Viva Independence and Self-reliance

Bill Neinast

This is a crock.  The thought must have crossed the minds of some Texas voters who trudged to the polls on November 5.

The concern would not have been over having to show a picture ID that matched the name on their voter registration card.  Every voter should have embraced this step to avoid forever again ballots by the dead voters in Jim Wells and Duval Counties who propelled Landslide Lyndon Johnson to the Senate in 1948.

Their concern should have been over why they had to go to the polls at all.  In many precincts the only questions were nine proposed amendments of the state constitution.  Why, for example, did the voters in all 254 counties have to vote on whether the residents of Hidalgo County could raise their hospital district taxes?  Or why was a vote required from all over Texas on how to tax aircraft parts?

The answer to both questions and similar concerns is the antiquated Texas Constitution.  We are still laboring under a constitution drafted in 1895 and 1896.  This is the sixth constitution for the Republic and State and trails only Alabama as the longest state constitution in the U.S.  The ninth proposed amendment on this month’s ballot was the 662d amendment to  be considered.

The Texas Constitution is a code of laws, not a constitution.  It is a highly restrictive or limiting document.  By contrast, the much older and shorter U.S. Constitution is a granting document that has been amended only 27 times in its two century history.

There is no way the drafters of the state constitution could have foreseen, or even guessed of, Texas in the 20th and 21st Centuries. 

They would be in awe today of the exploding diverse population; horseless carriages speeding at 80 miles an hour from El Paso to Houston on concrete highways; women voting; female mayors, judges, governors, representatives and senators;  radios, wireless telephones connecting with individuals on the other side of the world; TV; the men walking on the moon talking with their controllers in Houston, etc.

In the 1890s, if the constitution drafters had been able to see the Texas of 2013, would they have written a different bible for the state?  Probably not.

Their work then and now reflects the Texas character of independence and self reliance.  They probably heard and agreed with Mark Twain’s statement 30 years before they started their writing that,  "No man's life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session."

That philosophy is reflected in the limits they placed on the law or rule making powers of counties.  They saved their big guns, however, for the state legislature.

Taking Mark Twain at his word, they allowed the state legislature to be in session only five months every two years.  That gives some safety to every Texan’s life, liberty, and property.

Imagine that philosophy reflected in the federal government.  Allowing the Senators and Representatives to be in Washington only five months every two years would keep big government out of most of our lives and business.  Requiring those legislators to live back home under the laws they pass and actually feeling and seeing the effect of those laws on their constituents might result in a culture vastly different from today.

Another Texas Constitutional requirement that should have a comfortable bed in the U.S. Constitution is the mandate to have a balanced budget.  Imagine the wealthiest large country in the world without debt.  That would go a long way in keeping Uncle Sam out of everyone’s life, liberty, and property.

These prospects, however, do have a down side.  The state’s restrictive constitution is more a code of laws than a constitution.  Because of its limits on governing bodies legislating, many changes in procedures and rules may be affected only by votes of the public.

Therein lies the problem.  First, it adds one more item to an already overcrowded list of annual elections for everything from dog catcher to President.  Moreover, it is tapping a pool of voters who know little and have little interest in the proposed laws (amendments).  Among those are the ones that Rush Limbaugh has dubbed low-info and no-info voters.

Those are the people making many of the laws through the constitutional amendment procedures in the state.

So here’s the perspective.

The independence and self-reliance underlying the Texas Constitution has had the desired effect.  There is a small government at both the state and county level with limited rule making powers.  Most important, the state operates under balanced budgets with a large running surplus--the so called Rainy Day Fund. 

Compare that with the federal system.  A large bloated central government with almost unlimited power to intervene in the personal affairs of its citizens.  This unchecked greed to control citizens under the guise of granting “benefits” has produced a runaway budget process and 17 trillion dollars in debt to be paid for by our children and grandchildren.

Under the circumstances, I will take trudging to the polls every two years to vote on what can be done in other counties.  

Viva independence and self-reliance. 


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