By: Janice C. May

Type: General Entry

Published: October 1, 1995

Updated: October 27, 2020

When Texas was annexed by the United States in 1845, Texas government had been shaped largely within the Anglo-American tradition. The Constitution of the Republic of Texas (1836) clearly rested on Anglo-American principles, as did the proposed constitution drafted in 1833 for a separate state within the Mexican Federal Republic. Spanish and Mexican influences were apparent also, however. Major legacies reflected in Texas constitutions were the merger of law and equity, community property, and protection of certain personal property from forced seizure for debt. An extension from the latter was similar protection for the homestead, an innovation claimed by Texas.

1845–61. The first Texas state constitution, framed in 1845 as a condition of admission to the United States, was based on constitutional principles common in the United States, among them the concept of a written constitution itself, whose source of authority was the people (popular sovereignty), guarantees of individual rights, a republican form of government, and separation of powers. One state constitutional principle of enduring significance is that state legislatures, as representative of the people, have all powers not denied by the state constitution, the United States Constitution, or other valid federal laws. Included is the police power by which public health, safety, morals, and welfare are promoted. Although sharing common principles, state constitutions also differ from one another, influenced by their state and regional politics and culture. The protection of slavery in early Texas constitutions was obviously a product of Southern regionalism.

The Texas statehood constitution, the Constitution of 1845, established a governmental structure that with modifications and supplementation has been carried forward in all subsequent charters. The legislative article provided for a bicameral legislature whose House members served two-year terms and whose senators served four-year staggered terms; for biennial regular sessions; for election of the speaker by the House and the lieutenant governor, who was president of the Senate, by the voters. Legislative powers included the power of the purse, with sole power to initiate revenue measures vested in the House. Debt was strictly limited, but such general principles as equality and uniformity governed taxation, and only the legislature could authorize appropriations. Longstanding concerns about land titles and public lands (Texas was the only state to retain its public land upon admission to the Union) and education, including a precursor of the Permanent School Fund, were addressed. The judicial article, which followed the legislative, provided for a hierarchical structure of courts composed of the state Supreme Court, district courts, and "inferior courts" to be established by legislation. Supreme Court and district judges were appointed by the governor with Senate consent for six-year terms. The attorney general, designated a judicial officer, was also a gubernatorial appointee, but district attorneys were selected by the legislature. Trial by jury was protected "in all cases of law or equity." The executive article was the only one in five Texas state constitutions to provide for the popular election of only two executive officers, the governor and the lieutenant governor, and this was changed in 1850. The governor was given a two-year term, but eligibility was limited to four years in any six. Gubernatorial powers included the veto (subject to override by two-thirds of the legislature), sending messages to the legislature, adjourning the legislature if the houses could not agree, and calling special sessions. The governor could grant clemency and served as commander in chief of the state's military forces. Appointment power was extended to the secretary of state (carried forward in all subsequent state charters), judges, and the attorney general, but the legislature selected the two major fiscal officers, the state treasurer and the comptroller of public accounts, and district attorneys, a unique feature of the 1845 constitution.

The statehood constitution, in common with all Texas constitutions, provided only partially for the state's administrative structure, leaving for legislation the necessary legal framework and financial support of the officers and agencies receiving constitutional recognition and adding others not of constitutional stature. In the early years of statehood, the General Land Office (continued from the Constitution of the republic), the adjutant general, state asylums (eleemosynary institutions) for the insane, deaf, and blind, and the Texas Rangers were among the few agencies and officers established by the legislature in addition to the constitutional officers already named. The county, a political subdivision of the utmost importance in Texas government since independence from Mexico, was the only local government referred to in the Constitution of 1845. Provision was made for the establishment of counties and for several elective county officers, including the sheriff, justice of the peace, constable, and coroner. Other officers were added by legislation, which also required counties to build roads, jails, and county courthouses. Municipalities were established by statute, at first by special act, until in 1858 the first general law providing for incorporation was passed. A basic legal principle governing state-local relations is that the legislature, unless restricted by the state constitution, has the power to form, alter, or abolish local governments, regarded as "creatures of the state."

The 1845 Constitution incorporated a rigid amending process that required two legislative approvals by a two-thirds vote with an intervening election at which a majority of all voters voting for representatives had to approve. The rigidity was retained until the Constitution of 1876 except for substituting a majority of voters on the amendment in the next three charters. The statehood charter was amended only once. The 1850 amendment established a "plural executive" whereby the governor must share power with other popularly elected executives, in this case the lieutenant governor, state treasurer, comptroller, general land commissioner, and attorney general (designated an executive officer in 1869 and 1876). It also provided for popular election of judges and district attorneys.

