martes, 11 de abril de 2006

The Texas Constitution

Daniel Franco

Government 2301-2460

Dr. Eileen Lynch

February 2006

4. The Texas Constitution

How is the Texas Constitution amended? What accounts for the fact that it has been amended 390 times (through 2000) while the U. S. Constitution has been amended only twenty seven times? Evaluate the role of the voter.

Logically enough, no organizational document ever written could possibly have the foresight to include everything that would ever be needed or provided for, nor could it correctly foresee all possible changes that the future could bring and account for them. And, as a fairly straightforward reflection of the paradigm of its epoch, the Texas Constitution could derisively be said to have tried to do just that, to include every possible situation, almost to spite the preceding statement.

The precise mechanics that allow such a plethora of amendments to the Texas Constitution seem straight forward enough. Deceptively so, because one could be led to believe that this is part of the problem facilitating the “amendomania”, as the video lesson calls it. Instead, the lesson insists that it is not easy and is awfully expensive and time-consuming since it requires the participation of the Legislative body and the voters. There is only one permissible way to achieve it and it is clearly defined in our textbook and in the video lesson. During a regular (or a special) session of the legislature a proposal for amendment may be initiated. Then, a two-thirds majority vote is needed to present the proposal for change to the voters: Two-thirds means one hundred House members and twenty-one Senate members. Now, the governor cannot stop them since he has no veto power over amendment proposals. Also, the legislature has to choose a date of elections when the amendment will be submitted to the voters. For three months prior to that election date, the proposed amendment must be published once a week for four weeks in a newspaper in each county. If it is possible, the amendments should be placed on the ballot in general elections so that no additional expense is incurred by calling a separate election. Then, if the voters wish it so, the amendment is passed as long as a simple majority vote is achieved (which means 50% in favor plus one additional vote). After that, all the governor needs to do is to officially proclaim the passage (or rejection) of a few dozens of freshly-baked, jelly-filled amendments. (Apologies, but by the time I finished writing this paragraph, I could not help but be facetious.)

By the year 2003, the Texas Constitution had seen 607 proposed amendments out of which 432 were passed. Referring back to my opening statement, the framers of the U. S. Constitution seemed to have been prescient about the folly of a super-detailed, all-encompassing document. Instead, they decided to strive for flexibility when they established only the very essential structure of national government and allotted broad powers to the governmental agents. So that, in the transition from a country where people were just concerned about having a government that facilitated and protected their occupations of shooting “theirselves” some “injuns” and writing Billy Bob and Aunty Mae to “tell’em ‘bout it”, to a country where people are just concerned about leading the whole world to a better future and making money off of it, the U. S. Constitution has hardly ever been an impediment to such activities. In fact, almost a full third of the Constitution’s amendments were included almost right after its ratification in the form of the Bill of Rights. In contrast, like most other states, the Texas Constitution reflected the vested interests of the people of that epoch who, after being sorely mistreated during the Reconstruction Era, decided that they did not want to be subject to the whim of any passing fashion in the legislative arena and therefore would spell out precisely how their vested interests would be protected by their state government.

None the less, this particularly idiosyncratic approach to state government still rests in the hands of the voters. And even though special interest groups might or might not have the clout to sway the whole legislative branch of state government in their favor, the representatives of the people still must obtain their authority from the people. But it seems that a social climate of apathetic and perhaps sarcastic voters permeates the electorate scene. Reasonably enough, I should add; the voters would need to dedicate themselves full-time to decipher and absorb all the information pertaining the pile of supporting evidence in favor of any particular amendment, without even considering the quantity of actual amendment proposals in a year (apparently, as many as 28 amendment have been proposed in a single election once before!). This will not do, especially for people who must work for a living. According to the video lesson, in August 1997, only 6.9% of registered voters turned out: This is the all-time lowest recorded turnout for a constitutional vote. However, the turnout in good years is not much better. It seems that, in an average, one out of ten Texans decides how their state is run.

Perhaps, I conclude, with the new attitude Hispanics have in favor of civic participation and their continuously growing population numbers, a new focus can be found for the electoral process in Texas. Perhaps, with broader Hispanic participation, Texans of good conscience would turn out to the polls out of a renewed and re-invigorated sense of civic duty, while the rest of the vested-interest-driven Texas would increase their voter turn-out out of fear of being out-maneuvered. The end result would be, I believe, a closer approximation to a true representative democracy.

Sources:

Texas Politics, 9th Edition, Richard H. Kraemer, Charldean Newell, David F. Prindle, Thomson Wadsword, © 2005

United States and Texas government I. Programs 1-26 [video recording], Presented by Dallas TeleLearning DCCCD, © 2005

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