Table of Contents
Overview of Texas' Government Structure
The Texas Legislature
I. Size and Partisanship
Over the 140-day regular session of the 85th Texas Legislature (2017), lawmakers debated a wide range of issues, including abortion, public bathroom use and how to address a crisis in the foster care system. More than 6,600 bills were filed. Gov. Greg Abbott signed more than 1,000 bills into law and vetoed 50 bills. More than 150 bills advanced without the governor’s signature.
II. Qualifications for Office
IV. Legislative Sessions
V. Pay (traditional culture, limited government)
VI. Comparing and Rating State Legislatures
Read your text carefully to get a good idea of the general characteristics of the Texas legislature. Our legislature is a bicameral one – meaning it has two houses. The House of Representatives has 150 members who serve two-year terms. The Texas Senate has 31 members who serve four-year terms. Our legislature has one regular session that is 140 days long and occurs in odd-numbered years. The governor – and only the governor – can call special sessions of the legislature in between the regular sessions. These special sessions will be discussed in more detail when we discuss the governor.
Legislators make $7,200 per year. Remember that our current constitution was written as a reaction to reconstruction and the writers were determined to make it impossible for the government to gain power. You see, therefore, low salaries, limited sessions and specific mandates of power. These things were attempts to rein in the power of state government. Individually, legislators are surprisingly homogeneous. They are predominately Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist. They are, by and large, conservative. Most of them are attorneys or real estate agents. Many of them have inherited money. And the majority is Democrat, although that is changing. In order to run for the legislature, the constitution requires only that you be a US citizen, a qualified voter, and have lived one year in your district. Do you know who your representative or senator is? Do you know how they vote on the issues? How well do they represent you? Why or why not?
VII. Leadership and Procedures
E. highlights of legislative process
1. three readings of each bill
2. committee stage and second reading most important
3. during committee considerations of a bill citizens can give testimony
4. first and third readings less important
5. ⅔ rule in Senate: ⅔ of Senators must agree to debate a bill, empowers minority
6. House Calendars Committee: can speed up, slow down, or kill a bill
7. riders: obscure amendments to benefit a member’s home district
F. legislative calendars
2. major: bills that require a lot of debate
3. minor: bills that are uncontroversial
G. logjams: most bills passed at end of session
VIII. Informal Rules
A. norms of behavior
1. do not conceal real purpose of bill
2. avoid personalities during debate
3. do not block unanimous consent
4. no publicity hounds
5. avoid public disclosure of private decisions
B. leadership style
1. consensus builders: decentralized decision-making process
2. hard driving: more centralized decision-making process
The primary function of the legislature is to pass legislation. Let’s take a few moments to look at how a bill becomes a law. The first step is the Introduction. The bill may start in either chamber and is introduced only by a member of that chamber. The bill is given a name and number and goes through the First Reading, at which time the bill is read by name and number only to the entire chamber.
The Speaker or Lt. Governor, depending on the chamber, then refers the bill to committee. Committees have life and death power over a bill and the power of the presiding officers to refer bills to the committee of their choice can determine the future of the bill. In committee, a bill may be pigeonholed – meaning it is filed away and never considered – in which case it is dead. The committee may conduct hearings, investigations, etc. This is the point in the legislative process at which citizens have an opportunity to provide testimony regarding a bill. The committee may amend or change the bill. If, however, the bill is not pigeonholed, the committee votes on whether or not to send it to the entire chamber. If a majority of the committee vote against the bill, it is dead. If a majority vote for the bill, it continues to the second reading. Perhaps because there are so many bills to be considered in a 140-day session, most bills die in committee.
The Second Reading is the only time the entire bill is read to the entire chamber. The chamber may debate, amend or change the bill. At the end of this process, the chamber votes to engross (print) the bill. If a majority of the chamber vote against the bill, it is dead. If a majority vote for the bill, it continues to the third reading. Prior to the Third Reading, the bill is printed and members are given a few days to read it. The third reading before the entire chamber is by name and number only. At this time, the chamber votes to pass the bill. If a majority vote against the bill, it is dead. If a majority vote for the bill, it goes to next chamber. In the second chamber, the bill must go through all of the above steps and be passed in identical form in both chambers.
