with issues like police behavior. These
interest many Houstonians. Blacks in particular vote heavily in mayoral elections.
Other groups are interested—the gay community is probably most influential now
in the city elections. Even so, you are
looking at half the eligible voters participating. About 35 to 45 percent of registered voters will vote in a hot election, as
compared to, say 75 percent in New
In other elections like the ones we had
this spring, you have 15 to 20 percent
ME: In the run-off, it was lower still.
RM: County wide, the Democrats had
about three percent. Because of these patterns of non-participation, many elections
in Houston depend on what particular
elements get mobilized. Presidential elections are different, massive numbers take
ME: But still not as members of one of
the two major parties?
RM: Well, part of the reason for this
non-identification is that Texas was basically not a party state. Neither Republican or Democrat. Everyone was nominally a Democrat, but that didn't mean anything. A person could be a Democrat and
be a racist, conservative, or a Roosevelt
liberal. So it didn't distinguish people.
Now the Republican Party has come
along, and has become a fairly viable coherent party.
The Democrats are still largely disorganized. They are not a very effective
functioning party. With generally weak
leadership, it's difficult to get people
involved, it's hard here to keep a party
ME: That was an issue in the race between Anne Greene and Joanne Gerhardt.
RM: But the sad state of the party organization is not something the Chair can
do much about.
ME: A lot of people moving in are Republicans. Is there a drift to the right,
RM: It's been in recent years. There are
a Jot of other people coming in besides
conservative Republicans, but they have
become much more politically active.
These are college-educated poeple who
were active before and they are more likely to register and vote. Black migration
has tailed off. That's partly because the
hinterland from which Houston drew its
black population is depopulated. The His-
panics are coming, but are politically apathetic, as are the Vietnamese. Most are
not yet citizens. So relatively, comparing
Houston to 1960 or 1670, the county,
not the city, has become more conservative.
ME: Does the school system here, the
universities, turn out Republicans?
RM: I think the colleges and universities
around the country have seen a rebirth of
conservatism. Not so much among faculty, but among students. It is like the 50's.
Students are less concerned about social
issues and more about getting a job and
The University of Houston and Rice
are very different—Rice serves an upper
class, already well-educated, white student population, that is from conservative, Republican homes. I think students
there are pretty liberal in the area of human values, but pretty conservative economically. They typically would vote for
Fred Hofheinz in city elections, but they
went for Gerald Ford by over 60 percent.
Reagan will be interesting to see at
Rice. Will his economic conservatism
carry him through against a lot of concern about his social values? Will the
students vote against him? UH is less consistent. We are a commuter school, probably without a systematic impact on the
views people have.
ME: What do you teach?
RM: I teach general American politics,
political parties, interest groups, seminars.
I have been teaching each night a course
in Houston politics. I am going to change
that and do a course in 1980 presidential
elections. I like to do current, topical
courses. A lot of the students who take
these classes are non-traditional students
—lawyers and other types. Less interested
in getting three hours credit, but just
wanting to sit in on something they ar.
ME: How far in advance can you call a
RM: I can guess. Right now I can guess
how a race will turn out—you can look at
polls and see what they say. You can look
at predictions in one of three ways: one is
a kind of guess based on your own textual knowledge, that you think this is
going to happen. Then you can be polling
to determine what people's opinions are.
If you do it from time to time, you can
get a picture on how things are moving,
and from that you can project how things
are likely to be. Third, you can wait until
the day of the election and you can poll
voters as they leave the election place, or
you can get early returns from some precincts, some precincts that have been preselected, and project from hard data what
the likely vote result is.
Media people are always calling me
and asking me to guess, and I will give
them something off the top of my head.
An impression. A lot of times they don't
label it as such, which is unfortunate.
Polls? You have some hard information there, but it is changing and things
can always be different by the election
day. When you get around to election
night you are dealing with hard information. It's easiest on the local level, the
mayor's race. It's most difficult to predict
what's happening state-wide, because it is
difficult to get an accurate sample.
ME: Do you have a recorded batting
average in your predictions?
RM: Well, I don't pay much attention.
Sometimes the media put one out.
ME: Are people becoming disenchanted
with the political process, is that the reason the participation averages are so low?