The right to vote was liberal for the times, based on universal White manhood suffrage without property qualifications. One exception was the absolute disqualification of members of the United States armed forces (soldiers, sailors, and marines), an exclusion retained until 1954. The Bill of Rights (Article I) contained rights, many from the Republic of Texas charter, traditional in the United States, such as freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religion, equality expressed in social-contract terms, property rights, rights of persons accused of crime, trial by jury in civil and criminal cases, and a general proviso that the rights "shall forever remain inviolate." The statehood constitution protected slavery, since slaves were not considered "persons" in the full sense.

1861–75. As momentous as were the Civil War and its aftermath, continuity outweighed change in the fundamental structure of Texas government provided for in the four constitutions from 1861 to 1875. Constitutionally speaking, Texas was ruled (in Texas v. White) never to have left the Union. The Constitution of 1861 approved after secession and the 1866 charter drafted under presidential Reconstruction were in actuality amendments to the 1845 constitution. The 1861 amendments, which were never submitted to the voters, were minimal with respect to structure. A new provision expressly authorizing the legislature to call a constitutional convention had no lasting effect, but the requirement that amendments be proposed only at regular legislative sessions was not altered until 1972. The 1866 revisions introduced some important provisions, the most significant of which was the governor's power to veto items of appropriation bills, a reform that originated with the Constitution of the Confederate States of America. The document was also the first to confer constitutional status on the county courts as integral parts of the judicial system and to set up the county commissioners' court in its present form. Moreover, the constitution for the first time directed the legislature to organize a university, to educate Black children (in separate schools), and to include a constitutional structure for state administration of the public schools. Although approved by the voters, the constitution was rejected within a few months by the newly elected Radical-dominated Congress.

The Constitution of 1869, drafted under congressional Reconstruction by a convention meeting in 1868 and 1869, was within Texas constitutional traditions with some important exceptions unique to the document, among which were annual legislative sessions and six-year overlapping terms for senators. Gubernatorial appointment powers, augmented considerably by the legislature and the necessity of filling numerous vacancies, were not without precedent in the 1845 and 1866 documents. Four-year executive terms originated in 1866. It is of interest that the governor actually lost power in 1869, the power to adjourn the legislature granted in the earlier charters. Although much of local government was retained, county courts were abolished and in general power was more centralized. The 1869 charter also gave unprecedented support for public education under centralized administration.

The voters ratified the new constitution and elected officers to the new government at the same election in 1869. The Republican party won control of the legislature for the first and, to date, the only time. A few months later, normal relations were restored between Texas and the United States. Although much of benefit occurred under the 1869 constitution and Republican leadership, particularly in education and other public services, the regime was unpopular with the White majority for many reasons, such as the establishment and deployment of the Texas State Police, martial law, high taxes and debt, and the new public-education system. But the most basic problem was the legitimacy of the political order, government having been organized under federal military rule (see FIFTH MILITARY DISTRICT) and approved in an election fraught with irregularities. After the Democrats regained governmental control in 1872 and 1873, it was a foregone conclusion that a new constitution would be adopted. Following rejection by the legislature of a proposed document prepared by a joint legislative committee in 1874, a constitutional convention call was referred to and accepted by the voters, who elected delegates at the same election.

The Constitution of 1876, drafted by the Constitutional Convention of 1875, is still in effect. The convention, at which the Democrats dominated but the Grange was the most important interest group, restored most of the earlier structural features changed by the 1869 charter, such as biennial legislative sessions, four-year terms for senators, two-year terms for governor (but without term limits), election of the attorney general and judges, and inclusion of a county court. But there were new provisions as well. The House was scheduled to reach a maximum of 150 members as population grew, and the size of the Senate was fixed at thirty-one. The governor could veto bills after the session ended and, during sessions, was given more time to consider bills before taking action. Also, for the first time, the chief executive was empowered to specify legislation to be considered at special sessions. A new court, the Court of Appeals, vested with appellate jurisdiction in criminal and some civil cases, was established, and the Supreme Court's jurisdiction was limited to civil cases only. Municipalities with populations of 10,000 or fewer had to be chartered by general law, while larger cities might have their charters granted and amended by special (local) law. Compensation for legislators, the governor, the attorney general, and certain other officers was set in the constitution and could not be changed without amending the constitution.