If the bills that came out of the two chambers are not identical, a Conference Committee is set up to resolve the differences. A conference committee is a joint committee – half of its members are appointed from the House by the Speaker and half from the Senate by the Lt. Governor. A conference committee must agree to accept either the House version of the bill or the Senate version of the bill or a third compromise version. If the committee cannot agree on a bill acceptable to both chambers, the bill is dead.
Enrollment is the final step in the legislature. If both chambers approve a bill (with or without the help of a conference committee), it is enrolled. At this time, all of the necessary legislative signatures are put on the final printed version of the bill and it is sent to the Governor. The governor may sign a bill into law. He may ignore the bill and it will become law without his signature. The governor may veto a bill, in which case both chambers must vote by a ⅔ vote to override his veto or the bill is dead.
How to Follow a Bill
Below are the basic steps involved in passing a bill into law. Links to information available on the Texas Legislature Online are provided to aid in following these steps.
As you can see, there are a number of forces influencing legislation. The presiding officers (Speaker and Lt. Governor) greatly influence the legislative process through appointing committees and referring bills to committee. Their enforcement of the rules of their chambers can also affect the legislative process. Remember that the Lt. Governor is primarily a legislative officer. If legislators oppose their presiding officer too often, they will not be able to pass their own bills. It is in everyone’s interest to go along.
As we will see in more detail in the next section, the governor has influence over the course of legislation through his veto and through his ability to call special sessions. The governor can also send messages to the legislature urging them to certain courses of action. Too, through his appointments the governor can have some influence over how vigorously legislation is enforced. As we saw previously, interest groups can greatly influence legislation. They are perhaps the number one factor affecting legislation in Texas today. And coming up, we will see how the courts play a role in influencing legislation as well.
There are a number of problems with the Texas legislature. Because most legislators have little experience, there is usually a lack of legislative experience as well as a lack of expertise in the various issue areas. Too, beyond the presiding officers, there has traditionally been a lack of leadership. The normal hierarchy found in most legislatures is missing in Austin. Since the legislature meets biennially, there is always an enormous amount of proposed legislation. Usually, thousands of bills are considered in one 140-day session. Add to this the excessive number of special and local laws that the state legislature must deal with because of the nature of the state constitution. The amount of proposed legislation is beyond the possible. Finally, there are a number of constitutional limitations on the legislature. Your text goes into more detail on those.
A number of possible solutions to the problems of the legislature have been suggested over the years. Among those are to change to a unicameral legislature, create a joint committee system within the bicameral legislature, impose a limit on the number of special and local laws, change the constitution to give more power to localities, use more bracket bills, increase salaries to attract more diverse legislators and move to annual sessions.
The Texas Governor
I. Roles of the Governor
III. Powers of the Governor
The term weak executive refers to the fact that the governor of Texas has no direct control over most of the agencies in the state government.
A. executive power
a. 4 years, no limit on terms
b. no lame ducks, more influence on legislature
2. oversees, to some extent, state agencies
a. Appointment is probably the most important executive power of the governor.
b. plural executive limits power, many offices elected separately
c. ⅔ Texas Senate approval for most appointments
d. can fill state court and US Senate vacancies only until next election
e. some appointees serve at pleasure of governor, most do not
f. needs ⅔ Senate approval to fire board/commission member
As with the legislature, the status of the Texas governor created by the Constitution is a reaction to Reconstruction. The governorship was not meant to be a powerful position. The governor is only the nominal head of the executive branch. Texas has a plural executive in which other executive branch officials have more power than the governor in certain areas. The Lieutenant Governor, for example, is considered to be the single most powerful person in Texas government. The Attorney General is the most powerful official in law enforcement, although the governor is considered the state’s chief law enforcement officer. Both the Commissioner of the General Land Office and the Commissioner of Agriculture have more power over their respective areas than the governor. And, in his ability to certify the state budget, the Comptroller of Public Accounts, the principal collector of state revenue, has arguably more power over the budget than the governor. The Texas governor is not without some power, though.
