New Shapes in Texas Politics The coming twelve months promises to be the most important “off year” in modern Texas politics. It may take two to six years for this to become apparent, but by the end of the decade people may well look back to 1963 and say, “That is when it happened.” I A two-party Texas, that long anticipated and long postponed development that has eluded the South since the Civil War, exists now. It expresses new forces of change that can be slowed or speeded up, but not halted. Among them: The conservative wing of the Democratic Partyso weakened by Senator Tower’s victory in 1960 that it could barely prevail over the liberal wing in the party’s spring primaries this yearwas decisively depleted by more defections to the Republicans in November. Henceforth it is unrealistic for conservative Democrats to anticipate victories over liberal Democrats in statewide primary elections. Too many of their troops have gone away. As one wag puts it, “You can’t have all those little old ladies running around putting up Cox signs, staffing telephone committees, and attending precinct planning meetings without creating a social bond that transcends politics. They look upon all Democrats, regardless of other labels, as outside their social circles. They aren’t coming back, brother.” The tremendous rise in the voting power of Negroes and LatinAmericansa change deeply understood by political insiders on every side but not apprehended yet by Texans generallygives an ever-broadening base to the liberal-labor-minorities coalition. Leaders of these minorities will play increasingly powerful parts in the political decision-making of the liberal wing of the party. Indeed, in the competition from Republicans and conservative Democrats for the votes of members of minorities, these voters can be expected to be wooed by a variety of political types who only five years ago looked upon race-baiting as a sure vote-getting device. Roughly 100,000 Negroes voted Larry Goodwyn in November in Texasa statistic to which politicians respond. The emergence of well trained and energetic Republican precinct organizations in medium sized cities, small towns, and even rural areas will keep newly-arrived Republicans glued in to the G.O.P. for state races in contrast to the old conservative custom of voting Democratic in the spring and Republican in presidential’ elections. Together with the increasing muscle of the liberals, this really kills the old-line conservative Democratic state machine. Before passing from the contemporary scene, the conservative Democratic aggregation can be expected to make one and possibly two desperate and well financed efforts to stay the engulfing tides of liberalism and Republicanism. But the San Antonio precedent could apply here. First, the liberals, united behind Henry Gonzalez in 1956, upset the incumbent conservative Democratic state senator, Ozzie Latimer, by a few hundred votes. Seizing the opportunity of opposing a liberal, the Republicans ran a well financed but underorganized campaign against Gonzalez in the general election. The G.O.P. lost, but learned some lessons and pledged a clan of recruits from among Latimer’s former friends in the Democratic Party. Taking heart from Gonzalez’ fortunes, the liberals next swept in an entire legislative ticket. More conservative moneyand votersbegan weighing the G.O.P. The long dominant conservative Democratic machine watched with shell-shocked horror as the two new machines rapidly organized in their midstthe eager, enthusiastic G.O.P. militants and the faction-ridden but victorious liberal Democratic coalition. In 1960 the Shivercrats made their effort to recall their former days of glory. In the most expensive local Democratic primary up to that time, they launched a massive assault on Gonzalez. But four years had passed since 1956, and there were now thou sands of card-carrying Republican precinct workers. While they watched unconcerned, Gonzalez massacred the conservative candidate, R. L. Strickland, by 17,000 votes. In the wreckage of that defeat, the conservative decampment to the G.O.P. became almost total. Today, in San Antonio, there is a conservative Republican Party, and there is a liberal Democratic Party. The conservative Democratic tradition that dated back to the Civil War is dead. The whole process took just six years. The same condition now prevails statewide that existed in Bexar County before Gonzalez’ election in 1956. The conservative Democratic organization in Bexar appeared to be in good health, with its politicians holding all the important posts, but was really sickas sick as the oldline Democratic machine on the state level. Gonzalez managed barely more than 50 percent of the votes in San Antonio in 1956; Don Yarborough got 49 percent statewide in 1962. Within four years of his first victory, Gonzelez strengthened his coalition so that it represented 60 percent of the Democratic vote. The same challenge faces liberal politicians with statewide ambitions in the 1960’s. Liberals can take heart from the growing anemia of the conservative Democratic organization, increasingly drained by involuntary blood transfusions to the G.O.P. But in turn the liberal coalition has all the awkwardness of youth. The crudest kind of political pratfalls are possible, even on the edge of victory. All of this adds up to a new premise in liberal politics in Texas. Heretofore, liberals sought statewide candidates who could add enough votes from outside their coalition to make up a majority. Now, the mathematics of the liberal situation calls for candidates who can hold all the elements of the coalition together. This is easier said than done, because the pace of change, in racial attitudes and in racial expectations, is far swifter than most liberal politicians realize. 1111 December 13, 1962 3
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