Conservatives form minority caucus Democrats approach harmony Fort Worth With the exception of the conservative caucus, virtually every faction at the state Democratic convention bagged at least one partridge for its pear tree. Gov. Dolph Briscoe got the only thing he wantedCalvin Guest re-elected state chairman. Guest, for his part, was gratified that all his hard campaigning had paid off and was especially happy to know that he had pleased bosom chum Briscoe. The liberals didn’t elect their candidate, John Henry Tatum, to the chair, but they could console themselves with the fact that, for the first time since 1948, liberals and moderates gained control of the State Democratic Executive Committee. Tatum could be proud that he had put up an admirable fight for the party’s top job. The Carter faithful left the convention secure in the knowledge that the party was intact and capable of waging a presidential campaign this fall. The Mexican-Americans got one of their own, Houston Comptroller Leonel Castillo, elected to a new state job, Democratic treasurer. And the blacks got their chosen candidate, Eddie Bernice Johnson, elected vice chair without opposition. You could say that the Demo convention functioned in the grand tradition of Democratic coalition politics. Such has not been the case for the _past thirty years \(see story Mike Smith open up the state party. New national Democratic rules banning ‘the unit rule and requiring proportional and fair representation brought blacks, browns, and women into positions of party leadership. Other new people gained strength in state party politics through the Jimmy Carter candidacy. Meanwhile, the conservatives’ power was sapped by the hundreds of thousands of defectors, engrossed by the Ford-Reagan battle, who chose to vote in the GOP primary for the first time this spring. Ironically, it was a member of the conservative camp, U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, who was responsible for instituting the state’s first presidential primary this year. If Democratic conservatives had been able to predict that Carter, rather than Bentsen, would benefit from the winner-take-all primary apparatus, they might not have supported the primary bill with such zeal. Hoist on his own petard, Bentsen lost the Texas presidential primary and virtually all influence on state party politics this year. Maybe that’s why he didn’t bother to put in an appearance at the Fort Worth convention. Bentsen explained in Austin, just before attending a UT football game, that he was too busy campaigning for re-election to the Senate to stop by the gatheringbut what better place to campaign than at a Democratic convention? GOP candidate Alan Steelman had more input at the Demo affair than Bentsen. The Steelman organization handdelivered campaign material to reporters on the convention floor. It included personally scribed notes from Les Weisbrod, head of Democrats for Steelman. If anyone got the short end of the stick at the Democratic convention this time, it was the conservatives. Since they have dominated state politics for decades, their demotion to the status of a minority was traumatic. The first blow came at the June state convention \(Obs., gates, by a margin of more than 500 votes, unseated some conservatives from Dallas’ District 16. The conservatives took a page from liberal history and walked out. This September they were back, but with the gnawing fear that they were on their way to becoming an endangered species. On a repeat of the District 16 credentials challenge, the conservatives were again unseated, this time by almost 1,500 votes. This was a straight liberal-conservative issue, and the liberals won by about three-to-one. For the first time in the Observer’s memory, the conservatives formed a caucus, just like the other minorities. At their first meeting, some 250 to 300 members of the “moderate-conservative caucus,” as they dubbed themselves, elected a committee of 11 to represent their interests. The 11 in Mike Smith eluded Claudia Brummett, one of Briscoe’s former national Democratic committee members; Manny DeBusk, the recently defeated Dallas County Democratic chairman; Dr. Glen Jones, a Wallace supporter who teaches government at Lon Morris College; John Brunson, one of Briscoe’s right-wing party leaders; and Corky Smith, a deposed member of the SDEC. Brunson, who chaired the first caucus session, explained that he and many other conservatives who are longtime supporters of the governor feel that Briscoe and Guest have forgotten who their real friends are. In courting liberals and minorities to keep Guest in office, Briscoe and Guest have sold the conservatives out, Brunson charged. He quoted Lola Bonner at a recent meeting with Briscoe as pleading, “Governor, give us back our party.” There was talk of running a conservative-caucus candidate against Guest, as a means of showing the governor how important the right wing is to his coalition. Others recommended abstaining on the vote for chairman or voting for Tatum. This must have hit the governor very hard, since he put his personal prestige on the line in Guest’s re-election bid. As the convention opened, Guest predicted he had the votes to win, but it was expected to be a October 1, 1976 3
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