Little Thicket Park In addition to the major issues likely to come before the Legislature, a number of lesser issues will be given consideration and will likely pass in some form of omnibus bill. These revisions, embodied in the Report of the Interim House Election Code Committee, cover a wide range of reforms, including the creation of a voluntary Fair Campaign Practices Commission, liberalizing absentee voting requirements, legalizing voting assistance to illiterates, allowing children under 12 to accompany parents to the polls and eliminating the requirement for voters to sign the ballot stub of paper ballots. The Texas Election Code is a long, clumsy, confusing, sometimes contradictory and in many ways discriminatory document which is in need of thorough revision. Since its codification in .1951, it has been amended so many times that it is scarcely worthy of the title “Code.” Numerous of its provisions have recently been declared unconstitutional. While most of the items in the Interiin House Election Code Committee Report represent improvement, this form of coninuous piecemeal-patchwork will never do the job well. The Legislature could best serve the interests of the state by passing those major reforms which presently demand attention and by creating a bi-partisan commission involving state officials, party officials and private citizens to study the code in its entirety, begin anew, and propose to the next Legislature an entirely new election code. This procedure is not untried, as the able work of the Penal Code Revision Project has demonstrated. To be workable the commission would require sufficient funding to hire competent and able staff. The basic principles upon which any election code is based are fairly simple: it should be easy for all qualified voters to cast their ballots and it should guarantee the fairness and integrity of of the election. Administrative simplicity is desirable, but not at the expense of making it difficult for a voter to vote or at the risk of jeopardizing the integrity of the election. Unfortunately, first-rate reform of the registration system and of the administration of primaries may be hampered by the lobby of those who will administer registration and conduct the primaries. In the face of opportunity, this potential indulgence in easing the concern of county officials over administrative problems could have a detrimental effect on the quality of the reform. The recent court decisions make reform of the Texas Election Code a hot item in the 62nd Legislature. They require that certain changes be made. And changes will be made. But the current outlook for thorough and meaningful overhaul of one of the most archaic and discriminatory election systems in the country is not bright at present. The cause is seeking a champion. By Pete Gunter Denton In 1927 the first Big Thicket Association was formed, in an attempt to protect the sprawling Thicket wilderness in southeast Texas. The original Big Thicket Association felt that it asked for very little: a mere 400,000 acre national park centered in Polk County. In terms of finances the request was indeed modest. Back then, the proposed acreage could have been purchased for a song. Unfortunately, just when the association began to build a real political following the Second World War intervened. Not until 1964, a generation later, was a second Big Thicket Association formed. By then it was clear that, in the words of a local lumber exec: “The way we’re going, in ten years there won’t be Buzzsaws, bulldozers, subdivisions were coming in fast. As members of the second Big Thicket Association soon found out, in the beginning the newly proposed Big Thicket National Park was a political liability: few besides Sen. Ralph Yarborough had the fortitude to embrace it. Many opposed it; the rest were silent. And yet, the Age of Ecology was dawning. The notion that man ought not to rape his entire environment was beginning to stir men’s viscera, if not their minds, while shrewd political moves by the Big Thicket Association \(led in turn by well as by national envionrmental organizations like the Sierra Club, began to marshall public opinion. The Big Thicket National Park went from political liability to political football to political asset. Now even the Republican Senator from Texas has at last come out in favor of it at least, in miniature. So has Texas’ present Democratic senator. Almost no one except poor old H. Mewhinney and his John Dillinger Garden Club has come out against it. As far as the Big Thicket is concerned, an Era of Good Feeling seems to have dawned. Appearances, however, are misleading. Success at the present moment might be tantamount to defeat. Highly placed persons insist that lumber companies are going to push for passage of a park bill in the very near future possibly as soon as a month. The result would be a Little Thicket National Park, comprised of as small an area as possible \(81,000 acres Meanwhile, Congressman Bob Eckhardt of to create a 191,000 acre park. If The writer is chairman of the philosophy department at North Texas State University. Eckhardt’s bill does not get immediate backing, the opposition bill almost certainly will pass. Unlike Texas’ two reigning senators, Congressman Eckhardt has spent a good deal of time hiking in, and pondering over, the Thicket. His park plan, which shows real ecological insight, closely follows the rivers, bayous and creeks of the region. Exceptions include the minute but biologically precious Clear Fork Bog, the virgin loblolly pines northwest of Batson, the Hickory Creek Savannah and 40,000 acres of rich timberland in the Saratoga-Sour Lake-Kountze Triangle deep woods which Archer Fullingim calls the “Holy Ghost Thicket.” The remaining 150,000 acres consist of interconnected corridors along the Neches River, Pine Island Bayou, and Menard, Big Sandy, Cypress, Turkey and Village Creeks. Maps of Eckhardt’s proposed Big Thicket National Park make two things clear. The first is that his projected park boundaries would conserve segments of every sort of ecosystem in the Thicket region, with the exception of prairie. The second is that the bill will scarcely hurt the lumber companies, who stand to lose mainly swampy bottomland where not even loblolly pine will grow. \(Pine trees, needless to say, are the only source of timber that lumber companies are company representatives cry in anguish that a large Big Thicket National Park will put the Texas Forest Products Industries on the ropes, those droplets staining their two-hundred-dollar suits are 100% pure crocodile tears. One could argue that the proposed park corridors are too narrow to protect the Thicket, that such thin strips of vegetation are insufficient to withstand the immediate influx of cafes, service stations and quasi-Disneylands that will be constructed as close to the park as possible. A Small Thicket National Park, however, would be even less able to withstand tourist pressure than the park Eckhartd proposes. And until lumber companies want to sell out their holdings in the region, there would be a great deal of land along the park boundaries that will definitely not be for sale. Meanwhile the orchids, wildflowers, magnolias, beech groves and palmetto thickets would rest forever beyond the reach of the bulldozer. And the experience of a float trip down the unpolluted waters of Village Creek would remain for future generations: not just for the present generation, for a few more years. short. Either conservationists get behind Eckhardt’s bill now, or they will lose just when everyone assumes they are winning. March 26, 1971 9 …i I I.V ee.
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