The Texas Observer SEPT. 6, 1968 A Journal of Free Voices A Window to The South 25c Amidst the Wreckage, Hubert Chicago When the rhetoric and the rubble were cleared away in Fortress Chicago last week, the Democratic party could be seen crumbling into two opposing factions similar to the liberal-conservative groups that have divided the Texas party for more than a decade. The more conservative, establishment forces kept control of the party machinery by nominating the logical heir to Lyndon Johnson’s policies. The liberals and radicals fought the choice on the convention floor, in the committees and in the streets, only to be rebuffed by superior, better organized powers. Wherever there was controversy during the convention, one normally could find the regular Texas delegation, the challengers, or both. Texas liberals came away from the convention with only one clear victory the defeat of the unit rule used by the Texas majority for a century to cast the state’s delegate votes as a bloc. Gov . John Connally and other leaders of the Texas Democratic establishment led the struggle to maintain the unit rule. Both the Texas challenge delegation and the McCarthy forces in Texas had made the unit rule one of their prime targets. Another Texan, Cong.. Jim Wright of Fort Worth, an alternate on the regular Texas delegation, represented Vice President Humphrey’s interests at the rules committee meetings. Both Sen. Eugene McCarthy and Humphrey came out against the unit rule, but Humphrey’s statements were rather ambiguous. In a letter to the rules committee, the vice president asked for uspension of the unit rule at the 1968 convention and abandonment of the rule for the 1972 convention. He later changed his stance, however. Members of his staff said the first statement had been a mistake, that Humphrey, very tired, had signed the letter without reading it and without realizing its implications. In arguments before the rules committee, opponents of the rule repeatedly cited Texas as a state where the rule has been abused. Stephen Mitchell, McCarthy’s campaign manager, told the committee that under “the infamous unit rule,” a bare majority of 53 members of the Texas delegation could cast Texas’ 104 delegate votes. Mitchell read a portion of a letter from Texas Sen. Ralph Yarborough which called for abolition of the unit rule as “sanctioning the suppression of the minority opinion.” Both Frank Erwin, Jr., the outgoing national Democratic committeeman from Texas, and Will Davis, Texas Democratic chairman, argued that it was unfair to change convention rules only days before the convention began. To the audible amusement of the committee members, Erwin said that if the Connally _Democrats had known the unit rule would not be in effect at the convention, they would not have put liberals on the delegation. “We put them on there because we knew we could control them under the unit rule,” Erwin said. AMEMBER of the committee asked Erwin how many members of the 122-man delegation might vote against the majority if the convention dropped the unit rule. The Texas committeman answered with a statement which was to make headlines across the United States. “If this convention abolishes the unit rule or refuses to support it,” he said “there is a growing sentiment [in the Texas delegation] that John Connally should withdraw [as a favorite son] and ask some state early in the roll call to yield to give us the opportuinty to nominate another great Texan who holds the highest elective office in the land.” Although Erwin said his statement should not be interpreted as a “threat,” it was. Governor Connally, contacted by members of the press, said the statement was Erwin’s alone, but that there was indeed “growing sentiment to make that [Johnson’s] nomination, period.” Erwin’s statement seemed well-rehearsed \(he was able to repeat it verbatim at the request of tators guessed that it had been cleared with his close associate, Governor Connally. Some observers, including Stephen Mitchell, interpreted Erwin’s and Connally’s comments as a “boomlet” for the president. Many Texas delegates simply wrote off the statement as a manifestation of “Erwin’s famous temper,” as one delegate put it. At any rate, there was no groundswell of pro-Johnson sentiment. The president, speaking at Southwest Texas State College the next day, said, “I am not a candidate for anything, except maybe the rocking chair.” He reaffirmed his non-candidacy once again after the convention began. Later Connally said that the Texas delegation never seriously had considered nominating the president. Despite Erwin’s threat, the rules sub committee decided, 18 to 3, to substitute a “freedom of conscience” proposal for the unit rule in order to permit all delegates to vote as they wished. The Texas delegation then submitted a minority report, bringing the issue to the full convention. Connally and the Texas delegation felt neglected by Humphrey and his campaign staff. Before the convention the governor had met with the vice-president only twice since HHH announced for the presidency. Monday Connally and Texas House Speaker Ben Barnes met with Humphrey for an hour and fifteen minutes. Humphrey agreed to a last-minute endorsement of the unit rule for 1968 but it was not enough to pacify Connally. He was angered with Humphrey again Monday afternoon when he learned that the unit rule discussion had been scheduled for Monday night before the credentials vote rather than afterwards as Connally had expected. Connally had hoped to be able to vote the Texas delegation as a bloc on the various credentials challenges. The governor called the schedule change a “doublecross.” The vice president’s vacillations on the unit rule and on the schedule of convention events substantiated the governor’s belief that the Democratic nominee for president is not “tough.” TEXAS’ presentation on behalf of the unit rule was highly unpopular with convention delegates and visitors in the gallery. Both Tom Gordon of Abilene and Erwin were. roundly booed during their speeches. Gordon read the statement from Humphrey and added, “We have no objection to abrogation of the unit rule for 1972.” He argued that it would be unfair to change the rule for the 1968 convention. “The unit rule was first initiated in Texas in 1831,” Gordon said. “It was a good rule then and it’s a good rule now.” His next sentence was drowned out by boos. The rule was abolished by a voice vote. Six Texas delegates of the 122 said they voted for abolishment: State Sen. Barbara Jordan of Houston, Ed Watson of Deer Park, Benton Musslewhite of Lufkin, Ivan Haven of Port Neches, Pat McDowell of South Houston, and H. S. AFL-CIO. Senator McCarthy, speaking to demonstrators in Grant Park across the street from the Conrad Hilton Hotel, said, “We did one or two things at the convention. \(Continued on
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