Although a member of the executive branch, some of the governor’s most important powers are legislative in nature. The governor’s power to veto legislation is his most direct legislative power. Gubernatorial vetoes have rarely been overridden since the 1940s. The governor may impose a general veto on an entire bill. He may impose a line-item veto on specific items in appropriations bills. He lacks a pocket veto, meaning legislation becomes law without his signature. Due to the unique nature of the legislature, however, the governor can impose his vetoes after adjournment. These "post adjournment" vetoes cannot be overridden by the legislature once they have adjourned.
As we saw previously, only the governor has the power to call special sessions. Special sessions last for thirty days and may be called as often as the governor wishes. Too, only the governor may set the agenda for the session. The Texas constitution requires that the governor set legislative priorities in a state of the state speech at the opening of each regular session. Although the legislature is not required to listen to these priorities, often they do use the governor’s priorities as a starting point in the session. The governor is also required to recommend legislation for these priorities. Usually, but not always, the legislature ignores the governor’s legislation.
As a member of the executive branch, the governor also has a number of executive powers. His power to make appointments is his most important executive power. It is limited in a number of ways, though. For most appointments senate confirmation and senatorial courtesy are required. Too, many of the appointed positions in most states are elective positions in Texas. The Secretary of State, our principal election officer, is one of the few top-level appointments the governor makes. The governor’s power to remove is severely limited in Texas. The governor cannot even remove his own appointments without Senate approval.
Although the governor is considered to be the state’s chief law enforcement officer, he has very few powers in that area. Check your text for details. Too, the governor’s powers in the area of clemency are limited. It is the governor who grants and requests interstate rendition – but that is only because the federal government made it the governor’s responsibility. The governor’s budgeting powers are limited, as we shall see in our discussion on budgeting in Texas. As with interstate rendition, the federal government has made the governor responsible for federal grants-in-aid. Finally, the governor oversees, to some extent, the state agencies. The ombudsman, an official in the governor’s office, handles complaints by citizens against state agencies. The governor is, however, referred to as a "weak executive" because he has no direct control over most of the agencies in state government. Texans seems to like the idea that our governor only has limited power. Do you agree/disagree?
The Texas Bureaucracy
I. The State Bureaucracy
II. Democracy and the Bureaucracy
The Texas Courts
I. Judicial Decision Making
II. Judicial Federalism
III. Types of Texas Courts
E. high courts
1. Court of Criminal Appeals
a. except in death penalty cases, has discretionary jurisdiction (The power of appellate courts that permits them to decide which cases they will review. Appellate courts beyond the first level, most commonly courts of last resort, typically have discretionary jurisdiction. The procedures used by appellate courts with discretionary jurisdiction to screen cases varies by law and by volume of cases.)
2. Supreme Court
a. civil and juvenile cases
b. discretionary jurisdiction
IV. Judicial Selection
4. nonpartisan elections
5. partisan elections (used in Texas, except for municipal judges)
B. problems with partisan judicial elections
1. voting by name recognition
2. party line/straight ticket voting
3. campaign money
a. from lawyers and corporations who appear before the courts
b. conflict of interest for judge
4. minority representation
a. county and district-at-large elections hurt minority candidates
Look at the structure of the state court system shown above. The lowest court is the justice of the peace court and, in some cities, the municipal court. This court has only original jurisdiction in lesser cases. Municipal courts, for example, are often called traffic court because they deal mainly with traffic violations. County courts at law and specialized county courts, such as family or probate courts, have original jurisdiction in cases too serious for justice of the peace courts and have appellate jurisdiction in cases appealed from the justice of the peace courts. Check your textbook for the specific types of cases heard in each of these two levels.
