UT Wordmark
College of Liberal Arts wordmark
Texas Politics - The Constitution
 
 
 
Ben Barnes recalls constitutional revision in early 1970s. Ben Barnes recalls constitutional revision in early 1970s.
video HighMedium
Captioned
more info

For more info on proposed revisions of Constitutional Convention of 1974, see its entry in The Handbook of Texas Online.

6.    Modern Attempts at Constitutional Revision

The Constitution of 1876 was the last in the series of new, updated and revised constitutions in Texas, but it was not the last attempt to rewrite the organic law of Texas.

Several attempts were made since the current Texas Constitution was adopted, but the closest anyone came was the multi-year effort about a century later, in the 1970s. Another attempt was made in the late 1980s, but this one did not progress nearly as far.

6.1    Constitutional Revision, 1971-1975

Pressure to update and streamline the Texas Constitution began to build in the late 1960s. In 1969, fifty-six outdated and obsolete provisions were repealed, including one entire article (Article XIII on Spanish and Mexican Land Titles).

Nevertheless, pressure for a more fundamental overhaul and restructuring of the Constitution persisted. A protracted and circuitous process of constitutional revision began in earnest in 1971, only to end in total defeat in the special elections of November 1975.

In 1971, the 62nd Texas Legislature passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Constitutional Revision Commission, and for convening the members of the next Legislature (the 63rd) as a constitutional convention in January 1974 (the year after the Legislature's regular biennial session). The resolution was put on the ballot as proposed amendment Number 4 in the special election in November 1972. It was approved by more than 63 percent of the voters and became Section 2 of Article XVII of the constitution.

The Commission was intended to investigate the need for constitutional revision and make recommendations to the Legislature by November 1, 1973. Its members were appointed by a committee of the chief officials of the executive, legislative and judicial branches, including: Governor Dolph Briscoe, Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby, Attorney General John Hill, Speaker of the House Price Daniel, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Joe Greenhill, and Presiding Justice of the Court of Criminal Appeals John Onion.

The Commission counted among its thirty-seven members numerous respected former public officials and private citizens from across the state. Beginning in March 1973, the Commission held nineteen public meetings across the state before presenting its recommendations to the Legislature on November 1.

Despite its independence, the sterling reputations of its members, its commitment to a streamlined and efficient constitution, and a relatively open process, the Commission was still the target of a number of special interests seeking special treatment in the Commission's recommendations.

Some areas under discussion provoked considerable contention which resulted in compromise. The effect of these compromises, even the ones that were more philosophically based, was to limit the extent to which the Commission's recommendations actually streamlined the Constitution and strengthened government institutions.

Attempts by some members of the Commission to allow urban areas to cut through their multiple, conflicting political jurisdictions by increasing the authority of city governments were blunted by conservatives seeking to preserve county government in the state's largest metropolitan areas. Advocates sought to allow urban areas to consolidate overlapping city and county jurisdictions into a single "Metroplan" type of government. But opponents worried about giving too much power to a single, metro-wide government. Though county government in urban areas was preserved in the Commission's recommendations, considerable progress had been made in at least bringing together the myriad constitutional provisions for local government in a single article in the proposed new constitution.

The Commission's recommendations were taken up on January 8, 1974, when both houses of the 63rd Legislature met as a single body.

Early warning that the convention would involve a protracted struggle among special interests came when the legislators voted to extend the ninety day convention by sixty days, from May 31, 1974 to July 30. Issues like so-called "right-to-work" provisions that banned "union shops" at private companies were quite contentious. Other distractions, like the May 1974 state primary elections, also slowed the convention's progress. By the time it closed on July 30, the convention had failed by only three votes to support submitting a document to voters for ratification.

The 64th Legislature, meeting in 1975, did approve submitting eight amendments, which together constituted a new constitution, to voters. In the special election in November 1975 - almost exactly 100 years after the ratification of the current Texas Constitution - all eight amendments were overwhelmingly defeated. In 250 of Texas' 254 counties, not a single proposition passed. All eight amendments were passed in two of the remaining four counties - Duval and Webb - both in south Texas.

With only 23 percent of the 5.9 million registered voters casting ballots, many citizens confessed ignorance of the issues at stake. The revision effort also was not helped by Governor Briscoe's warning that adoption would result in passage of a state income tax, increased cost of state government, an overly powerful Legislature, and adoption of a Missouri Plan form of judicial selection (see chapter on [link]742|Justice System[/link]). After the defeat in the November 1975 special election, Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby declared that constitutional revision in Texas was "dead for the foreseeable future."

Texas Politics:
© 2009, Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services
University of Texas at Austin
3rd Edition - Revision 115
prev next