’s control over elections allowed for full control over the local, county government. Allowing primary voters to determine party candidates whittled away at that power.
Permanent Party OrganizationThis refers to the year round organization that lead and operate the precinct, county or district, state and national parties year around. They include precinct, county and state chairs and the executive committees on the county, state and national level. These are the people who ensure that the party remains competitive and that its interests are served.
The former exists during elections – specifically between primary election day and the national convention.The latter exists continually and is held accountable by the temporary party organization.
The two are inter connected. Members of the permanent party organization, for example, try to influence who participates in the temporary party organization.Tyr to keep this point in mind: political power within parties tends to be held by those who have a deep understanding of, and influence over, the rules that govern party organizations.
To help clarify, here is a graph. The temporary party organization is on the left, the permanent party organization is on the right.
Note that party authority rests on the primary voters.More accurately, those who choose to show up and vote in party primaries. This can be a very small percentage of the general population.
Note: Primary voters are presented with ballots that are prepared by the county party. This means that their choices are constrained. The decision they are presented with is presented to them by the permanent party organization already in place. Note the inter relationship that exists between the temporary and permanent party organization. Question: How do people get on the county primary ballot?
“In order to be listed on the primary ballot for one of the two major parties - Democratic or Republican - a candidate must either collect signatures on a nominating petition or pay a filing fee to the county or state chair of the appropriate party. The number of signatures needed and the cost of the registration fee vary according to the level of office being sought. This chapter's feature entitled Getting on the Primary Ballot lists the various requirements for major party candidates.” – From Texas Politics, Chapter 2.1.
Keep this in mind: both the temporary and permanent party organizations are based on the decisions made by the primary voters of each party in each precinct.Remember that primary elections are held every two years in the state according to rules passed by the legislature that can be found in the state election code. They are party elections and allow party members to vote for party leaders and for their party’s candidates for the general election. Generally primaries in Texas are held in March of even numbered years.
A quick point about precincts – which were covered in the section on elections in the state. The precinct is the smallest political unit in the state. It has no governing authority. It exists to help organize elections. Each county commissioners court is responsible for carving each county into a number of precincts where each election is actually carried out. Harris County has about 1,000; Brazoria County has about 60. The county appoints election judges to run each election. Judges are nominated by each party’s county chair. Whichever party’s gubernatorial candidate won the majority vote in the precinct in the previous election gets to run the election, but the party whose candidate came in second gets to appoint an alternate judge that assists and oversees the election judge. So each party has an official that gets to oversee the elections in each precinct.
There are over 8,500 precincts in the state of Texas.The number varies since the design of precincts can be malleable. This fact, by the way, has led to the accusation that the precincts are redrawn in order to suppress voter turnout.
The drawing of election precincts is covered in Title 4, Chapter 42 of the Texas Election Code.Section 42.001 establishes that this is the responsibility of the county commissioners court.
Click here for Brazoria County Precinct Maps, and here for Harris County Precinct Maps.
When you register to vote, in addition to telling the county that you are qualified to vote you are telling them where you live, which tells them what precinct you live in. This determines where you can vote. If you show up to vote, your name only appears on a list in the designated polling place.
If you show up to vote in a particular party’s primary election, you are effectively declaring yourself to be a member of that party for that electoral cycle. This is true whether you are in fact a true identifier with that party. This means that you can help make fundamental decisions for the party. Stories exist about members of one party voting in bulk in the other party’s primary in order to disrupt their organization. There is little real evidence of this, or that these efforts are effective.
This is a key point: The process for establishing both the temporary and permanent party organization begins with the primary voter. We cover primaries and what conditions apply for voting in primaries elsewhere. This connects each party to the rank and file at the lowest level of government. This can create opportunity for conflict between the rank and file and the party leadership. For example, the Tea Party used the position of precinct chair as a way to exert influence on the Republican Party.
Primary voters do two things that impact the temporary and permanent party organization: First, they vote for their precinct and county chairs; Second, they have the option to attend the precinct convention that is held immediately following the end of the election at the site of the election.
Key point: By voting in the party primary one has earned the right to participate in the selection of party officials, party candidates and the content of the party’s platform. If you do not participate, you relinquish that right.
In essence, the temporary party organization is simply a series of party conventions that begins with one held just after the polls shut down after the party primary has been held.
The first is the Precinct ConventionThis is a short meeting composed of interested and involved primary voters. Any person who votes in the party primary can participate in the precinct convention. These begin soon after the polls close and the votes are counted. If one can prove they voted in that election, they can stick around to participate. Click here for info from the Wise County Republican Party.
The precinct convention is presided over by the precinct chair – which is part of the permanent party organization discussed below. Precinct chairs are responsible for organizing the party at the precinct level.
Two basic things happen in the precinct convention. First, resolutions are introduced, debated, voted on and adopted that can then be sent to the county or senatorial district convention for further consideration. These resolutions allow for rank and file input over what the party stands for, what issues they want the party to prioritize.
Second, delegates are selected to go on to the county or senatorial district convention. In presidential years participants must state their preferred presidential candidate. Delegates to the county or senatorial district conventions are selected based on the support that each candidate received in the precinct vote.
The delegates from the precinct are to be a reflection of the relative strength of each political faction in the precinct. Conflict can result from this however and some groups can walk out of the precinct and present themselves on the next level as the real delegates from the precinct. Credentials committees are used to determine which delegates from the precinct are legitimate.
Important point: Participation in precinct conventions is usually very low. 2% turnout among primary voters is not unusual. This allows a small determined minority of the voters to dominate the conventions. If they can do so in a number of precincts, these groups can develop tremendous influence in the party beyond their numbers.
Internal partisan political conflict – ideological or otherwise – often begins at this level of organization.Various factions can compete at the precinct level to define what the party stands for.
Another important point: Power tends to be held by those who understand the rules that govern how precinct conventions work.