If a defendant wishes to appeal the decision of a county court, he or she must appeal to the Texas courts of appeal since the next level, the district court, has only original jurisdiction. The district courts are often called the chief trial courts of Texas since this is where the most serious of our cases begin. Murder, rape, aggravated robbery – felonies are heard for the first time in the district courts.
The Texas courts of appeals hear appeals from both the county courts and the district courts. If a defendant wishes to appeal beyond this level, civil cases are appealed to the Texas Supreme Court and criminal cases are appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals. Texas has two high courts.
To get a different look at the structure of our state courts, click on the icon below.
In Texas, judges are elected by partisan elections. In fact, as a citizen, you are most likely to participate in the judicial process through voting for a judicial candidate. In recent years, however, there has been a concerted effort to reform the method by which judges are elected. The term merit selection of judges refers to the provisional gubernatorial selection based on recommendations of a nominating commission, followed by a nonpartisan referendum for permanent selection. An alternative plan involves gubernatorial selection with uncontested, recall elections on a regular basis. As judicial selection now stands, few citizens have any idea who is running or whether they are qualified. This allows judges in most cases to act unsupervised and, while most Texas judges are honest, qualified people, some are not. Knowing that most people don't vote and that many of the ones who do are voting in ignorance, do you like the idea of electing judges? Why or why not?
The most important role in disciplining judges is now played by the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct. This involves a long and secret process that seldom results in meaningful action. The final stage in the judicial removal process involves a court of review – something that will rarely happen.
V. The Role of Juries
VI. Crime and Punishment
I would like to define some terms which are essential to any discussion of the courts but with which you may have some difficulty. Jurisdiction refers to the types of cases a court is competent to hear. Some courts have only original jurisdiction, meaning that court may only hear a case the first time it is tried. Don’t let the idea of ‘first time’ confuse you. If a case ends in any way other than a verdict, if for example it ends in a mistrial or hung jury, it still hasn’t been heard the first time. If you are on trial for murder your first trial is an original case. If the trial ends in a hung jury – they cannot decide your guilt or innocence – and the district attorney decides to retry the case, the next case will still be an original case and must be heard by a court that has jurisdiction over original cases. Once a verdict has been reached, however, you may appeal the decision to a court that has appellate jurisdiction, meaning that court hears cases on appeal. Some courts have only original jurisdiction. Some have only appellate jurisdiction. Some courts have both original and appellate jurisdiction.
We also need to differentiate between criminal law and civil law. Criminal law is considered to be crimes against the state. Crimes in Texas are divided into misdemeanors and felonies. Check your textbook for the graded offenses system we have in Texas. Pay attention, as well, to the newest type of offense – the state jail felony. Civil law, on the other hand, deals with relations between two private parties – for example, a business contract that has been violated. Because criminal law deals with crimes against the state, a person accused of violating the criminal code is tried by the state. The state pays for the trial, provides the defendant with an attorney if necessary, and pays for the punishment if the defendant is punished (e.g., prison time). In a civil action, though, the people involved must pay. The person who sues you must pay for his or her attorney and court costs. You must hire an attorney to defend you. The defendant pays for any punishment – a cash settlement, for example. In any given act, there may be grounds for both a criminal trial and a civil trial. The two are very different things, however, with different rules and what occurs in one has no bearing on what may occur in the other.
VII. Civil Liberties and Civil Rights
In contrast to the US Constitution which included its Bill of Rights only as an addendum in the first ten amendments, the Texas Constitution puts the Bill of Rights at the beginning in Article I. Freedom of speech and the press is protected in section 8. Peaceful public assembly, the last of the US 1st Amendment rights, appears in section 27. Protection against unwarranted searches and seizures is assured in section 9. The rights of the accused in criminal prosecutions are specified in sections 10 through 21, including:
I. Local Governments
II. City Government
Texas is 80% urban. That means that most Texans live in or near an urban area. Texas cities may be general law (governed by the state constitution) or, if over 5,000 in population, they may vote to become home rule cities. Home rule cities have more local control over the city charter, so that there is greater flexibility in determining their form of city government. This is the principal advantage to home rule status. There are three basic types of city government.
