`Bentsen bill’ dies an unmourned death Groping for a primary law By Paul Sweeney Pho tos by Bo b W ie lan d Austin The infamous “Bentsen bill,” which set up Texas’ first and, so far, only presidential primary election, died an unmourned death March 1. The bill made it so difficult to get on the ballot that, last year, only Carter, Wallace and Bentsen out of the ten or so national candidates succeeded in getting their names before the Texas electorate. The death of the bill could leave Texas without a presidential primary for 1980 unless the 65th Legislature passes a new primary law before adjournment. Now before the House is a compromise measure pieced together out of three bills introduced earlier by Reps. Sarah WedR-D-Fort \(Schieffer’s involvement in the new proposal has been viewed with some amusement in the press and in the Democratic Party, since he wrote the “Bentsen bill.” One party official said, “It’s like putting the Edsel in charge of Reaganite muscle Under the current proposal, the state’s Democratic and Republican executive committees would place candidates’ names on the primary ballot according to party rules, taking into account those who have qualified for federal matching funds. Candidates can also qualify for the ballot by collecting either 15,000 signatures or enough signatures to equal 1 percent of the vote in the previous gubernatorial election. No more than 10 percent of the signatures may come from a single congressional district. The proposal provides for direct election of candidates, with delegates to be chosen later at state conventions. It does not completely abandon the winnertake-all system of delegate selection, but allows delegate representation in propor tion to the popular vote. \(Elimination of winner-take-all was a key feature of the earlier Weddington proposal; it was based on a recent National Democratic Committee decision to junk the winnerReagan Republicans in Texas, who flexed considerable political muscle at the national convention last year and who owe their current party hegemony in large part to winner-take-all, oppose Sen. Lloyd Bentsen Rep. Tom Schieffer proportional delegate selection. Wright, therefore, has insisted that the primary bill contain an opt-out clause which would allow the party’s state executive committee to select a winner-take-all `This is the third most populous state in the Union. Texas should have a voice in national political affairs.’ plan by a three-fifths majority vote. Jack On, executive director of the Texas Republican Party said, “If we [the State Republican Executive Committee] had a vote on that issue tomorrow, we’d have a winner-take-all primary.” Along with the Democratic and Re publican parties, the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus and the State Junior Bar support the bill. A number of major newspapers around the state have given the measure editorial backing. Urging the adoption of a primary, The Dallas Times Herald said, “This is the third most populous state in the Union, and Texans should have a voice in national political affairs.” `No way’ in 1979 Nonetheless, the road to a 1980 presidential primary is still full of potholes. Conservative Democrats fret that in a presidential primary held on the same day as the primary for local and statewide offices, their natural constituents would be siphoned off by a Republican like Reagan: the proposal allows cross-over voting in the primary, but a voter must choose one slate or the other. And many moderates and liberals of both parties were so badly burned by the last presidential primary that they can’t bear the thought of another one. affairs committee has already scuttled troduced by Sen. Ron Clower \(DBut adoption of the measure appears likely in the House. And should Secy. of State Mark White, who says he favors a presidential primary, decide to exert his influence, the single vote necessary to report the measure out favorably could probably be found somewhere on Moore’s committee. Many ardent supporters of the presidential primary say, meanwhile, that if the plan fails this session, they will oppose any presidential primary bill introduced in the 1979 session of the Legislature. “There’s no way the Legislature can enact a fair law in 1979,” says Carrin Patman, a member of the State Democratic Executive Committee. “Everybody will be choosing up sides. It will be a case of whose ox is gored and who’s getting shafted. I’ve seen it happen before.” Paul Sweeney is a freelance writer living in Austin. May 6, 1977 3
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