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Texas Politics - The Constitution
 
 
  Key Words and Phrases

Bill of Rights
A list of limits on the powers of government respecting its treatment of citizens. The U.S. Bill of Rights comprises the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. It includes guarantees such as freedom of speech, a free press, and free practice of religious beliefs as well as rights for those accused of crimes such as a right to counsel, a right to a jury trial, and a right to reasonable bail and punishment. The bill of rights in the Texas constitution covers much the same ground as the U.S. Bill of Rights but constitutes article one of the state's constitution.
checks and balances
Given a division of government offices and personnel--that is, a system of separation of powers--a system of checks and balances gives each branch of government some degree of oversight and control over the actions of other branches.
direct democracy
A system of democratic governance in which the citizens of a political jurisdiction discuss policy questions and then by majority rule or a similar method of collective choice themselves decide on a policy or course of action.
federalism
A system of government in which political authorities at different geographic levels of government separately derive their authority from the people within that geographic area. In the U.S. system of federalism, Texas is a sovereign state within the sovereign United States. Texas government is accountable to Texas citizens. U.S. government is accountable to U.S. citizens. Neither government may dissolve the other as a government though the operations of both overlap.
homestead exemption
A homestead is the primary residence owned and lived in by a person or a family. A homestead exemption protects at least part of the value of the homestead from creditors. In Texas, the full value of a homestead is protected. No creditors except a mortgage holder, a taxing authority, or the holder of a note for a home improvement loan may force the sale of a family home to satisfy nonpayment of debt.
Jacksonian Democrats
The Democratic Party behind General Andrew Jackson ascended to national dominance beginning in 1828 marking the start of America's Second Party System. Competitive two-party politics dates from this period as well as development of the apparatus of modern mass-based political parties.
Reconstruction
The Civil War was followed by a decade-long period attempting to reverse its physical and political ravages. Between 1865 and 1877 the nation ratified the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments ending slavery and extended citizenship and voting rights to former slaves. Former Confederate states, occupied by Union troops, rewrote their constitutions and were re-admitted to the Union. By 1876, the fever of Reconstruction had run its course and, in settlement of the disputed presidential election of that year, remaining occupying troops were withdrawn, southern politics was given over to southerners (and Democrats) once again, and the regional and racial divisions of war were institutionalized politically for a century.
representative democracy
A system of democratic governance in which the citizens of a political jurisdiction choose individuals through regular elections--representatives--whose task it is to meet regularly to discuss policy questions and make policy on the behalf of the citizenry.
separation of powers
A functional division of governmental offices and personnel used in U.S. national government and state governments, including that of Texas. Typical of the U.S. model, legislative power in Texas is in the hands of a legislature composed of two parts, a house and a senate. Executive power is in the hands of a governor and other offices including a lieutenant governor, an attorney general, an a comptroller, an agriculture commissioner, and a land commissioner. Judicial power is in the hands of judges elected statewide or from regional and local jurisdictions. A scheme of separation of powers is designed to ensure that those who serve in different branches of government are selected by and accountable to different constituencies.

Texas Politics:
© 2009, Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services
University of Texas at Austin
3rd Edition - Revision 116