A mayor-council city government is composed of a mayor and a council. The mayor may be considered a strong mayor if he is elected and has the power to veto, write the budget, make appointments and so on. Mayors may be considered weak if they are appointed by the council and have little or no powers. These mayors may be nothing more than figureheads. Often, however, the power of the mayor depends more on the personality of the official himself than on any formal institutional arrangement. City councils vary widely from city to city. Some are elected from single-member districts. This usually leads to a council that is representative of their constituents, but not very cohesive. A council that is elected at large will be much more cohesive, but not as representative. Council members elected at large tend to all come from the same neighborhood in the city. Too, minority groups are usually represented only on district elected councils. The strong mayor-council is the most popular form of city government in America’s ten largest cities.
A commission city government is composed of the elected heads of the various city departments – police, water, fire, streets, etc. - rather than representatives of geographic areas. The commissioners, who may also have an elected or appointed mayor, collectively act as a city council and individually as the heads of their departments. The commission form of city government was supposed to take politics out of city government. It didn’t. There are problems associated with the commission form. Those elected to head departments are often inexperienced. Even if experienced, commissioners still have reelection concerns so they may not make the hard decisions. Often commissioners are more concerned with the success of their department than with the success of the city. The people, then, are not represented at all.
With the council-manager form the city government may look like any of the forms of city government but, in addition, the city hires a person who is an expert in all areas of city government. This is the city manager. The city manager was supposed to take politics out of city government. The rest of the government – the mayor, council, whoever – could play politics if they wished but the professional city manager would be the expert who made the hard decision. This is the most popular form of city government in home rule cities in Texas. It does have its problems, though. The manager may really be an expert, but people with political concerns hire him. Often city managers either protect their jobs by doing what is politically popular, or the politicians fire them in order to protect the politicians' elected positions.
Almost all cities have problems with city finance. The state mandates that cities perform more and more types of services for larger and larger groups of people without raising taxes. Traditional city services include such things as police and fire protection, water and sewer services, and street maintenance. Increasingly, though, cities are required to also provide new services such as cable, health care and recycling. The major sources of city revenue have been and remain the property tax, the sales tax, and the mixed-drink tax. Increasingly, cities are turning to non-tax revenues, such as grants, to make up their deficits. However, the major problem facing cities today is citizen apathy. Less than 10% of all voters participate in local elections. Even fewer are aware of who their local officials are and what issues are facing their city. Do you know who your local officials are and where they stand on the issues? Do they truly represent you? Why or why not?
III. County Government
County governments hold a unique position in Texas. Under the Texas constitution, our 254 counties are administrative arms of the state and, as such, are governed by the state government and constitution. This means that all county governments look and operate the same regardless of their differences. The structure and operation of county government in Texas is oriented to serving a rural population – a holdover from the culture of the 1800s. County governments all have a county judge, commissioners court, county sheriff, county clerk and county tax assessor-collector. Many have a county treasurer, county attorney, county auditor, county surveyor, and a county budget officer. All officials are elected to a four-year term of office. Each official is given very specific duties. Check out your text for these.
Like cities, finances remain a problem for county governments. County expenditures are state-mandated. This means that counties are required to maintain a jail, provide indigent health care, hold elections, keep records, and so on. Expenditures, then, increase at the whim of state government. Revenue does not. Counties are restricted by the state in their revenue sources. The primary source of revenue for counties is the property tax. The commissioners court, within state guidelines, sets the property tax rate and adopts the county budget. A countywide tax appraisal district evaluates property. There are certain approved fees and bonds for capital improvement, but the property owners of the county are the major source of revenue.
