The Texas Observer SEPT. 17, 1965 A Journal of Free Voices A Window to The South `Another Crystal City’? Mathis Liberals Try Anew 25c Mathis, Tex. A local revolution by ballot box has occurred in Mathis that may provide the example of grassroots reform in behalf of South Texas’ Latin-Americans that Crystal City of 1963 fell short of. Although Latin-Americans outnumber others in many towns in South Texas, traditionally they have had virtually no voice in some of the local governments. A slate of Latin-American candidates swept into office in Crystal City two years ago by the simple expedient of poll tax and getout-the-vote camp a\\i g n s. There then happened a series of accusations, coups, counter-coups, shows of force by Rangers and police, threats, firings, and other foulups. According to some of the partisans of the take-over, the comic opera obscured real improvements the Latin-American councilmen made for the poor people of Crystal City, but they were defeated this year and replaced by a mixed Latin and Anglo slate associated with the old regime. Mathis is a town of 6,000 people 35 miles northwest of Corpus Christi. About three-fourths of the population of the town is Latin-American. Last April the “Action Party,” made up of a large part of the town’s Latin population and a handful of sympathetic Anglos, came into power, winning the city council elections and ousting a regime whose antecedents have ruled virtually uncontested since Mathis’ earliest days. The Action Party had its beginning prior to city elections in 1963. Ismael Alfaro, who operates a used auto parts lot, began talking to friends about the grievances of many against the city fathers. The talk developed a movement, which then sponsored the candidacy of three for the council that year. The vote was close. Both Bott and Chavez say they opposed the Action Party’s slate in 1963, believing its candidates were unqualified, but the lessons of that yearand reports from Crystal Citywere not forgotten as 1965 began. Persons who support the cause of the ousted group have threatened a boycott in paying city taxes this fall and have The writer, Greg Olds, was editor of the weekly Richardson Echo and president of the Dallas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. He is now news editor of ‘the Robstown Record. Greg Olds hounded officials and their families with abuse by telephone and in person. Outgoing officials nearly depleted the city’s general fund in the week left to them after they lost the elections, and they hastily appointed three people to the five-member city public housing authority when no vacancies existed. Mistakes that insurgent Latins are said to have made in Crystal City are very much in the minds of Mathis peoplethe new order and the old. Even before the elections early this spring, charges of “another Crystal City” were in the air. After the election outgoing Mayor Milton F. Boatwright, a councilman the last 12 years, said the situation was “a repetition of Crystal City.” The promise of the Action Party rests on several factors. Two members of the new three-man city council havecollege degrees. The newly hired city secretary, the town’s ranking full-time employee, is college-trained and experienced as a professional accountant. The three party leadersthe councilmenall apparently have job security; two are self-employed and the third is a skilled professional man, a pharmacist at a local drug store. The head of the new government is an Anglo, reflecting the Action Party’s attitude that it welcomes all, regardless of race, who support its principles. M AYOR WINSTON BOTT has the respect of the Latin community; it is believed by some observers here that he is a cautious, prudent man who would not be part of a vengeful movement and who’ is dedicated to the Latins’ aspirations for social and economic justice. An Ohio-born, 45-year-old civil engineer, he came to Texas in 1948. In 1956 he moved to Mathis to help with the engineering of nearby Lake Mathis, which provides some of the Corpus Christi water supply. He deplores, in his quiet-spoken way, the abuses Latins have for generations suffered. “Some people think,” he says, “that because they pay most of the taxes they should be able to run the government and not let the little people have any vote in the government because they pay little or no taxes.” Bott concedes that an “extremist element” exists among members and sup porters of his Action Partythose who believe that “heads should roll”but he and other Action Party leaders have maintained restraint so far despite what they regard as galling provocations from the deposed regime. Bott serves on the city council with Manuel Chavez, 46-year-old native of Mexico, a pharmacist who graduated from the University of Texas, and Joe Ramirez, 45, a native of Mathis and a graduate of its high school who operates an upholstery shop at his home. The former council was made up of a rural mail carrier who owns property and is main stockholder of the country club; the manager of a large farm and ranch, and a partner in a family grocery. “There’s nothing in this townnothingthat’s not dependent on agriculture in some way,” says Councilman Chavez. “This is a captive town in that the only source of income for most of the people is work on farms. The larger landowners are determined to maintain a ‘labor pool’ here. There is a definite, purposeful intent to keep Mathis isolated and keep things the way they’ve been for yearswith a plentiful supply of those dependent on farm labor for a living. There’s no future for Mathis until we break this isolation farmers have imposed, this ‘wall of hay.’ ” This theme is echoed by Mayor Bott. A former president of the local chamber of commerce, he says that one of the first acts of the chamber when it was founded in 1913 was to take the gates down that protected the town, “but in 1965 the gates are still there, in a way.” VVE DECIDED before we got into all this,” Bott says, “that abuse would have to be withstood.” He recounts four qualifications that were established for the mayoral candidate by Action Party leaders early this year, before he was chosen as nominee: An income and livelihood immune from local pressure; Competence to do the job ; Complete lack of racial bias; and Stamina to face the pressure that would be sure to come. In March, some three weeks before the city council election, a proposed home rule charter was submitted to voters by the former administration. Home rule is it
You May Also Like
The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.