The most attention has been paid to the onerous fiscal restrictions placed on the legislature by the new charter. Of enormous importance were limits on property-tax rates, the first in a Texas constitution, and the flat ban on financial assistance from state and local governments to individuals, associations, or corporations, exceptions to which required constitutional expression. The limit on state debt, although severe, was not as restrictive as that of the 1845 charter. Other restrictions included a prohibition against state bank corporations, carried over from the first three constitutions, and a long list of subjects on which the legislature could not enact a special or local law. The convention even tried to turn the legislature into one of limited rather than plenary powers by enumerating subjects on which it could legislate (Art. III, Sec. 48), but the provision was never enforced by the courts. The articles on railroads, the regulation of which was a major goal of the Grangers, and private corporations also contained some restraints on the legislature by mandates or prohibitions. Suffrage provisions were liberal, the convention having defeated the proposal for a poll tax. Aliens who had indicated their intention of becoming citizens were eligible to vote, a continuation from the 1869 charter. But for the first time, voting in municipal tax and bond elections was limited to property owners. The Bill of Rights was retained, with some revisions and additions from preceding constitutions. Of particular significance were new provisions prohibiting appropriations for sectarian purposes and a requirement that officeholders "acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being." As a direct result of Civil War and Reconstruction experiences, there was an absolute ban on the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. In sharp contrast to all the other Texas constitutions, the amending article provided for an easy amending process. A proposed amendment required a two-thirds vote of the legislature in regular session and the approval of a majority of voters. The process was used frequently in the years ahead.

1876–99. The most significant developments in governmental organization during the last quarter of the nineteenth century were in administration and the judiciary. There were no constitutional changes by amendment in the legislature, the governorship, or cities and counties, only minor changes in the suffrage, and none in the Bill of Rights. The establishment of the Railroad Commission of Texas by the legislature in 1891 was a major event. A constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to establish a railroad regulatory agency was the main issue in the gubernatorial election of 1890. Four years later another amendment changed the agency from an appointive to an elective body whose three members serve six-year staggered terms. A second change of lasting importance was the restructuring of the state's appellate courts by an amendment ratified in 1891. The Court of Appeals was transformed into the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which has jurisdiction over criminal cases only; this arrangement left civil cases to the Supreme Court and established the bifurcated Texas judicial system with two courts of last resort. The amendment also set up new intermediate courts of appeals with jurisdiction limited to civil cases only. The courts of civil appeals remained without criminal jurisdiction until 1980. A development at the lowest level of the judicial system was the establishment by statute in 1899 of corporation courts (renamed municipal courts in 1969) in every incorporated municipality in the state.

During this period the state's system of higher education finally took shape. The University of Texas was established more than forty years after the Congress of the Republic of Texas had set aside land in 1839 for such an institution (actually for two, one in the east and one in the west). In pursuance of a mandate in the 1876 Constitution, the legislature enacted laws in 1881 providing for a board of regents, fees, and other needs, and the university was formally opened in 1883. In an election in 1881 the voters had selected Austin as the site. A primary source of funding was the Permanent University Fund, continued in the Constitution of 1876 from its 1858 origins but denied the rich railroad lands originally assigned. The legislature substituted arid lands in West Texas that in the next century proved rich in petroleum. The Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, supported by land grants under the Morrill Act of 1862 and state funds, preceded the University of Texas by accepting students in 1876. Although the 1876 constitution made it a "department of the University of Texas," Texas A&M has always operated under its own board of regents. The 1876 constitution also provided for a general college for "colored youth," but it was never built; in its stead the legislature established Prairie View State Normal School, which began operation in 1885. The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston opened in 1891. Texas State College for Women in Denton did not accept students until 1903, after its establishment in 1901. At the public school level a constitutional amendment in 1883 authorized the legislature to form school districts empowered to levy property taxes for the support and maintenance of public schools. The amendment also increased state funding for public education.

1900–29. During the first thirty years of the twentieth century there were virtually no significant constitutional changes in the three branches of state government, although serious attempts were made to revise the constitution by the convention method. The legislature, with Progressive support, adopted two resolutions to place on the ballot a convention call, but in 1917 the governor vetoed the first and in 1919 the voters rejected the second. Also, though the governorship did not change by amendment, Governor James E. Ferguson was impeached and removed from office in 1917, the first and only time that a Texas governor has been forced by this method to leave office. Legislative sessions took on a peculiar cast from 1909 to 1930, explained largely by constitutional provisions that paid legislators five dollars a day for the first sixty days of a regular session but only two dollars thereafter, and five dollars a day for special sessions. Regular sessions were short, all but one ending in March. They were followed by special sessions averaging 2.7 every legislature and reaching five in 1929–30. The pattern was broken by the passage of a constitutional amendment increasing legislative pay. Governmental changes in the executive branch were primarily administrative. As Texas became more urban and industrial, governmental regulations and services increased correspondingly. A more specialized organization developed as agencies were separated from multifunctional boards and commissions; others were abolished (twenty-three in 1919), and new agencies were instituted. Among the highlights were the establishment of a separate banking department in 1923 (an amendment in 1904 had repealed the constitutional prohibition against state bank corporations), enforcement of labor laws by the Bureau of Labor Statistics set up in 1909 and of the 1913 workers' compensation law by the Industrial Accident Board in 1917, establishment of the state highway department also in 1917 as a condition of federal aid, and separate insurance and agricultural agencies in 1927. (The agricultural commissioner was made a separate elective officer in 1907.) In 1928 a constitutional amendment permitted the legislature to determine the method of selection and the composition of the state board of education. The board was changed from a three-member board (comptroller of public accounts, secretary of state, and governor) to a nine-member body appointed by the governor with Senate consent. In 1917 the Railroad Commission acquired regulatory power over pipelines and in 1919 over the conservation and production of petroleum and natural gas; the latter power made it a leading influence in national and international oil and gas markets. It also regulated buses and trucks. In 1929 the Texas Civil Judicial Council (renamed the Texas Judicial Council in 1975) was formed by statute to conduct a continuous study of the Texas judicial system. The council has been a major judicial agency from its inception. A second important change was the division of the state into nine administrative judicial regions to provide management of district courts on a regional basis, authorized by statute in 1927.