County government remains plagued by problems. Counties lack ordinance-making power. They are allowed to do certain specific things, such as police junkyards, but they may not pass zoning or other laws. Counties lack a true chief executive officer. The county judge is the nominal head of the commissioners court, but few county judges have any power over the rest of county government. For most citizens, the county road system remains a problem. The main function of each of the four county commissioners is to maintain the roads in their precinct. Counties may adopt a unified system so that they turn this duty over to a road engineer, but few counties have, and even then there are problems with unified quality, cost and corruption. The inflexible structure of county government remains a problem for those counties that do not fit the mold of the 1800s. Lack of money is a continuing, and often worsening, problem. Property owners can only pay so much. Most counties have to live with poor salaries for county personnel (not the elected officials), substandard jails, poorly equipped and poorly trained law enforcement, and so on. What counties often wind up with, then, are poor quality personnel. Personnel who are able to move on to better paying jobs usually do so. As with city government, the underlying problem and the cause of most of the others is citizen apathy. The levels of government that affect us the most are the ones about which we know and care the least.
IV. Special Districts
Special districts are units of local government that perform a single function for a particular group of people in a designated geographic area. There are as many types of special districts as there are problems people wish to solve. Among them are water and soil conservation districts, utility districts, hospital districts, fire districts, mosquito control districts, junior or community college districts, and public school districts. Voters within an area establish special districts for the purpose of performing a specific function more cheaply and efficiently than could be done by the individuals within that area. Public school districts are the most visible and common special districts. Special districts are usually financed through taxes established in an original vote and administered by some type of board for the specific function established in the original vote. The major source of revenue is, again, property taxes.
Finally, councils of government are voluntary associations of local governmental units that come together to aid in regional planning and coordination. Your text has a much more detailed look at these regional organizations.
Public policy is the response, or lack of response, of government decision makers to an issue.
I. Stages of the Policymaking Process
II. Dynamics of the Policy Process
I. Measuring State Taxes
A. tax capacity: ability to tax and raise revenue based on a population's wealth (or lack of it)
C. per capita: taxes per person
D. tax burden
1. progressive: based on the ability to pay (federal income tax)
2. regressive: not based on the ability to pay (sales tax)
E. Texas tax system
1. average tax capacity
2. below average tax effort
3. below average per capita
4. very regressive
5. symptomatic of the Texas traditional/individual political culture
II. State Revenue Sources
III. State Spending
Spending directives by the legislature are the most important factors in determining the level of state services available to Texans.
Texas operates under a balanced budget policy. The state constitution requires that budgets not exceed the estimated revenue for the budget period. The Comptroller must certify that the state will bring in enough money to cover the proposed budget. Our fiscal year is September 1 though August 31 for a two-year period (odd year to odd year).
We also have a dual budget process, which includes the Legislative Budget Board (controlled by Speaker and the Lt. Governor) and the Executive Budget Office (controlled by the governor). The Legislative Budget Board, a more recent creation, usually gets more attention from the legislature than the Executive Budget Office – for obvious reasons. In recent years, governors have often not even bothered to propose a budget.
The area of governmental policy that deals with taxation and spending is fiscal policy. The traditional Texas fiscal policy is the achievement of a balanced budget through a low tax policy and a low spending policy. Our tax policy calls for low, regressive taxes – lower, in fact, than all but three or four other states. Refer to your text for a complete discussion on regressive vs. progressive taxation. Keep in mind, though, that regressive taxes tend to hit the hardest the people who can least afford to pay. Progressive taxes tend to hit the hardest the people who can most afford to pay. The sales tax, for example, is our single most important tax and our most productive tax, but it is highly regressive. Other taxes (property, gross receipts, etc.) bring in little revenue. Texas’s total tax revenue is 60% of all revenue, most of which is from the sales tax. Our nontax revenues (federal grants, land revenues, etc) account for 40% of state revenues.
