Is this an important election year, Billie?
There is no such thing as an unimportant election year.
By Chandler Davidson
Harris County Democrats, Houston's liberal organization, celebrated its 25th
anniversary in March. Billie Carr, one of
Texas' 11 Democratic National Committe
members and a local institution in her own
right, has been involved in the club 's activities almost from the start.
There is something of the quintessential
Irish pol in Billie, whose maiden name is
McClain. Jovial, witty, up .to her ears in
the details of precinct minutiae, she is also
fully informed on the latest developments
in state and national party affairs. The
nickname her friends gave her the Godmother nicely suggests the blend of beneficence and clout that might result
from a cross between the Cinderella fairy
and il Padrone.
In spite of her influence, Billie is not
the boss of a machine. Houston has no
patronage system. She got where she is
today largely because of her personality,
brains and indefatigability and of course
the volunteer efforts of labor unionists,
blacks, chicanos, middle-class activists and
women of every background, who have
constituted the core of the Harris County
Following the organization's candidate
endorsement meetings in early April, Billie,
who is on the screening committee, agreed
to an interview with Chandler Davidson
for Breakthrough, in which she discussed
the upcoming primary elections and their
special significance for women.
Q: Is this an important election year,
A: There's no such thing as an unimportant election year.
Q: Why is this one in particular important?
A: 1 must say that 1 have less enthusiasm for some of the statewide races than
in times past. I think the No. 1 race in the
state of Texas is the Bob Eckhardt Congressional race, even though it's not statewide. "As a progressive, as a woman, I
think the re-election of Hckhardt is crucial,
because he is the one Congressperson we
can depend on to vote for the interests of
the people, no matter how much pressure
is applied from any special interest group.
Q: Has he been especially good on
A: Yes. His top aide in his office is a
woman. He's been very fair in employing
women in top positions. He's the only
Texan of the 24 in Congress, by the way,
who voted against the neutron bomb.
That's significant to me, as a person who's
fought for peace and has been concerned
about those sorts of issues.
Q: What other races are important?
A: Mickey Leland's race for Barbara
Jordan's Congressional seat is important.
Ron Waters' race for re-election to the
legislature. Both men have a very good
record so far as progressives and women
are concerned. Bill Williams for county
clerk. And certainly Anne Greene, who is
running for chair of the Harris County
Democratic Party. The incumbent, George
Q. Buch, has gone on record against affirmative action rules in the selection of delegates to the presidential nominating con-
I'm beginning to think that we liberals
have got sort of complacent and lazy, and it's
time we started taking some unpopular stands
again, if we're going to continue our role as a
conscience of a state or an era.
vention in 1980. Anne is a very effective
person, a lawyer and municipal judge with
1 2 years of experience in party politics.*
Q: What about the governor's race?
Harris County Democrats has given its
support to John Hill. A while back you
were not enthusiastic about Hill. Why
have you decided to support him?
A: Many people have been upset with
me because I didn't jump on the John Hill
bandwagon from the beginning. Anybody
with any intelligence knows that we have
a governor who is lacking in just that-in-
telligence. And I am in no way a supporter
of Dolph Briscoe's.
However, 1 didn't want to pass Hill off
as someone who was going to shake this
state up. I've known Hill for, I guess, the
25 years I've been involved in politics, and
1 have watched him go from reactionary to
conservative to moderate, and I think
that's where he is today-a moderate. I
don't want anybody to come to me when
John Hill doesn't fight the battles that we
as progressives expect to fight and say,
"You passed him off as a progressive."
1 think he'll be better than Briscoe on
education. (Almost anyone would.) I think
he'll be better on consumer issues. He's
already proven that. I think that his staff
and the people he has working with him
are top-notch people. 1 think he's come a
long way on women's issues and has no
problem with them. So lean support John
Hill, and vote for him. And the same goes
for Price Daniel, Jr., whom we endorsed
for attorney general.
Q: You say that Hill's come a long
way on women's issues. What do you mean
A: Affirmative action. I think that he's
followed that in his office as attorney
Q: This is only the second time since
1962 in which the governor's race was not
between a clearly-defined liberal and conservative. Some observers believe that the
era of liberal-conservative politics is over
in Texas—that we're entering another era
in which different sorts of issues are more
important. Do you agree?
A: We're certainly entering an era
where different issues are going to be important. One thing that I'm working with
right now at both the national and state
levels is to redefine the issues for those of
us who have called ourselves liberals and
now use the term progressive. At the national level, as the co-chair of the New
Democratic Coalition, we have taken on
the project of developing an agenda for
America that's an alternative to Carter's
programs-many parts of them-which we
hope to present at the mid-term conference.
In Texas, one of the reasons we don't
have liberal candidates running in some of
these races is that we need to work on
developing issues. So we're trying to have
some issues workshops, and I hope that
after the primaries we can heat those up a
We're going to present an agenda for
Texas at the September state convention
-get it passed either through the platform
or resolutions committee. Then we're
going to ask some of our friendly state
legislators and senators to introduce it as
legislation in the next session of the legislature, so that we can start people thinking
about what are the people-oriented issues.
Q: Do you have some idea of what the
issues will be?
A: They've actually been voted on by
a statewide meeting of liberals, fundamental human rights and immigration.
Employment and welfare. Urban growth,
planning. Recreation and parks. Health
and aging. Women. Education. And several
others. We're having these meetings all
around the state between now and the
Q: That leads to another question. In
the past, the motive for attending Democratic precinct conventions on primary
election day has been to participate in
the struggle for control of the Texas party
machinery—the State Democratic Executive Committee. And in presidential years,
of course, the aim is also to help elect
your kind of delegates to the national
nominating convention. My question is,
why take the trouble to attend precinct
conventions this year?
A: It's very important. In off-years,
like this one, we don't caucus around
presidential candidates, but around a
petition. Anybody can get up and present
a petition when it comes time to select
delegates to the senatorial district convention. The liberal-progressives will present petitions to caucus around.
The moderates and liberals control the
SDEC currently, and we'd like to see it
kept that way. The people that we beat in
1976 in order to control it—the conservatives who have pretty much controlled it
the past 40 years- they don't like to see
all these proportional-representation reform rules because it lets in the "riffraff." Everybody gets a piece of the action
under the present system. So they have
formed what they're calling the "mod-
cons," the moderate conservatives, and I
loved it when they announced that was
going to be their name, because we started
calling ourselves the mod-pros, the moderate progressives, and we thought it was
pretty typical of what we stand for.
They're the cons-against reform and
against progress-we're for the Democratic
party, and "for" things. The cons, we say,
are really Republicans who try to trick you
into believing they're Democrats. We've
had some fun with that.
So I urge people to go to their precinct
conventions, get themselves elected to
senatorial district conventions, and on to
the September state convention. We have
in my office information on how to be a
delegate that's available to anyone who
wants to drop by and pick it up.
The reason that it's important to get
elected a delegate is because under the
reform rules, we have the senatorial districts electing a man and a woman each,
who they want to represent them on the
Now that we have a broad-based SDEC
I want you to know that they passed a
motion, with only one vote out of 62
against, that a woman has a right to do
what she will with her own body. And the
one dissenting vote was from a liberal
from San Antonio, a Catholic, who said,
"I just couldn't go back and tell my priest
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