Local government was enormously affected by the passage in 1912 of the "Home Rule Amendment," which allows municipalities of more than 5,000 population to adopt their own charters and to pass ordinances of their own choosing, subject only to the Texas constitution and general laws. By another amendment (1909), cities with 5,000 or fewer residents are chartered by general law only, although cities operating under special charters are allowed to continue to do so. With respect to forms of city government, Galveston attracted national attention in 1901 by the adoption of the commission form after the disastrous Galveston hurricane of 1900. Local government was also affected by the "Conservation Amendment" of 1917, which permitted the formation of special districts with unlimited borrowing and taxing power to conserve and develop water resources. Special districts eventually became the most numerous units of local government in Texas.

Changes of considerable magnitude occurred in election and suffrage law beginning with the 1902 constitutional amendment that made payment of the poll tax a requirement for voting. The administration of the poll-tax system also served as a statewide voter registration system, hitherto prohibited by the 1876 constitution. The Terrell Election Law of 1905 was the first to require a statewide direct-primary system for political parties polling a given number of votes (100,000 in the first law), a threshold that in effect applied only to the Democratic party because only rarely did the Republicans win enough votes to qualify. Attempts to exclude African Americans from the Democratic primary (the white primary) were held unconstitutional in two United States Supreme Court cases (Nixon v. Herndon [1927] and Nixon v. Condon [1932]) but upheld in Grovey v. Townsend (1935), before being struck down in Smith v. Allwright (1944) (see NIXON, LAWRENCE AARON and GROVEY, RICHARD RANDOLPH). Before the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified in 1920, the Texas legislature in 1918 allowed women to vote in the Democratic party primaries. In 1921 the Texas constitution was amended to provide for woman suffrage, but it also required United States citizenship as a voter qualification, thus disqualifying aliens, who had been permitted to vote since 1869.

1930–59. During the years of the Great Depression, the New Deal, war, postwar prosperity, and rising Texas urbanism, change in Texas government foreshadowed the contemporary state. A dominant characteristic of the period was the growth of state administration, including the implementation of new welfare and other social-service programs, which owed much to the influence of the federal government, the emerging dominant partner in the federal system. In the 1950s federal aid was the largest single source of Texas state revenue. Texas government was also changed by the United States Supreme Court decision holding racial segregation in the public schools unconstitutional, as well as by other rulings. The Texas Legislature became a more modern institution. A small step was taken when a constitutional amendment adopted in 1930 raised the pay of legislators for the first time since 1876, to $10 a day for the first 120 days of a regular session and $2 thereafter. In 1954 an amendment allowed $25 for the first 120 days but terminated pay after that period. An attempt was made by the "Split Session Amendment" of 1930 to encourage a more efficient management of the legislative process by setting deadlines for various stages, mainly bill introduction, committee study, and floor consideration. Changes of lasting significance in state budgeting occurred in the 1940s and 1950s. The "Pay-As-You-Go Amendment" of 1942 required a balanced budget, and in 1949 and 1951 the legislature instituted for the first time a modern budgeting process. It was based on a novel dual budgeting approach whereby both the legislature and the governor prepare budgets. The Legislative Budget Board, composed of ten legislative leaders, was formed to make budget recommendations and prepare general appropriation bills for introduction in the legislative process. The governor was also directed to prepare a budget and given the assistance of an executive budget officer. Earlier, in 1943, the office of state auditor had been transferred from the executive to the legislative branch, in conformance with modern budgetary principles. Other moves toward modernity included the establishment of the Texas Legislative Council in 1949 to serve as a research and bill-drafting agency. When Texas constitutional revision was on the agenda in 1957, the legislature directed the council to study the constitution and make recommendations, with the help of a citizens' group. In 1957, in the aftermath of scandals of the time, a legislative code of ethics was enacted, one of only a few in the nation during the period, and a law requiring lobbyists to register, the first for Texas, was adopted.