Our spending policy calls for low spending for public programs. Spending directives by the legislature are the most important factor in determining the level of state services in Texas. Historically, those spending levels have been low. State spending for public assistance, for example, ranks Texas near the bottom of the fifty states in public assistance available to indigent people. Public education is our largest single expenditure. In order, our remaining expenditures are public higher education, public welfare, public transportation, public health programs, public safety programs and administrative costs.
In recent years, taxes have remained relatively low because of the growth in the Texas economy. The economic growth of Texas in the 1990s rested substantially on growth in the service industry. If Texas is going to maintain the same tax base it must depend on economic growth. If the economy goes through bad times in the future, as it has in the past, our lower and middle income tax payers will be hard hit by the structure of the Texas tax system.
Issues in Texas Politics
I. Issue: Water Resources
The lack of water is costly. Each of the several one- or two-year droughts in Texas in the past decade has cost agricultural producers and businesses impacted by them between $1 billion and $4 billion annually.1 The infamous eight-year drought in the 1950s, the drought of record against which all droughts in Texas are measured, is estimated to have cost the Texas economy about $3.5 billion in 2008 dollars each year from 1950 to 1957.2
Texans face the same challenges as the global community. The state’s population is expected to nearly double by 2060 and will also become more urban.5 Total statewide demand for water in Texas is projected to grow 27 percent, from nearly 17 million acre-feet in 2000 to 21.6 million acre-feet in 2060. From 2010 through 2060, water supplies from existing sources are expected to decrease by 18 percent, from 17.9 million acre-feet to 14.6 million acre-feet.6
Without a significant, persistent climate change that brings increased moisture, this growth is likely to mean that more people will live with less water. Ensuring reliable water supplies for the future, and balancing those supplies appropriately between rural and urban areas, and among agricultural, municipal, industrial and electricity-generating users is the challenge. (Click on the images below for more resources.)
II. Issue: Prisons
Confinement in a prison or jail is meant to punish criminals, stop criminals from committing more crimes, and remove criminals from society. Once the court system is finished with an offender, he comes under the jurisdiction of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The state purposes for which Texas imprisons felons are to punish and rehabilitate offenders, isolate them from society, and deter others from committing crimes. Texas has a history, however, of simply punishing offenders. In rulings held in the 1980s, Judge William Wayne Justice criticized the state for its treatment of prison inmates.
Texas has the highest prison population among the American states. As of 1997, the population of the Texas prison system was about 136,000 inmates. The state’s response to prison overcrowding has been to build new prisons. However, critics of large-scale incarceration of convicted criminals credit the net reduction in crime rates through the 1990s to the drop in numbers of the male 13-24 age cohort. In other words, they say as the population in this age group drops (the age group most likely to commit crimes), the crime rate drops. According to statistics compiled by the TDCJ, illiteracy and drug or alcohol use are two characteristics shared by half or more of the inmates in state prisons. Given that, what would you do to reduce the prison population in Texas?
Texas has a graded penalty system that uses the concept of enhancement to address the problem of recidivism, repeat offenders. Enhancement means a person punished for a second offense similar to the first can be given a greater penalty. Texas also has capital punishment for specific crimes, called "capital felonies." In determining punishment for a capital felony defendant, jurors consider whether the defendant would constitute a continuing threat to society. A defendant convicted of a capital felony and sentenced to life imprisonment must serve at least forty years with no good conduct credit. A defendant convicted of a capital felony and sentenced to death will spend at least seven years from arrest to execution. These inmates are given an automatic appeal unless they convince a judge to waive that appeal. Normally, a capital felony for which the death sentence was imposed is appealed directly to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. All in all, imprisonment is cheaper than execution. Texas leads the nation in the number of convicted felons who are executed. (Click on the images below for more resources.)
III. Issue: Public Education
Poll after poll shows that the public is dissatisfied with the performance of the nation's 85,000 public schools -- education tops all other issues of voter concern. States are responding with a variety of initiatives, but only five -- Texas, North Carolina, New Mexico, Maryland and Oklahoma -- have high standards of accountability, a recent Education Week survey showed. Texans have longed complained about the quality of public education. And yet, is public education in Texas as bad as we think? The Texas Association of School Boards offers a competing viewpoint. Click on the icon, read their side, and tell me what you think. (Click on the images below for more resources.)
