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CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF 1974

CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF 1974. Recognizing the need for a new state constitution, the Sixty-second Texas Legislature passed a resolution in May 1971 that called for the establishment of a constitutional revision commission and for the convening of the Sixty-third Legislature as a constitutional convention at noon on the second Tuesday in January 1974. The proceeding was to be a limited convention, meaning that the Bill of Rights could not be changed. After a two-thirds vote the resolution was presented to the voters of Texas as Constitutional Amendment Number 4 on November 7, 1972, and, by a vote of 1,549,982 to 985,282, the voters approved the adoption of the amendment, which became Article XVII, Section 2 of the Constitution of 1876. In February 1973, following the mandate of the amendment, the Sixty-third Legislature established a constitutional revision commission to "study the need for constitutional change and...report its recommendations to the members of the legislature not later than November 1, 1973." The legislature appropriated $900,000 for the work of the commission. The thirty-seven members of the commission were appointed by a committee composed of Governor Dolph Briscoe, Lieutenant Governor William P. Hobby, Attorney General John Hill, Speaker of the House of Representatives Marion Price Daniel, Jr., Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Joe R. Greenhill, and Presiding Judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals John F. Onion, Jr.; the appointments were ratified and confirmed by the legislature. Only thirty-nine legislators signed a motion of nonconcurrence. Had a legislative majority rejected the slate, a new thirty-seven-member commission would have had to be nominated by the committee. Robert W. Calvert, former speaker of the Texas House of Representatives and former chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, was named chairman of the commission, and Mrs. Malcolm Milburn, former president of the Texas Federation of Republican Women, was named vice chairman. The other members of the commission were Loys D. Barbour, Roy R. Barrera, Bill Bass, George Beto, Tony Bonilla, Mrs. Mary Beth Brient, Mrs. David F. (Ann) Chappell, Barbara Culver, William Donnell, Beeman Fisher, Peter T. Flawn, M. F. "Mike" Frost, Clotilde Garcia, Mrs. C. F. (Sibyl) Hamilton, Bill Hartman, Zan Holmes, Mrs. Faye Holub, Leon Jaworski, Leroy Jeffers, Andrew Jefferson, Jr., Page Keeton, W. James Kronzer, Jr., Earl Lewis, Honore Ligarde, Wales Madden, Jr., Mark Martin, Janice May, Mark McLaughlin, L. G. Moore, Raymond Nasher, E. L. Oakes, Jr., Don Rives, Preston Shirley, Jim W. Weatherby, and Ralph W. Yarborough.

The commission held its first meeting in March 1973. After holding nineteen public hearings across the state, it presented its recommendations for a new constitution to the legislature on November 1, 1973. The proposed document represented the first thorough attempt to draft a new constitution for Texas since the Constitutional Convention of 1875. On January 8, 1974, the Sixty-third Legislature convened as a constitutional convention, meeting as a unicameral body in the chamber of the House of Representatives, with Lieutenant Governor Hobby presiding as temporary chairman. Speaker of the House of Representatives Price Daniel, Jr., of Liberty County, was elected president of the convention, and State Senator A. M. Aikin, Jr., of Lamar County, was elected vice president. Also during the first week of proceedings, the permanent rules of the convention were adopted, and the delegates were appointed to the eight substantive and five procedural committees. Daniel, with approval of the convention, named the following delegates to head the convention committees: Neil Caldwell, of Brazoria County, chairman of the committee on finance, and H. Tati Santiesteban, of El Paso County, vice chairman; Craig A. Washington, of Harris County, chairman of the committee on local government, and Charles Evans, of Tarrant County, vice chairman; Dan Kubiak, of Milam County, chairman of the committee on education, and Bill Braecklein, of Dallas County, vice chairman; Robert Maloney, of Dallas County, chairman of the committee on the legislature, and Ron Clower, of Dallas County, vice chairman, L. DeWitt Hale, of Nueces County, chairman of the committee on the judiciary, and Oscar H. Mauzy, of Dallas County, vice chairman; Bob Gammage, of Harris County, chairman of the committee on general provisions, and Hilary B. Doran, Jr., of Val Verde County, vice chairman; Bill Meier, of Tarrant County, chairman of the committee on the executive, and Jim Vecchio, of Dallas County, vice chairman; A. R Schwartz, of Galveston County, chairman of the committee on rights and suffrage, and James R. Nowlin, of Bexar County, vice chairman; Matias (Matt) Garciaqv, of Bexar County, chairman of the committee on rules, and Richard S. Geiger, of Dallas County, vice chairman; Jack Hightower, of Wilbarger County, chairman of the committee on administration, and Joe Allen of Harris County, vice chairman; Nelson W. Wolff of Bexar County, chairman of the committee on submission and transition, and Gene Jones, of Harris County, vice chairman; Max Sherman, of Potter County, chairman of the committee on style and drafting, and Tim Von Dohlen, of Goliad County, vice chairman; Pike Powers, of Jefferson County, chairman of the committee on public information, and Eddie Bernice Johnson, of Dallas County, vice chairman.

James F. Ray, who served as executive director of the commission, was appointed executive director of the convention. Upon the completion of its work the convention was to submit a proposed new constitution to the voters of Texas for their approval or rejection. The convention was originally planned to last ninety days and adjourn on May 31, 1974, but members soon voted by a two-thirds majority to extend that time for sixty days, the maximum allowed, to July 30. With the legislators as delegates, divisive politics became a major obstacle to completing the task at hand. Some argued that the hands-off policy of the state executive branch prevented positive leadership. The most controversial issue was a right-to-work provision in the constitution. Labor groups strongly opposed the measure, while antilabor factions pressured the delegates for support. An election primary in May 1974 also served as a political distraction for many legislators campaigning for reelection.

More than $3 million in appropriations was spent on the convention. After seven months the constitutional convention closed, on July 30, 1974, having failed by three votes (118 for, 62 against, and 1 not voting) to produce a document to submit to the voters. In 1975 the legislature did approve a new constitution in the form of eight amendments approved by the normal amendment process. The Bill of Rights remained unchanged, but the eight amendments went before the voters on November 4, 1975, in a special election. They were all defeated. One legacy of the 1974 constitutional convention was a large body of written material on the Texas constitution.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

John E. Bebout and Janice C. May, The Texas Constitution: Problems and Prospects for Revision (Texas Urban Development Commission, Institute of Urban Studies, University of Texas at Arlington, 1971). George D. Braden, Citizens' Guide to the Proposed New Texas Constitution (Houston: Institute for Urban Studies, 1975). Janice C. May, The Texas Constitutional Revision Experience in the '70s (Austin: Sterling Swift, 1975). Janice C. May, "Texas Constitutional Revision: Lessons and Laments," National Civic Review 66 (February 1977). Practicing Texas Politics, 8th ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992). The Texas Constitutional Revision Commission of 1973 (Austin: Texas Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, 1972). Nelson Wolff, Challenge of Change (San Antonio: Naylor, 1975).

Mary Lucia Barras and Houston Daniel

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Mary Lucia Barras and Houston Daniel, "CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF 1974," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/mjc07), accessed July 23, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.