Resistance by rural and small town legislators to urban growth was behind the adoption of a constitutional amendment in 1936 that limited the number of representatives from the most populous counties. And failure to redistrict as required by the Texas constitution led to a 1948 amendment that provided for the Legislative Redistricting Board, composed of five officials serving ex officio, to draw legislative districts when the legislature failed to do so. The governor's position was, on balance, probably weakened, despite a gain in compensation by a 1954 amendment that allowed the legislature to set the salary, provided it was at least $12,000 annually, a new budget role, and an increased number of administrative appointments as the administration grew. The governor clearly lost clemency powers by a 1936 amendment that instituted a three-member Board of Pardons and Paroles whose recommendation was required before the governor could grant clemency, except for one thirty-day reprieve in any capital case. Moreover, the new budget system was a far cry from the "executive budget" recommended by reformers and was in fact dominated by the legislature. Of most importance, the lieutenant governor had gained so much power as to overshadow the governor as a legislative leader. As chairman of the Legislative Budget Board, the key agency in state budget decision making, and chairman or member of other important legislative agencies, the lieutenant governor was also the real presiding officer of the Senate under Senate rules. The administrative branch took on many new responsibilities during the period. Probably the most dramatic change was the addition of welfare programs, most of which originated with the Social Security Act of 1935 and were financed largely with federal grants. The Department of Public Welfare (renamed the Texas Department of Human Services in 1985) was formed in 1941 to administer the programs. Welfare became the third-largest state expenditure, behind only education and highways. Other new programs included the Veterans' Land Program, which helped veterans to purchase farmland, administered by the Veterans' Land Board; loans to local governments for development of water-supply projects, administered by the Texas Water Development Board; and college building funds administered by the universities and colleges named in the 1947 constitutional amendment authorizing the program. In 1946 the first of many constitutional amendments to allow the state to issue general-obligation bonds to finance new programs was adopted. In 1931 the legislature appointed the Joint Legislative Committee on Organization and Economy to study the Texas administration, but none of the reforms recommended in its comprehensive report became law. The most significant reorganization of the time was in education, part of the historic Gilmer-Aikin Laws of 1949 that established the Minimum Foundation School Program. The new law set up the Texas Central Education Agency, composed of the state department of education, a state board of education whose members were elected from congressional districts, and a commissioner of education appointed by the board. Central management of the administration was improved by modern budgeting, but no central personnel office or statewide merit employment system (civil service) was in place. Civil service was limited to agencies required to adopt it as a condition of federal aid, such as the Department of Public Welfare and the Texas Employment Commission, and to any that used it voluntarily. Public employees' and teachers' benefits were upgraded by the introduction of retirement systems and workers' compensation.

Changes in the judiciary included an increase in the membership of the Texas Supreme Court to nine (its present number), stricter legal eligibility requirements for district judges and more legislative discretion over district courts, the establishment of the State Bar of Texas as an arm of the judiciary (the "integrated bar"), judicial pensions, and jury service for women. A far-reaching reform of local government was promised by passage of the County Home Rule Amendment of 1933 but did not materialize. Lesser changes included four-year terms for county and district officers, municipal and county retirement systems, and workers' compensation. To provide medical services primarily to the indigent to be financed independently of city and county property taxes, the first of many hospital districts was formed. During the 1930s large regional river authorities (also special districts) were set up by statute; among the best known is the Lower Colorado River Authority.

1960–95. An extraordinary number and variety of governmental reforms were adopted during the last decades of the twentieth century, but comprehensive constitutional revision failed in 1975 and various other major changes considered important by some, such as state tax restructuring, have not occurred. Legislative reapportionment, a significant factor in the modernization of state government across the nation, dominated Texas legislative reforms in the 1960s. Following United States Supreme Court decisions, a federal district court in 1965, in the first of several cases, ordered both houses of the Texas legislature reapportioned on the basis of equally populated districts ("one person, one vote"), a momentous gain for urban and suburban areas. In the 1970s the emphasis shifted to fair representation of ethnic and racial minorities, one solution for which was single-member districts. These districts were imposed judicially in some Texas metropolitan counties (beginning with Dallas and Bexar counties) and then required of all House seats in 1975 by state law. (Single-member Senate districts had been mandated by the 1876 constitution.) Reapportionment remained a contentious political and legal issue after each federal census for the rest of the century. In 1971 and 1981, for only the first and second times, drawing of legislative districts fell to the Legislative Redistricting Board. Owing much to reapportionment, the Texas legislature has become a more representative institution as increasing numbers of African Americans, Mexican Americans, women, and Republicans have been elected. There is a greater diversity of occupations as well, one change being the decline in the number of lawyer members. Among other legislative reforms in the 1960s were the passage of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1961, which emphasized continuous use of legislative resources by such means as interim committee meetings, the first constitutional limit on regular sessions (140 days), the first annual legislative salary, and the first constitutional-revision commission (1967).