IV. Issue: Religion and Politics
Our society makes special efforts to separate two fundamental human experiences: religion and politics. Such separation, however, has proven impossible, as is demonstrated by the debates over abortion policy, public school curricula, and the family. Especially in Texas, a very traditional and moralistic culture, it is impossible to talk about one without the other. When politicians begin talking about values and ethics, voters should listen with a skeptical ear. It's possible that their comments are rooted in deeply held beliefs. But they may also have purely strategic goals in mind. Sometimes, it's hard to tell the difference. You might enjoy some of the resources below ... just click on the links. Let me know what you think.
There is a myriad of small ethnic groups from all over the world in Texas. Native Americans were never a large part of the Texas population. An original group that was forced to migrate or was killed was comprised of the Caddo, Wichita, Kyowa, Karankawa, Tonkawa, Apache, and Comanche. A second group, forced into Texas from the eastern US, were also forced to migrate or killed. They were the Cherokee, Delaware, Kickapoo, Seminole, Shawnee, Alabama, and Coushatta. Currently there are approximately 400 Alabama-Coushatta on a Polk County reservation. A small group of Tigua lives near El Paso. A small group of Kickapoo migrates in and out of the Eagle Pass area.
Hispanics make up a sizable portion of the Texas population. The Spanish conquest of Mexico and the southwest began the amalgamation of the American Indian and the European. The Mestizo race initiated the creation of the Mexican people that settled and colonized the frontier. In the early 1800s there were approximately 10,000 Hispanics in Texas. By 1830, there were approximately 30,000 Anglos and Blacks and approximately 6,000 Hispanics, with the disparity increasing. Hispanic Texans took an equal part in the war with Mexico as a just cause against the centralization of political power by Santa Anna. At the Alamo, the only native Texan who died was Hispanic. At San Jacinto, Captain Sequin led the charge of the Texans. The first Vice President of the Republic of Texas was Lorenzo de Zavala. Hispanics played a critical role in the first constitutional convention.
As Anglo numbers increased, Hispanics lost political standing completely. Hispanics resisted the trend, but were overwhelmed by Texas Rangers, government institutions, discrimination and racism. By 1845, Hispanics were unwelcome in Texas. In the 1920s-1930s, approximately 700,000 Hispanics legally immigrated to Texas due to the Mexican Revolution. From 1940 to the present, a steady stream of immigrants (legal and illegal) came to Texas due to economic conditions. Currently, approximately 39% of the Texas population is Hispanic, with 70% of those born in Texas. Hispanics comprise the segment of the Texas population growing most rapidly.
African Americans have a rich history in Texas. The first Black in Texas was a Spanish slave, Estevanico, who came with Cabeza de Vaca in 1528. During 1800-1850, southern settlers brought black slaves into Texas from which comes the bulk of the present black population. Currently, approximately 13% of the Texas population is African American. During Reconstruction, blacks were politically active, holding legislative and other offices. By 1900, no black office holders existed as they had been effectively disenfranchised.
The modern population of Texas has changed drastically. In 2011 the white population became the minority population.
Economically, Texas is among the states with the highest income inequality, ranking 5th in the country. Its richest residents - the top 5% of households - have average incomes 15 times as large as the bottom 20% of households and 5 times as large as the middle 20% of households. The top 5% of Texas households receive 20% of the state’s income. Income gains over the last 30 years have gone largely to the richest households, while middle- and lower-income Americans haven’t shared in the state’s growing prosperity. The share of jobs that have historically paid middle-class wages has been declining. This has reduced opportunities for Texas families striving to get ahead and weakened our overall economy. Texas also ranks among the worst states for poverty, minimum-wage jobs and the uninsured.