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TEXAS IS NO longer a windswept table-top populated by cowboys and a few thousand chicanos. It now boasts two of the nation's fastest growing urban areas, the NASA Manned Space Craft Center, the Astrodome, and, of course, all those oil companies. It has a burgeoning population of over 11 million, 13 per cent black, and 15 per cent chicano. And, with 26 electoral votes. Texas ranks fourth among the season's top political prizes.
Traditionally, Texas has been Democratic. But a Democrat in Texas can be anyone from liberal state representative Francis "Sissy" Farenthold, runner-up to Tom Eagleton in the balloting for the Democratic vice-presidential nomination, to former governor John Connally, Nixon's former Secretary of the Treasury who now heads Democrats for Nixon. "Conservative" is the key word in Texas politics; it is a land of "conservative" Democrats.
Ever since they managed to wrest control away from the Republican Reconstructionists in the post-Civil War days, the conservative Democrats have had a hammer-lock on state politics. Although its specific interests have changed over the years, the Texas political elite has become more sophisticated in its dealings rather than more responsive to the needs of the diverse Texas constituency.
The decade of the sixties saw this Texas elite riding high in the saddle, with Connally in the governor's mansion and Lyndon Johnson in the White House. Johnson gradually became more liberal, at least in his domestic policies, while Connally moved even farther to the right as the champion of big business. But both men, in their time, exercised a lucrative control over state government that was made possible by their sharp minds and their self-confidence--as businessmen born to rule.
Johnson and Connally were polished politicians, adept at their art, and in that way much unlike their successors, Gov. Preston Smith and his crew, who bumbled their way into a widely publicized stock scandal. As the leader of the Dirty Thirty, a group of "suicide" liberal legislators, "Sissy" Farenthold was able to expose some of the corrupt, clandestine practices of the Smith group. Last spring Farenthold lost a run-off for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination to Dolph Briscoe, a conservative of the Connally line, by a margin of 55-45. Briscoe will win easily on November 7, but Farenthold's showing was the best ever by a Texas liberal.
Whether this bodes well for McGovern's chances of carrying the state is as yet uncertain. A Daniel Yankelovich poll taken August 25-September 12 showed Nixon leading 71-18, but since that time, both McGovern and Shriver have toured the state. An October 20 poll cited by the McGovern-Shriver state campaign headquarters showed Nixon leading by a margin of 52-38, which, according to state campaign chairman Donald O'Brien, marked a ten point gain for the South Dakota senator in a little over a week.
"I feel as I have since the nomination: Texas is winable, but it will be very close," Farenthold said in a recent interview. "This year has not been unique because of John Connally and the Democrats for Nixon. Texas is definitely a two-party state in November, though not in the spring (when state elections are held)." In my run-off for governor, there were almost two million votes cast, and on that same day only 60,000 votes were cast in the Republican run-off," Farenthold added. "Now you know it's not going to be like that on November 7 because of change-overs."
Except for the year of the Lyndon Johnson landslide, presidential contests in Texas have been excruciatingly close. In 1960, Kennedy carried the state by a mere two per cent, while Humphrey won by a margin of only 1.2 per cent. Party loyalty goes a long way in Texas, but it seems to stop just short of the White House. In order to capture the state, McGovern will need strong support from the traditionally Democratic minority groups in the state, as well as from newly registered voters.
"There's the black vote, which needs to be high, and of course, the Mexican-American vote, too," Farenthold explained. "But most importantly--and I think this is the key to Texas politics--McGovern needs the rural vote, which I did not have. You just don't carry Texas without rural support."
UNTIL 1960, a majority of Texans lived outside of the state's urban areas. With the influx of big business led by the nation's major oil companies, this balance rapidly shifted. Today, rural counties account for only about 30 per cent of the vote in Texas, but these districts are still considered "swing" areas. "They've always been solidly Democratic, but in recent years, especially in (former U.S. Senator) Ralph Yarborough's case, there's been some migration," explained John C. White, state Commissioner of Agriculture and co-chairman of the Texas McGovern-Shriver campaign. "Like the people in the urban areas, they're not as concerned as they should be about farm programs and rural development programs."
"Actually, rural Texans tend to be a little bit more basically patriotic than Democrats in other parts of the country," White added. "People there tend to remember the Depression which hurt the rural areas very badly. They're not anti-welfare, but they believe that people ought to work. In some ways, they may not be as well informed as people in other areas."
"Still, there is the wheat scandal, and we do call it a scandal down here, which had a very negative effect on President Nixon," White said. "This is an early wheat harvest belt; our farmers lost millions of dollars. Of course, (Secretary of Agriculture Earl L.) Butz said that the farmers gambled and lost, but the feeling of our farmers is that they were the only ones who had to gamble.
