At the same time, conservatives are determined to regain the state for their own cause and apparently willing to wage the sort of intensive political warfare which would be required for any measure of right-wing victory in the coming years.
The stature to which Texas conservatives have been elevated nationally, stems largely from the election of John Tower to the United States Senate. His achievement, more than any other, is looked to as present strength and future hope for Texas conservatives in general, and for Republicans in particular. The Tower success has probably enlisted more Democrats and independents in Republican rosters than any other force in the state's post-Reconstruction history. But still it is unfair to regard John Tower's victory as indicative of conservative domination of the political scene in Texas.
John Tower ran in a special election to fill a vacancy created by Lyndon Johnson's elevation to the vice-presidency. He ran in an off-election year when voting was well below normal. He ran in a campaign which fielded seventy-three candidates of which he was the lone Republican. In the run-off he faced Democratic William Blakeley who was probably even more conservative, though no one could really be sure. It was, as one Texan observed, "a choice between a McKinley man and a Neanderthal man."
Among the seventy-three original candidates, however, were the three leading liberals in Texas: Henry B. Gonzalez and Maury Maverick, both of San Antonio, and Jim Wright of Fort Worth. Had two of the three declined to run, the other would have easily defeated both Blakeley and Tower. And the lesson was obvious. Since the Senate fiasco, the liberal foces have reunited; they plan closer co-operation and organization, and expect centralization to be the order for future state-wide contests. Exactly how effective this new attitude will be still remains to be tested, but certainly the effort is being made.
THE vehicle which is leading the liberal organizational effort, at least for the time being, is the Democratic Coalition of Texas, a deliberative body including representatives of liberal factions throughout the state. It has thus far brought together union officials, minority leaders, student activists, women voters, and academic and intellectual circles. One of its signal achievements has been the partial awakening of the so-called "Sleeping Giant of Texas Politics," the Latin American vote. It has also just completed one of the most successful polltax drives in recent memory. And it will probably add great vigor to the liberal effort in the 1962 elections. Despite its definite liberal orientation, however, it continues to insist that it is "trying to build a Democratic Party without prefix or suffix."
Party members occasionally criticize the Coalition because, unlike the state and local committees of the party, it is not democratically elected. But for the present at least, this new organization remains the only proven means by which liberals can find their way to public office.
If the Coalition offers continuing promise for liberals, the most dramatically encouraging development was the election of Henry B. Gonzalez to the Congressional seat from San Antonio. Gonzalez was victorious in an election which witnessed some of the most highly concentrated, well-organized, well-financed, and intensely-devoted Republican opposition that a Democrat has drawn in Texas in many years. He was victorious in a city which has a Republican mayor and a Republican city council. He won by a substantial eleven thousand votes, emerging not only as the winner of a Congressional race but also as a great figure in Southwestern politics upon whose shoulders rests much of the responsibility for the liberal movement in Texas.
THE coming 1962 elections will witness, if nothing else, the emergence of a two-party system which Texas has so long needed. For the first time in this century, a Republican primary will be conducted this May and regularly nominated party candidates will run in the general elections in the fall.
Republicans are showing an appreciable degree of respectability in Texas and will perhaps display even greater strength in the next few years. It remains to be shown, however, whether or not Republicans can survive as a right-wing party. Conservatives have been encouraged by the victory of Bruce Alger in the Dallas Congressional elections and by the impressive triumph of John Tower. But Tower's may be the last great state-wide victory the right-wing will enjoy. Conservatives will continue to be strong in Dallas and in the Dixiecrat belts of East Texas but they may soon find themselves victmis of an exploded myth. They will discover that they in no sense dominate the political scene in Texas and without a striking change in direction cannot hope to.
The approaching gubernatorial election will offer an important test of alleged conservative strength. Former Major General Edwin Walker will fail decisively in his bid for the Democratic nomination and if he runs in the general election will lose that one also. He is a poor candidate who expounds an unproven political ideology. He will attack the Kennedy Administration at a time when the president's popularity is extremely high; he will run on foreign issues in a domestic race, and his notoriety has been more to his disfavor than to his credit. His defeat will reflect severely on the right-wing whose banner he carries.
It should not be suggested that conservatism is an impotent force in Texas politics. It has, on the contrary, a large following and perhaps a future. Its strength is in limited areas but where it is strong it is making efficient use of its power. It is a well-financed movement and is, in most areas, very well organized. It occasionally finds excellent candidates to carry its standard and when it does, it shows results. But neither should the strength of Texas conservatism be over-estimated.
The only phase of conservative outlook which dominates the main current of Texas politics is its displeasure with the confused mediocrity of present middle-of-the-road Texas government. Conservatives are successful in their attacks on the lack of direction of the price Daniel administration, in its failure to pursue much constructive legislation, and in its inability to surmount the growing problems of a constantly growing state.
Beyond this, however, Texans begin to show more sympathy to the liberal movement than to the forces of Texas conservatism. The outcome of the conflict will not be registered in a single election nor will it be determined by a single personality. Texas has a history of both conservative and liberal elements and neither can be expected to die over night