Friday, May 20, 2011

Government and politics

The current Texas Constitution was adopted in 1876. Like many states, it explicitly provides for a separation of powers. The state's Bill of Rights is much larger than its federal counterpart, and has provisions unique to Texas.

State government

Texas State Capitol
Texas has a plural executive branch system limiting the power of the Governor. Except for the Secretary of State, voters elect executive officers independently making candidates directly answerable to the public, not the Governor. This election system has led to some executive branches split between parties. When Republican President George W. Bush served as Texas's governor, the state had a Democratic Lieutenant Governor, Bob Bullock. The executive branch positions consist of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Comptroller of Public Accounts, Land Commissioner, Attorney General, Agriculture Commissioner, the three-member Texas Railroad Commission, the State Board of Education, and the Secretary of State.
The bicameral Texas Legislature consists of the House of Representatives, with 150 members, and a Senate, with 31 members. The Speaker of the House leads the House, and the Lieutenant Governor, the Senate. The Legislature meets in regular session biennially, but the Governor can call for special sessions as often as desired. The state's fiscal year spans from the previous calendar year's September 1 to the current year's August 31. Thus, the FY 2011 dates from September 1, 2010 through August 31, 2011.
The judicial system of Texas is one of the most complex in the United States, with many layers and overlapping jurisdictions. Texas has two courts of last resort: the Texas Supreme Court, for civil cases, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Except for some municipal benches, partisan elections select judges at all levels of the judiciary; the Governor fills vacancies by appointment. Texas leads the nation in executions– 442 as of October 2009 (see Capital punishment in Texas).
The Texas Ranger Division of the Texas Department of Public Safety is a law enforcement agency with statewide jurisdiction. Over the years, the Texas Rangers have investigated crimes ranging from murder to political corruption. They have acted as riot police and as detectives, protected the Texas governor, tracked down fugitives, and functioned as a paramilitary force both for the republic and the state. The Texas Rangers were unofficially created by Stephen F. Austin in 1823 and formally constituted in 1835. The Rangers were part of several important events of Texas history and some of the best-known criminal cases in the history of the Old West.


Texas Presidential elections results
200855.48% 4,467,74843.72% 3,521,164
200461.09% 4,526,91738.30% 2,832,704
200059.30% 3,799,63938.11% 2,433,746
199648.80% 2,736,16643.81% 2,459,683
199240.61% 2,496,07137.11% 2,281,815
198856.01% 3,036,82943.41% 2,352,748
198463.58% 3,433,42836.18% 1,949,276
198055.30% 2,510,70541.51% 1,881,148
Lyndon B. Johnson, Texan and 36th president of the United States
As in other "Solid South" states, whites resented the Republican Party after the American Civil War, and the Democratic Party dominated Texas politics from the end of Reconstruction until the late 20th century. The state has since become a Republican stronghold.
The Texas political atmosphere leans towards fiscal and social conservatism. Since 1980, most Texas voters have supported Republican presidential candidates. In 2000 and 2004, Republican George W. Bush won Texas with 60.1% of the vote, partly due to his "favorite son" status as a former Governor of the state. John McCain won the state in 2008, but with a smaller margin of victory compared to Bush at 55% of the vote. Austin consistently leans Democratic in both local and statewide elections. Counties along the Rio Grande generally vote for Democrats, while most rural and suburban areas of Texas vote Republican.
The 2003 Texas redistricting of Congressional districts led by the Republican Tom Delay, was called by the New York Times "an extreme case of partisan gerrymandering". A group of Democratic legislators, the "Texas Eleven", fled the state in a quorum-busting effort. Despite these efforts, the legislature passed a map heavily in favor of Republicans. Protests of the redistricting reached the national Supreme Court in the case League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry, but the ruling went in the Republicans' favor.
As of the general elections of 2008, a large majority of the members of Texas's U.S. House delegation are Republican, along with both U.S. Senators. In the 111th United States Congress, of the 32 Congressional districts in Texas, 20 are held by Republicans and 12 by Democrats. Texas's Senators are Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn. Since 1994, Texans have not elected a Democrat to a statewide office. The state's Democratic presence comes primarily from some minority groups and urban voters, particularly in El Paso, Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston.

Administrative divisions

Texas has 254 counties— the most nationwide. Each county runs on Commissioners' Court system consisting of four elected commissioners (one from each of four precincts in the county, roughly divided according to population) and a county judge elected at large from the entire county. County government runs similar to a "weak" mayor-council system; the county judge has no veto authority, but votes along with the other commissioners.
Although Texas permits cities and counties to enter "interlocal agreements" to share services, the state does not allow consolidated city-county governments, nor does it have metropolitan governments. Counties are not granted home rule status; their powers are strictly defined by state law. The state does not have townships— areas within a county are either incorporated or unincorporated. Incorporated areas are part of a municipality. The county provides limited services to unincorporated areas. Municipalities are classified either "general law" cities or "home rule". A municipality may elect home rule status once it exceeds 5,000 population with voter approval. Municipal elections are nonpartisan as are elections for school boards and community college districts.

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