In making an appeal for the Texas farm vote, McGovern will have to unite a host of desparate elements under his campaign banner. Texans in the panhandle region show mid-western Republican influences while East Texas is heavy Wallace country; Southwest Texas is a land of rugged individualists who tend to vote very conservatively. Much of the vote in these areas will probably go to Nixon. South Texas, however, has a large Mexican-American population. Although LaRaza Unida Party has not endorsed McGovern, the South Dakotan can still count on carrying the Rio Grande Valley counties: LaRaza does not yet control a large enough portion of the votes. "What LaRaza does is it cuts down on that enthusiasm," Farenthold said recently. "The key would be for Ted Kennedy to come down."
It would not hurt McGovern's chances if Lyndon Johnson "came down" as well. Thus far the powerful former president seems content to sit back on his ranch and let his white hair grow. Although he announced early in the campaign that he was supporting the entire Democratic slate, Johnson has adopted a Moynihanesque policy of "benign neglect" as far as the presidential race is concerned. Perhaps Johnson feels that actively supporting a man who so vociferously opposed his administration's policies would be going just a little too far. Johnson may sense quite rightly that his own influence in the state would suffer if he were to back the man who represents what the Republican Platform Committee has described as a "radical clique within the Democratic Party.
Other Texas Democrats have been less close-mouthed about the presidential race than Johnson. Former Johnson aide Larry Temple is heading Texas Democrats for Nixon, while Connally runs the national effort in Washington. Connally's group, however, is composed mainly of conservative businessmen, not unlike those who contributed to the fund used to finance the Watergate break-in. "I really feel that those people would be voting the same way without Connally," Farenthold said last week. "I think he's reflective of the way many people vote, but I don't think he brings people in."
Connally does bring in the money, however, and fund-raising, McGovern's weak point, is the main function of Texas Democrats for Nixon. State campaign officials estimate that they have raised about $75,000 in small donations so far, but admit that most of the larger contributions are sent directly to Washington.
"We have very few volunteers. We are running what we call a low-key campaign," said Texas Democrats for Nixon information director William Gardner last week. "Mostly we just spread the word by word of mouth. We've had some small TV and newspaper advertisements. The biggest event was when Connally had Nixon out to his ranch on September 27. All our people, all the members of the steering committee, were there."
The 75-member steering committee is itself reflective of the type of people whom Connally has been able to draw. "We have some blacks (there are two on the committee), we have at least one union man, some Mexican-Americans (there are four on the committee), and a good many women (there are nine on the committee)," Gardner said in a telephone interview last week. "We also have several students," Gardner added. "Well, I say 'several,' there are two."
Connally's own brother, Golfrey, a 53 year-old economics professor at San Antonio College, is a McGovern supporter. "I have taken a policy of not commenting on my brother's activities and philosophy, the younger Connally said in an interview last week. Golfrey Connally, who has made several speeches and has conducted a number of teach ins on behalf of McGovern, attributes the development of his liberal point of view to an economics course he took at the University of Texas and a long illness "which gave me a chance to do a lot of studying."
"Generally, the official air here in Texas is not only conservative, but anti-intellectual as well," Connally explained. "I tend to think, however, that some of the people who do develop some intellectual sophistication are apt to think more profoundly about the issues than people in other parts of the country."
The Committee to Re-elect the President has been responsible for the main Nixon effort in Texas. They say they are not "campaigning" this year, but conducting a "voter-identification drive for President Nixon." "We're attacking on three fronts," a spokesman for the committee said last week. "First, we have telephone centers in places like Houston. We are making about 1500 calls per day for every 10 bank center. We estimate that we have contacted about 575,000 households, or right at one million voters.
"We also have a door to door canvassing program and a Hostess Phone program in the smaller counties. The Hostess Phone operation is run by Republicans throughout the state. Two or three women in a town will get a computer sheet and merely call up the voters in their area."
The Republicans are also making a bid for the basically conservative blue-collar vote. Although the Texas AFL-CIO has come out for McGovern, Nixon is slightly ahead among union members. "I won't give you the figures because we are still trailing, but we are within striking distance," said a Texas labor source who asked to remain unidentified. "McGovern has shown a vast improvement among the inactive, non-leader membership, however," the source said. "We have found that this group runs very close to the rest of the country (in it's voting patterns)."
