like to speak of "dirty politics" and "the smoke-filled room" atmosphere
of party big shots making decisions on candidates clandestinely.
That pretty well sums up the way political candidates were determined
in East Texas and elsewhere
in the state prior to 1905, when Alexander Watkins Terrell succeeded
in getting the Terrell Election Law through the Texas legislature.
Previously, candidates in the Democratic and Republican parties
were selected at county and state conventions. This system favored
the few who could afford the leisure of a day-or several days-off
from work to participate in the conventions themselves. The vast
majority of voters then could endorse the work of the conventions
at the polls or "go fishing."
Then a political movement known as Progressivism impacted both parties
near the end of the nineteenth century and spilled over into the
next century. Progressivism had positive and negative aspects, but
its overall principles intended to improve society and empower ordinary
folks. And one of those principles called for the participation
of as many citizens as possible in the political process.
The Terrell Election Law attempted to take the selection of candidates
away from "bosses" and empower ordinary citizens to run if they
chose to do so. The technique was a party primary election, whether
in the county, such as for sheriff, or statewide, such as governor.
Anyone who wished to participate, (girls need not apply since the
Nineteenth Amendment had not been adopted in 1905), could do so
by registering with his party and paying a filing fee. This produced
a good many plurality winners, since the number of candidates in
each race was limited only by the number who registered and paid
fees, sometimes just for the thrill of seeing their name on a ballot.
So in 1918 the legislature provided for a second primary that would
insure that the ultimate winner would have a majority of votes cast,
at least a majority of those cast in the runoff election. No matter
how many candidates sought a particular office in the first primary,
only the two candidates with the most votes participated in the
second primary. While the primary system does provide those with
an interest in elected politics the opportunity to participate,
it does not insure victory for more qualified and competent office
holders than did the old "smoke-filled" room method.