& Democracy
Political Change and Caucus Development in Texas

Formal caucus organizations have been active in the Texas Legislature for only a relatively short period of time, a result of two traits that have characterized the state lawmaking body throughout most of its history.

First, the two chambers historically have been ruled by powerful leaders, the Lieutenant Governor in the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. In addition to enjoying considerable institutional power, the holders of these positions also thrived in an environment in which power was highly personalized.

Second, until recently the Legislature has been very homogeneous in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, and ideology. In 1961, there were four women, no blacks, seven Hispanics and two Republicans in the legislature. By 1993, these numbers had grown to 31 women, 16 blacks, 30 Hispanics , and 71 Republicans.1 After 1993 the numbers of women and minorities leveled off, but the numbers of Republicans continued to grow. By 2003 the legislature counted 107 out of 181 total members who were Republicans.2 (You can see the details of these trends in figures that describe the increase in representation by gender, by race and by party.)

The power of the leadership in each house made it politically difficult and dangerous for members to attempt to organize competing centers of power, especially without any other basis for organizing (like party, race, or ethnicity). Such attempts were regarded with suspicion. As long as almost every member thought and looked alike, why would a member form or join a caucus except to challenge the historical power of the leadership?

Things changed in the 1970s. Voting reforms since the 1960s--including tougher federal protection of voting rights, the elimination of multi-member legislative districts in Texas, and U.S. Justice Department oversight of legislative redistricting--resulted in greater participation and representation among ethnic minorities. At the same time, social changes that grew out of civil rights activism mobilized women and minorities to take advantage of political opportunities in order to represent their group interests. In short order women and minorities were creating additional organizational tools, caucuses among them, for advancing their agendas.

Following on the heels of these social changes, came the rebirth of the Republican Party across the state. A result of the disaffection of traditional Southern conservatives with the Democratic Party and migration of conservative Northerners into the state's burgeoning suburbs, the resurgence of the Republican Party gave new life to party caucuses in the legislature. As Republican strength grew, both parties sought to use legislative caucuses as instruments for promoting party cohesiveness.

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Footnotes: 1. The Handbook of Texas Online; 2. Legislative Reference Library. (full footnotes)