The Texas Two Step Primary and PHIT

The Texas Two Step Primary and PHIT

Austin Chronicle illustration by Nick Derington

The Day of Election is upon us. For the People’s History in Texas followers who are Democrats, election time was, until 2015, an exercise in mathematics and mythic storytelling. Understanding the TEXAS TWO-STEP PRIMARY was a mind-bending dissertation on how to accumulate delegates. No one, except a few hoary party activists, knew how it worked. And they knew because they needed to know the math so that they could manipulate the process or, at a minimum know how to avoid being manipulated.

It was called the TEXAS TWO-STEP because on election day there were two parts of selecting your presidential nominee. You had to vote and then you had to show up at the caucus meeting.

The TEXAS TWO-STEP was complicated but it was, at first, a legitimate attempt to give more voting power to party regulars. The McGovern reforms in 1972 tried to make the process more democratic after the debacle of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. But then the party regulars wanted assurance that they would be included in the decision process and got themselves declared super-delegates. Already I can visualize eyes glazing over.

Obama at a political rally giving a speech in front of a podium
The constitutional lawyer tries to explain the Texas Two-Step process

Here’s the thumb nail description.

PRECINCT. You had to show up. The total number of delegates to the COUNTY was based on last election totals. The allocation of the presidential delegates was based on those who physically showed up at the precinct caucus the day of the election. The ACTIVISTS and the ORGANIZED could get extra delegates. So people were encouraged to be active.

COUNTY. The number of delegates to the STATE depended on who attended the COUNTY convention. Voters sat by precinct and elected by precinct. Trickery was possible. Although, for your humble blogger, it was always beyond my ken.

STATE. Delegates to NATIONAL were based partly on the raw vote total, partly on precinct caucus, and partly on superdelegate(the important people and the elected Democrats and some extras). Trickery absolutely possible.

But here’s the backstory. The Democratic State conventions historically have been prime examples of how to manipulate and be the master TRICKSTER. The stories are legend. Some can be found in Max Krochmal’s book, Blue Texas. The battle between the Alan Shivers forces and the Ralph Yarborough forces are also the stuff of myth and legend. It truly was a bloodsport. The legend of Lyndon Johnson’s manipulation in 1956 is worthy of a movie.

In 2008, PHIT got curious about what the TEXAS TWO-STEP was all about. We shot over a hundred hours of footage asking people what they thought the TEXAS TWO-STEP was. PHIT’s camera went into a local primary caucus, went to the county convention, and even went to the state.

This was 2008, the year Obama ran for office. Obama enthused voters. The economy was crashing. Politics mattered. I personally have gone to my precinct caucus since 1976. Usually 20, maybe 30 people show up. In 2008, 4-600 people attended their precinct caucuses all across Austin. It was an amazing picture of what democracy should look like. And we have hours and hours of interviews. We attempted to make a documentary but no one would fund it. So it sits in the archives. A treasure of a moment in time of what democracy could be if people were involved.

If anyone has any interest in turning this into an educational documentary, please contact PHIT. It is gold. Pure gold. Pure history of a shining moment. And like so many oral history efforts, it lies in the dusty archives. Our mission statement is to pull those forgotten moments out and make them available. But we need help on this one.

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