Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Texas "two-step": a continuing mechanism for privileging elites over rank and file Democrats

The history of the Texas State Democratic Party is extensive and complex, like the rest of the history of Texas. With NQ radio devoting renewed attention to what occurred in the caucuses in this election season, it seemed an ideal time to focus on a small piece of that much larger history and take a look at how Texans ended up with a prima-caucus or, having been here for this year's version, what I will always think of as the Texas two-step.

I recommend reading a fuller account of the Democratic Party in Texas here. Meanwhile, here's the scoop on the whys and wherefors of the two step, which traces directly back to mid-twentieth century developments in both Texas and federal law. In Texas state law structures the Democratic Party, meaning that the state laws involved must conform to the requirements of the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court. Not surprisingly, through 1944 Texas had an "all-white" primary law : in other words, blacks, American Indians, and anybody else not considered "white" could not vote in any party's primary. After several challenges to this bigoted law, and several attempts by the Texas state legislature to permit the Democratic Party to exclude non-whites from participating, in 1944 the U.S. Supreme Court decided Smith v. Allwright, decisively rejecting any primary rules that excluded voters on the basis of race.

In the 1960s and 1970s progressive Texas Democrats welcomed the participation and support of black voters, because at both state and national levels The Democratic Party involved in the struggle for civil rights for Americans of all races. But in the period between 1944 and the civil rights movement, the state level Democratic Party in Texas (along with other southern state level Democratic Parties) was not exactly reaching out to enfranchise blacks.

Caucuses in all states that use them have always been a way to increase the power of Party elites at the expense of rank and file voters who participate in primaries. Nothing distinguishes Texas from other caucus states in this regard. But Texas had a history of primaries and state law called for them. So the Texas caucuses became a key way for Party insiders or elites to blunt the effects of a the more inclusive primary votes. The caucus - which has varied in form and structure throughout the decades - was at one time used to preserve white dominance even as nonwhites gained a legal right to vote in the Texas Democratic party primaries.

Formally speaking however caucuses are color blind. They privileges whoever seeks to blunt the primary process in Texas. So, any candidate who thinks she or he will fair less well in the more accessible primaries will tend to invest resources in controlling the caucuses. Whether one finds it ironic or fitting that this year that candidate was the Democratic Party's first major African-American contender for its nomination will depend on one's view of the use of historically racist mechanisms to achieve outcomes that produce race-related results that run contrary to racism.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Mary Lou said...

Heidi - this essay belongs in the pages of the New York Times... it is brilliant, accessible and timely and deserves a very wide audience.

July 28, 2008 at 12:13 PM  
Blogger pm317 said...

Whether one finds it ironic or fitting that this year that candidate was the Democratic Party's first major African-American contender for its nomination will depend on one's view of the use of historically racist mechanisms to achieve outcomes that produce race-related results that run contrary to racism.

Heidi Li, on NQ, you brought attention to this point and even referred to some calling it poetic justice. But my own thinking is that it will only backfire for the AA community -- how often will they get a AA candidate like Obama to play games like this again? If anything, they may pay a big price next time around in their local politics because of Obama's repugnant use of (historically) racist mechanisms as you aptly call them. What is personally galling to me is that he used all these questionable means against one of his own party instead of letting the chips fall where they may and help the party to win in November.

July 28, 2008 at 11:21 PM  
Blogger warrior princess said...

I think it is time for good Democrats to leave the party,become Independants and work from the outside. This is the kind of pressure they will notice, and it will inform them that there are, indeed,consequences to their actions.

August 28, 2008 at 11:33 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home