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.
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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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A quick word on clubs and organizations would be worthwhile here. Party organizations are augmented by a variety of clubs which help party identifiers participate in party affairs and socialize with those with similar views. Click here for a broad description from the Texas Democrats here and Republicans here.
There are many area clubs and organizations that provide similar opportunities in Brazoria and Harris Counties. You can finds links to area clubs on the county party websites:Brazoria County Democratic PartyBrazoria County Republican PartyHarris County Democratic PartyHarris County Republican Party
Clubs can be places where interested citizens can learn the political process including the rules governing party activities. They also can influence elections by providing endorsements for elected officials – especially in the primary process when candidates are competing against other party members. For an example, click here for the endorsements page of a 14th Court of Appeals candidate.
A quick clarifying point: Notice that some conventions are county wide, while some are held at the senatorial district.This refers to an interesting conflict in the organization of parties in the state. Some organization is based on counties, some is based on Texas senatorial districts – these are the 31 districts that Texas’ state senators are elected from.
Historical note: County conventions were once dominated by the county judge and his supporters – or “machine” if you prefer. These officials were sometimes referred to as party bosses. The primary was instituted in part to limit their control over the county party apparatus.Control over the county conventions lent itself to control of much of the political process.
The same political disputes that occurred at the precinct level can also occur here. Walkouts can also happen which lead to conflicts over which resolutions and delegates should be accepted at the state convention. Again a credentials committee determines who has the legitimate right to participate at the state level.
2 - They elect the members of the State Executive Committee, which is part of the permanent party organization and is composed of two members from each of the 31 senatorial districts in the state. Again, the temporary organization selects the permanent organization.
3 – They adopt the party platformThese are based somewhat on the platforms that the party had previously adopted, but subject to change due to the resolutions introduced across the state in the precinct conventions held a couple months previously. The “planks” of the state party platforms are then proposed for the national party platform when they meet during presidential election years.
2 – They nominate members to serve as Texas’ presidential electors should their party’s presidential candidate win the majority vote in the state.Remember that each state has the ability to determine for itself how to select presidential electors. Texas has 38 electors, in case you were wondering, because it has 36 members of the House and 2 Senators.
3 – They select some of the delegates pledged to presidential candidates to the national convention. The presidential preference primary is different that the primary elections for other positions. It is a system based – more or less – on proportional representation. The preferences for different candidates among party identifiers for different presidential candidates determines how many delegates are apportioned to each candidate.
A quick point: As with the national convention, the discretionary role of the state convention in the electoral process has been limited by the primary electoral process. Party leaders have less discretion in determining who delegates will support for the presidency, and who will be able to participate in the convention now than when the state was run by party bosses.
The Texas Republican Party selects all of its delegates based on the basis of primary votes.The Texas Democratic Party select just over half of its delegates based on primary votes. A few more are based on the results of the precinct, county and district conventions, and the remainder are “super delegates” that chosen by elected and national party officials.
“Today, they give us "the Texas Two-Step," a fun electoral dance in Texas in which voters can participate in both a primary and a caucus. Delegates are awarded with a typically overly complicated Democratic twist.Texans who decide to vote in the Democratic primary can do so without being a registered Democrat. They are able to vote during an early voting period, which occurred February 19-29, or they can vote today. The candidate who "wins" the Democratic Texas primary will get a big chunk of the 126 delegates up for grabs.
But there are still an additional 67 delegates to be distributed to the candidates through a multilayered caucus process.Those who have voted in the Texas Democratic primary are eligible to take part in a caucus at their precinct location this evening. Those caucuses will choose delegates who will go on to a county/district Democratic convention to be held on March 29. But it's not over after that. Delegates at the county/district convention will choose delegates to go on to a June 6 state convention in Austin. Those delegates will choose how the 67 national delegates are split between the candidates.”
As with the temporary party organization, the permanent party organization is broken down into precinct, county (no senatorial districts), and state levels, in addition to the national level. And also – the basis of the permanent party organization is the primary election voter.
What is a precinct chair? This office is at the bottom – or grassroots level of the party structure. It is closest to the voter. The person is elected to a two year term. The race is often uncontested – sometimes the position is unfilled. The stronger the party, the more active the precinct chairs.
The goal of the precinct chair is to organize party members in the precinct and staying in touch with known party members in the precinct. This is easy to do by seeing who has voted in the party primary elections. They are responsible for voter registration drives, get out the vote efforts and are members of the county’s executive committee.
What is a county chair?The county chair is also elected to two year terms in the party primary. This is a much more active position. The county chair presides over the county executive committee, which is composed of all of the precinct chairs in the county. It is the county chair’s responsibility to ensure that the party is competitive.
The county chair works with the county commissioners court to organize primary elections. They appoint all of the primary election judges, and determine voting locations. They oversee the acceptance of candidates who have applied to run for office under the party label and they oversee the placement of names on the ballot. They also are responsible for printing the ballot, renting voting machines and hiring poll workers.
Note: County chairs have to be on the lookout for candidates who might not be party supporters. Sometimes one party tries to undermine the others by planting fake candidates in its races. Hey this is Texas.Removing someone from the ballot can be very difficult though.
Together the precinct chairs and the county chairs comprise the County Executive Committee (CEC).The County Chairs presides over the meetings. The CEC oversees party business, receives filing fees and petitions from primary candidates for county wide office. They place names on the ballot and arrange for the county and district conventions.