The 1970s might well be remembered as the decade of legislative reforms. The Texas legislature supported a host of changes, frequently of a liberal cast, such as the Texas Equal Rights Amendment and the first state minimum wage, and by reforming itself took on its modern shape. The Sharpstown Stock-Fraud Scandal, which broke in 1971, led directly to the adoption of a package of reforms by the Sixty-third Legislature (1973–74) on ethics, lobby regulation, campaign finance (the speaker's race was included in the regulations for the first time), and, to ensure easier citizen access to government and enforce accountability, open-record and open-meeting laws. Though never as effective as reformers desired, the changes continued on the agenda in the 1980s and 1990s. The legislature reorganized its committee structure (the House instituted limited seniority for committee selection), added research and other staff, and improved computer technology. In 1975 a constitutional amendment increasing the annual legislative salary to $7,200 was ratified. The Sixty-third Legislature formed the Texas Constitutional Revision Commission in 1973 and served, uniquely, as a constitutional convention in 1974, on authority of a constitutional amendment ratified in 1972. Although the Constitutional Convention of 1974 failed to adopt any proposals, the Sixty-fourth Legislature (1975–76) referred to the voters eight constitutional amendments that contained a new constitution except for the Bill of Rights, which was retained in full; but all eight were rejected at the polls in November 1975. In addition to serving as a convention, the legislature impeached and convicted a district judge (O. P. Carrillo of Duval County) in 1975–76 and began proceedings in 1977 to remove Supreme Court justice Donald B. Yarbrough, whose resignation terminated the process.

In the 1980s the legislature, in addition to demands for public-education reform, massive prison construction, a new workers' compensation law and other changes, was faced with a severe fiscal crisis brought on by a deep recession, in which oil prices and state revenue based on oil production fell sharply. To cope with continuing revenue shortfalls, the legislature passed and the governor signed the largest tax increases in Texas history, authorized unprecedented amounts of borrowing, and adopted a policy of encouraging economic development. The latter required constitutional amendments to ensure that the fiscal restrictions in the 1876 charter did not prevent government assistance to the private sector. To manage its business the legislature was forced to meet in sixteen special sessions, the most of any decade, and for six sessions in 1989–90, the most of any legislature. The lawmakers also proposed a prodigious number (108) of constitutional amendments, of which ninety-one were approved by the voters, another decade record. New trends in legislative leadership were also apparent. New records were set for length of service by the speaker and the lieutenant governor. Speaker Bill Clayton (1975–82) held the office for eight years, and his successor, Gibson "Gib" Lewis (1983–92), for ten. Lieutenant Governor William Hobby (1973–90) was in office for eighteen years. With experience came added power. Hobby was regarded as the most powerful lieutenant governor in the United States. Of several legislative reforms in the 1990s, an ethics commission was established in 1991 as a constitutional agency for the first time. Among its duties was to set per diem pay of legislators and to recommend, subject to voter approval, legislative salary increases, including larger amounts for the presiding officers, who had been receiving the same pay as members.

In 1993, under newly elected Speaker James E. "Pete" Laney, the House rules were revised to meet members' demands for reform. One striking result was the end of the usual hectic, last-minute rush in the House to pass bills. The historic renovation of the Capitol, completed in 1995, expanded and improved the physical facilities used by the legislature and coincided with new computer and media services. Representatives were given laptop computers to use at their desks on the floor for the first time, and citizens gained access to government documents by their home computers. During the regular session in 1995, the House experimented briefly with TEX-SPAN, which televised House floor proceedings live and was modeled on C-SPAN. One of the most important developments was the rise of the Republican party. By 1995 the number of Republican legislators had increased to within reach of majority status in both houses. To date, however, neither chamber has organized along political party lines, as does Congress and most state legislatures. And though there are House and Senate party caucuses, legislative proceedings have with important exceptions usually been bipartisan. Nevertheless, the Republican presence, particularly with a Republican governor in 1995, no doubt helped to swing the ideological balance to the conservative side. Most policy reforms in the Seventy-fourth Legislature (1995–96) were regarded by observers as conservative.