So far, McGovern's best reception has been in the state's metropolitan areas. He has drawn large crowds at his appearances in Houston, the state's biggest city, and McGovern canvassers report dramatic success in San Antonio, a rapidly growing central Texas city with a large chicano population since McGovern's visit there. "Houston will probably go for him, it's becoming the liberal city," predicted Molly Ivins, editor of the Texas Observer, one of the state's few liberal newspapers. "The press down here is incredibly backward, though," Ivins added. "They're not just against McGovern, they've taken off on a snit against him. The Dallas Morning News has been particularly bad."
McGovern will need the cities even more dearly than the rural areas if he is to carry Texas. The state's urban centers contain the largest number of "non-Texans," migrants from other parts of the country, and it is there that McGovern must establish himself strongly. However, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio all have large suburban populations, and it is the suburbanites of the south who have so admired Nixon for his stand on busing. Whether the black and chicano minorities from the cross-town sections of Texas cities can offset their power remains to be seen.
Students in Texas, as in other parts of the country, have been largely apathetic toward the '72 campaign. Although there was great excitement on campus over the Farenthold campaign last spring, the political enthusiasm of most student liberals and radicals seems to have waned. Robert Clark, Nixon's state coordinator for universities, gleefully cited a poll which showed Nixon leading 57-40 among the 18-24 year-olds in Texas. "The Gallup all-college poll showed McGovern leading 49-47 nationwide, but we feel we are running much stronger than that in Texas," Clark said. "We feel like we're gonna slaughter McGovern on the campuses."
Students at the University of Texas at Austin, Rice University, and the University of Houston are about evenly divided between Nixon and McGovern, with, perhaps, a slight edge for the South Dakotan. These colleges however have the highest proportions of students from out-of-state and students from urban areas. There are a good many small town colleges in Texas and Texas students generally hike their parents seem to be a great deal more conservative than their contemporaries in other parts of the country. It is doubtful that Nixon will slaughter Mcgovern on the campuses," as Clark predicted but the race will be very close and McGovern might very well lose.
A recent scandal could foster the South Dakotan's chances, however. On Tuesday, the president of the University of Texas Young Republicans resigned, and came out for McGovern. The washburn, national YR director, had allegedly offered him a bribe to ramrod and stack future YR elections in the state with the radical conservative element.
THE ONE MAN who has been able to appeal to a broad spectrum of Texas voters is Democratic senatorial nominee Barefoot (yes, that's right, Barefoot) Sanders. A clean-cut, 47-year-old moderate, who has identified himself with the Democratic ticket, though not with Senator McGovern, Sanders is facing incumbent U.S. Senator John Tower, a short, abrasive politician known to a few as "The Mini-Fascist." Tower is not only to the right of Nixon on most issues, but he seriously feared that the President's trips to Moscow and Peking would be major concessions to the Communists. Recently, Tower was forced to put out a tabloid most of which was devoted to refuting charges made against him by Sanders. Prior to that time, he had not even mentioned Sanders by name, directing most of his campaign rhetoric against McGovern.
"There's no doubt in my mind that Tower is running scared," Ivins said last week. "Sanders is a little bit dull, and kind of dumb, but he has the ability to campaign without a lot of money. He also has an attractive family to go out and work for him; his mother even bakes 'Barefoot Cookies'."
"Ralph Yarborough says he is getting mixed readings on Sanders," Ivins added. "He says he's doing well in the east, but poorly in the west. The election will undoubtedly be close."
McGovern, too, could make a good race in Texas, but perhaps not quite good enough to win. Farenthold squeezed more votes out of the Texas electorate last spring than any liberal politician in the state's history--more votes than any other liberal will be able to do this year. Much of Farenthold's appeal came in the wake of her exploits with the Dirty Thirty. To many, she was seen more as a reform candidate than as one of those "wild-eyed welfare maniacs from out of state."
The Nixon Administration is truly hurting from the wheat scandal and the Watergate incident just as the Democratic regulars of Texas suffered from a stock scandal last spring. But "The President's" transgressions still have less of an impact than did the stark revelations of widespread corruption throughout the state government. Nixon has maintained an upright posture with the residents of the suburbs, while striking rich with the oil millionaires downtown. His recent negotiations with Hanoi, though they may turn out to be rather morbid theatrics, may have convinced many of the borderline moderates.
Nixon narrowly lost the state in '68, due in large part to a healthy minority vote. McGovern will undoubtedly win by sizeable majorities in the black and chicano communities, but he needs every last vote he can get from these areas. To many of the Texas rural voters, he just seems too radical on welfare and the war to make up for his appealing farm record. Unless there is a last minute return to party loyalty among the farmers, coupled with a large turnout by blacks and chicanos on election day, McGovern will by lucky to carry more than 42 per cent of the vote. When Texans are ultimately called on to decide the state's presidential, gubernatorial, and senatorial preferences, they will go Republican, Democratic, and Barefoot.
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