Texas primary elections used to be later in year


East Bernard Express of East Bernard, Texas

While three federal courts continue to deal with Texas' legislative and congressional redis-tricting, the political parties are worried their state conventions will have to be postponed.

If that happens, each of the major political parties could have to pony up hundreds of thousands of dollars in hotel cancellation fees.

A three-judge federal court in San Antonio had already moved the Texas primaries from March 6 to April 3, a date agreed upon by the Democratic and Republican parties.

The parties need to have new maps in place because their representation at the state level in conventions is based on them. Republicans choose those delegates from congressional districts, and Democrats from state senate districts.

The San Antonio court drew its own maps after the Republican-dominated Legislature's maps had not received necessary pre-clear-ance from the federal Department of Justice, or from a three-judge court in Washington, D.C. Texas Atty Gen. Greg Abbott, a Republican, contested the San Antonio court's maps before both the Washington court and the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court has stayed the use of the San Antonio court's maps while it ponders the situation.

Justice Samuel Alito wondered aloud what's the problem with moving the primary date back. June 26 has been suggested.

The state conventions are June 7-9 in Fort Worth for the Republicans, June 8-9 in Houston for the Democrats. National conventions are Aug. 27-30 in Tampa, Fla., for the Republicans, and September 3-6 in Charlotte, S.C., for the Democrats.

Texas used to have its primaries later. Until 1960, they were on the fourth Saturday in July, with runoffs, if necessary, the fourth Saturday in August.

The Texas Legislature in 1959 moved the primary election date earlier, to the first Saturday in May, with runoffs the first Saturday in June, to accommodate the presidential ambitions of Texan Lyndon Johnson. Johnson was Democratic majority leader of the U.S. Senate, and planned to seek his party's presidential nomination in 1960.

But his Senate seat was also up in 1960. He wanted to have his re-nomination safely in hand before going to the Democrats' national nominating convention.

Back then, the timing of the state political conventions to choose delegates to national conventions was not dependent on presidential primary elections.

(Johnson wound up being selected by presidential nominee John F. Kennedy as hisrunning mate. He won both the vice-presidency and re-election to his Senate seat in November. That required a special election in 1961 to fill the Senate seat, which was won by Republican John Tower.)

Popular-vote presidential primary elections to choose national convention delegates began to multiply in 1972, after the Democrats' confrontational national convention in 1968 in Chicago between angry young protesters of the Vietnam War against the party's Old Guard.

Selecting presidential candidates through popular vote in the 1970s began to frustrate conservative Democratic Texas politicians.

The conservatives felt that liberal Democratic presidential candidates were given a head start by early-voting northern states like New Hampshire and Iowa. That could endanger the Texas conservative Democrats by trapping them on a general election ballot topped by a liberal Democrat from elsewhere.

So efforts began : n the late 1970s to move Texas' presidential primary earlier in the year, to join a "Super Tuesday" primary among several Southern states in early March, to make Texas and the South more influential in choosing the party's presidential nominee.

But there was wangling over whether to have an early presidential primary, separate from the regular primary elections for other offices. Conservative Democrats wanted the separate primary, while allowing people to vote in the Republican Party's presidential primary, and then in the Democratic primary for other offices.

That was proposed for the 1980 elections, in which Texans John Connally and George Bush the elder wens among the competitors for the Republican presidential nomination. Conservative Democratic senators feared that if voting in the same party's primary both times were required, Connally and Bush would draw off people who might have voted for them in the second primary.

Liberal and moderate Democrats rebelled. A dozen senators, who came to be known as the "Killer Bees," hid out for four days in 1979 to block the Senate from getting the two-thirds of its 31 members for a quorum necessary to do business.

Finally, in the 1988 elections, it was agreed to move the presidential primary earlier, along with all the other primary contests. This was partly to save the expense of running two elections, and to keep voters from being able to float around in party primaries.

If all this sounds confusing, it is. It's a mess. Stay tuned to see how it all turns out.

Contact Dave McNeely at davemcneely 111@ or 512-458-2963.

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