Overall, the governor's position as chief executive improved during the last decades of the century. In 1974, four-year unlimited terms for governor and other high elective executives went into effect. Other constitutional changes, though dependent on the legislature, were budgetary execution power (1985), limits on midnight appointments by lame-duck governors (1987), and removal of a given governor's appointees with Senate consent (1980). The governor lost power over paroles in 1983 but was able, by statute, to appoint all members of the enlarged Board of Pardons and Paroles. Also by statute, gubernatorial appointment power was extended to other reorganized and new agencies and, in a departure from tradition, to a few agency heads, such as the commissioner of education and the executive director of the Texas Department of Commerce (both in 1991), as well as to a few board chairmen. In addition to changes in powers, there has been a significant shift in partisan control that began with the election in 1978 of William P. Clements, the first Republican governor since Reconstruction. Of five gubernatorial elections from 1978 to 1994, Republican candidates won three. Republican Governor Clements served longer, eight years, than any other governor since 1876. Also, for the first time since Reconstruction, Republicans have won "down ballot" executive races, namely (by 1995), for treasurer, agricultural commissioner, and all three railroad commissioners. The presence of Republicans and Democrats in executive offices raises questions about the future of the plural executive and the election of the governor and lieutenant governor independently of one another.

The Texas administration was subjected to unprecedented scrutiny between the 1960s and the 1990s in response to concerns about the increasing number of agencies, their accountability and efficiency, and cost savings to avoid tax increases. One result was new methods for legislative oversight of the administration. "Sunset review" originated with the Constitutional Convention of 1974 and was adopted by statute in 1977, one of the first such laws in the nation. By the 1990s the process of periodic review of state agencies and their automatic termination unless renewed by law had extended to more than 200 agencies. One structural reform was the appointment of public members to professional and occupational regulatory boards. In the 1980s the legislature provided limited supervision of administration spending after the adoption of the budget under its newly acquired budget-execution authority (1985) and by statute set up two legislative-oversight boards, one to review implementation of education policy (abolished in 1993) and the other to review policy on criminal-justice law. Other such boards were established in the 1990s. Also in the 1990s a major innovation that received White House recognition was the introduction of "performance reviews" by the comptroller at the request of the legislature. The goal was to review all state agencies for ways to eliminate mismanagement and inefficiency and to reduce administrative costs. The comptroller has recommended numerous changes, many of which have been adopted with considerable savings effected. Changes in Texas administration included the addition of agencies to implement new regulatory and service functions. Among the agencies was the Public Utility Commission, set up in 1975 to administer the Public Utility Regulatory Act, which for the first time required state regulation of intrastate telephone, electric, water, and sewer utilities. An indication of new directions was the Texas Commission on Human Rights, instituted in 1983 to enforce legislation against discrimination in employment; enforcement extended to housing in 1990.

Reorganization of administrative structure by combining existing agencies with common missions into larger departments or commission was one method employed to improve administration. Three of the four largest agencies (by number of employees) in 1995 were the products of consolidation: the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, the Texas Department of Transportation, and the Department of Criminal Justice (see PRISON SYSTEM). In 1993 several agencies merged to form the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission to facilitate more centralized enforcement of environmental laws. Other changes included reorganization of state public school administration, one of the reforms of H.B. 72, a landmark law on public education enacted in 1984. For a few years, the state board of education was a nine-member board appointed by the governor; in 1989, by a statewide referendum, it returned to elective status but in a new form, as a board of fifteen members elected from as many districts. Reorganization to provide for a central executive office to administer personnel policies was not among the changes of the period, however. The legislature provided for some uniformity in matters of job description and pay scales by the 1961 Position Classification Act, and federal laws on nondiscrimination and affirmative action apply to all agencies. Retirement benefits for state employees and teachers improved after a 1975 constitutional amendment was ratified. Governor Ann Richards (1991–95) appointed a record number of women, Blacks, and Hispanics to state positions. Richards herself, the second elected woman governor of Texas (after Miriam Amanda "Ma" Ferguson) and the first to be elected in her own right, exemplified the rise of women to high state government offices. By 1995 the approximate number of state agencies was more than 200, the number of state employees was 236,000, and the two-year budget (1995–96) was $80 billion. Although the overall trend in Texas government has been one of administrative growth, by some measures, such as the number of state employees per capita, a decline occurred in the late 1980s. Texas has always ranked low on state spending, and in 1992 was fiftieth among the states as measured by per capita expenditures.

