Who's the fairest of them all?
BY VICTORIA SMITH
Texas takes its turn in the long-playing
national Democratic primaries on Saturday, May 3.
But the best-kept secret in town is that
the main event is not going to take place
in the voting booth, even though voters
will have a chance to cast a preference for:
James Earl Carter
Edward M. Kennedy
Rather, it's all happening at the precinct conventions Saturday night after
the polls close. At seven-fifteen sharp!
Like Florida and its straw poll, Texas
will stage a non-binding presidential preference poll, thanks to a surprise move by
the State Democratic Executive Committee on March 11. There was no other
purpose to that vote, in the opinion of
one astute Democratic leader "except to
The May 3 primary and the parade to
the polls is more like a beauty pageant
with voters deciding who looks best to
them: Senator Ted Kennedy or President
The outcome does not affect the selection of delegates and alternates to the
August Democratic National Convention,
so both Carter and Kennedy camps are
setting their sights on those precinct conventions, the first stage of the delegate
"We view the battle to be a precinct
convention battle, and we will be fighting
for every single delegate in Texas," says
Fred Hofheinz, state chair of the Kennedy for President campaign.
Billie Carr, progressive liberal leader,
Democratic National Committee member and a strong Kennedy backer, calls
the May 3 primary or beauty contest
"irrelevant. It doesn't win you one single
delegate, and the name of the game is to
win as many delegates as you can," she
In Carr's opinion, a primary preference
poll, binding or not, doesn't accurately
reflect the will of the people. Most voters
go to the polls blind, without having discussed issues and candidates with others
in their precinct, she feels.
"Real grass roots democracy begins at
the precinct conventions. [It's] the very
basic unit of government where politics
start," she says. "Where people get together with their neighbors and hash out
the hot issues." (See full text of Carr interview, page 15.)
Binding or not, President Carter is expected to be the hands-down winner in
the poll, by a 70 to 75 per cent margin,
says political analyst Dr. Richard Murray.
Still, even Carter supporters express a
lack of enthusiasm over a preference poll.
"It's of no importance, none whatsoever," Carter organizer Clydia Davenport
admits. Davenport runs the Carter/Mon-
dale headquarters here and feels the poll
could be "downright damaging, since
many will think once they've cast their
vote in the election booth, that's all they
have to do."
She says the Carter organization is attempting to educate the electorate on the
importance of attending precinct conven
tions, "although we're having some difficulty in getting the word out, we have so
little money to buy radio time and all."
Explaining how democracy-in-action
really works Carr says bluntly, "The truth
is that everyone is going to fish in the
pond where the most fish are, and we're
all going to work the hell out of the precincts we think we can win. In predominantly conservative areas, we're going to
tip-toe around and hope that the opposition doesn't know where the conventions
are, and that we turn our folks out."
As committed party Democrats, "we
want to know what 'the people' think in
November when we have the general election, when the majority of the people
vote, but the primary is different," she
Carr explains that the precinct convention and delegate selection process are
"interparty matters, not something that
every man, woman and child on the street
can participate in unless they are willing
to make a commitment to the party."
This year Texas Democrats will select 152 delegates and 77 alternates to the Democratic
National Convention in August through the convention process not by the primary election
ballot (beauty contest).
The convention process begins at the precinct conventions the evening of May 3.
Here's a brief outline of what to do to participate in your precinct convention:
Vote in the Democratic primary (to participate in the convention, you must be a registered
voter in your precinct and must vote in the Democratic primary)
Be at your polling site by 7:15 p.m., Saturday May 3
Upon arrival, sign in and state your presidential preference (you may also register non-
After the election judge calls the meeting to order, a permanent chair and secretary will be
elected by a majority vote.
The sign-ins are then counted. Any candidate (or uncommitted) receiving 15% of the total
sign-ins, may elect delegates to that precinct's senatorial district (or county) convention Saturday May 10.
Next, the presidential preference groups will break up into caucuses to elect delegates and
alternates for the May 10 convention.
On May 10, delegates and alternates will select delegates to the state convention on Friday,
June 19 in San Antonio.
On June 19, 152 delegates and 77 alternates will be chosen to represent Texas at the Democratic National Convention, August 11-14, at Madison Square Garden in New York.
For more detailed information contact Kennedy-for-President headquarters, 4600 Main,
520-0232, or Billie Carr and Associates, 524-5080, or Carter/Mondale headquarters, 2712 S.W.
That commitment involves going to
precinct conventions, participating in
debate, exchanging ideas, opinions and
gripes with your neighbors, passing
resolutions, electing delegates, maybe
even serving as a delegate-in short,
becoming an activist.
Murray sees Houston as a city short on
activists. In fact, he says, "the average
person in Houston is not even a voter."
He predicts a voter turnout of perhaps
120,000 for the Democratic primary,
with 6,000 to 10,000 returning for the
precinct conventions. Sixty people would
constitute a large convention, Murray says.
The role of the activists or the shock
troops at this point is to dream up popular support for President Carter and Sen.
Kennedy in Harris County.
Hofheinz says Kennedy has "a great
deal of support in the Mexican-American
community and we will continue to
direct our efforts there."
He calls attention to the endorsements
Kennedy has received from locals of some
key labor organizations-the United Steel
Workers, the Machinists and the United
"The labor unions and the Chicanos
are the biggest groups we have going for
us, besides your run-of-the-mill liberals
like me," Carr says.
But Scott Pool, Harris County Coordinator for the Carter/Mondale campaign,
takes exception to Carr's statement. "If
it's true that Kennedy has strong labor
support, / haven't seen it," he says, pointing out that the union locals that have
endorsed Carter include the Oil, Chemical
and Atomic Workers, the Communications Workers of America, the Seafarers,
the Operating Engineers, the Carpenters,
the Plasterers, the Asbestos Workers and
the Marble Workers.
"The president's support here is very
broad—based," Pool says. "It cuts across
the lines of all minority groups, groups
which logically would be Kennedy's natur-
Victoria Smith is a free lance writer in
Houston and former co-editor of Space