The major developments in the judicial branch have concerned judicial administration. By statute and constitutional amendment, the Texas Supreme Court has become the administrative head of the Texas judicial system, with power to promulgate administrative rules and rules of civil procedure to promote the efficient and uniform administration of justice. In 1977 the Office of Court Administration was established by statute to provide for management of state courts. The director is appointed by the Supreme Court and answers to it and the chief justice. The director is also executive director of the Texas Judicial Council. The chief justice, by statute, is directed to deliver a "state of the judiciary" speech at the beginning of each regular legislative session. Two other administrative agencies, both mandated by the Texas constitution, are the State Commission on Judicial Conduct (originally named the Judicial Qualifications Commission in 1965) as a disciplinary body and the Judicial Districts Board, authorized in 1985 to redraw judicial districts for the district courts if the legislature failed to do so. The principal change in court organization occurred in 1980, when by constitutional amendment the courts of civil appeals became the courts of appeals after they were given jurisdiction over criminal cases. Other important changes were the increase in 1977 in the membership of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to nine (its present size), a new constitutional formula for determining the number of justices of the peace in each county, and a substantial increase in the number of statutory county courts (often called county courts-at-law). In contrast to the county judge, who presides over the constitutional county court (one in each of the 254 Texas counties), the judges of the statutory courts must be attorneys. The method of selecting Texas judges, a long-standing topic of controversy, has not been changed, although the at-large system has been challenged unsuccessfully in federal court. In 1995, however, the first state law limiting the size of contributions in judicial races and the time in which they are permissible was enacted by the Seventy-fourth Legislature (1995–96). Voluntary spending limits were also included in the new law. The issue of retaining partisan elections has taken on new significance as Texas has become a two-party state. In 1995 the Supreme Court majority was Republican, and in several cities, including Dallas and Houston, most judges were Republicans.

Significant changes in state-local relations occurred between the 1960s and the 1990s with the establishment of new state agencies and policies to assist local governments. In 1965 regional councils of governments were authorized by state law as a mechanism for resolving problems of governance in areas characterized by economic, social, and physical interdependence but lacking any areawide government with power to act on common concerns. The situation was particularly acute in the metropolitan areas, where independent units of government with limited jurisdiction proliferated. The Harris County Metropolitan Statistical Area, for instance, has more than 500 such units. The councils of governments, voluntary associations of governments, provide planning in their respective areas, cooperation and coordination, and some services. In 1971 two state agencies that provide state assistance to local governments were established: the Department of Community Affairs (merged with the Texas Housing Agency in 1991 and renamed the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs) and the Texas Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (abolished in 1989), which included among its responsibilities a continuous study of state-local relations.

Long-standing barriers to the right to vote, including the poll tax, were removed in the 1960s and 1970s, mostly by federal action, but in 1971 the legislature enacted a modern permanent voter-registration law and in 1988 a new law permitting any qualified voter to vote early without stating a reason. The Texas Equal Rights Amendment, ratified in 1972, prohibited discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, color, creed, or national origin. In a number of cases the Texas courts have interpreted the TERA and other Texas constitutional provisions in such a way as to provide greater protection of rights than guaranteed under the United States Constitution. Providing this protection based on state charters has been called "the New Judicial Federalism" and is nationwide. Of enormous importance were the Edgewood cases (see EDGEWOOD ISD V. KIRBY), in which the Texas Supreme Court held unconstitutional the Texas laws on public school finance although the United States Supreme Court had ruled in 1973 in Rodríguez v. San Antonio ISD that they did not violate the United States Constitution.

As the twentieth century drew to a close, Texas government, despite many changes, retained structural features specified by the Constitution of 1876. Unlike most states, Texas continues to function with biennial regular legislative sessions and a low legislative salary fixed in the constitution, with a relatively weak governor, with a nonunified judiciary whose judges are elected by partisan ballot, and with unreformed county government. Moreover, no major state tax restructuring to provide financial support for government has occurred since the sales tax was adopted in 1961.


George D. Braden, ed., The Constitution of the State of Texas: An Annotated and Comparative Analysis (2 vols., Austin: Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, 1977). Donald E. Chipman, Spanish Texas, 1519–1821 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992). L. Tucker Gibson, Jr., and Clay Robison, Government and Politics in the Lone Star State: Theory and Practice (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1993; 2d ed. 1995). Stuart A. MacCorkle, Dick Smith, and Janice C. May, Texas Government, 8th ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 1980). Seth Shepard McKay, Seven Decades of the Texas Constitution (Lubbock, 1942). Rupert N. Richardson, Texas: The Lone Star State (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1943; 4th ed., with Ernest Wallace and Adrian N. Anderson, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1981). University of Texas at Austin LBJ School of Public Affairs, Guide to Texas State Agencies (Austin, 1956-). Vernon's Annotated Constitution of the State of Texas, 1993.

Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II

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

Janice C. May, “Government,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 16, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 1, 1995
October 27, 2020