RM: There's no question there has been
a kind of national disillusionment about
politics. Some of this is just the generational circulation, I think. Every year 1.5
million Americans die or become incapacitated. About three to four million reach
young adulthood. So there's a lot of
change going on in the composition of
the electorate. The young adults who are
joining the electorate are not actively participating in politics and tend to be more
distrustful. They came of age during Vietnam and the malaise of the 70's, whereas
the people who are dying out were
shaped by the Depression and the Roosevelt years. They were more interested in
political activity and more likely to view
it as relevant to their own lives.
In recent years, we've not had a political era that has gotten people interested
and involved on a lasting basis. A lot of
the 60's activity was related to special
circumstances like the War, but once
that ended, participation dropped off
ME: What about the 80's? Will the state
of the economy bring out voters?
RM: Yes, I think the 80's will be politically interesting. I think we are in for a
long term of economic distress. That
opens up the possibility for more vigorous politics.
ME: You don't think people will, as
America declines, begin a revolution, or
else just give up and become completely
RM: I think people will come to the
political process. There always will be
some dropouts, but a sizeable number of
people will become involved. The absolute number of voters, even with the
small percentages involved, has continued
to go up.
ME: Do you perform a missionary task
' Do you use computers in polling, or a trick-or-treat door-to-door approach?" " Computers.
in your classes by trying to get people
interested in the political contests?
RM: To some degree. My first concern is
to try to explain how people fit into the
political system. Whether they want to be
active or not is up to them. I ask in my
courses, Where do you as an individual
relate to this political process? Since it
affects you, you might as well understand
it. If you want to affect it, that's more
a question you will have to answer
ME: Are the political action groups,
rather than the individual, the dominant
forces in politics now?
RM: They are tremendously influential.
But I wouldn't say they are dominant,
except in a narrow or specialized context.
Here in Houston, certainly groups like
growth and development elites, groups
such as builders, realtors, apartment
associations, are inordinately influential
when it comes to the kind of policies that
deal with their economic well-being. What
they want is a pro-growth government
operating as a facilitator. That is an extreme example.
In national politics, there are so many
interest groups involved that there is a lot
of countervailing effect. A lot of them
can only block action that is detrimental
to their interests. It is much more difficult for them to pass anything that is
favorable. The process is stacked to kill,,
rather than give birth.
Here locally, particularly with those
development elites, it is different.
ME: Well, if groups negate each other, is
there a leader to rally around? Any charismatic figures on the horizon? Is Mickey
Leland, for example, another Barbara
RM: Well, I think with intelligent political work, Mickey Leland can be reelected as long as he wants to. I doubt
that he has any electoral future beyond
that. I do not expect him to become a
nationally prominent figure. He might be
an influential Congressman. Depends on
how he performs.
It is hard to say who will develop into
a prominent political leader. There is
chance and luck. You have to be the right
person at the right place.
ME: There are no Kennedys anymore,
at least in people's minds?
RM: Well, it is an era of lower expectations, when it comes to leadership. It may
be that people of ability, and potentially
attractive, just aren't attracted to seeking
ME: Did you ever want to run?
RM: No, I.get all the politics I want by
observing, working with politicians. I am
too private. I am enough of a realist to
realize very few constituencies would
elect me. The kind of quintessential politician is a Hubert Humphrey type who
has a very outgoing nature and wants to
help other people and deal with other
people's problems—a very energetic person, with an ability to act on the basis of
ME: Why do you like politics, why teach
RM: My family was particularly interested. They did not run for office, they
were simply interested. We grew up in
Louisiana. Very political state. I expected
to become a lawyer, so I went into political science, a typical undergraduate
major. I decided I liked political science.
ME: I've noticed in the New Orleans
area particularly, politics is really in
RM: Yes, it's a state pasttime. Also, it's
a helluva lot more important in terms of
who gets what where and when. Houston's economy is primarily private. Politics has little to do with most people's
economic well-being. Most people don't
relate to who's the mayor, or who's the
governor. You might prefer to have
McConn, or Macey, but it's kind of an
abstract. In New Orleans, or in Louisiana,
people think it's a matter of life or death.
This is enormously important, because in
Louisiana, jobs, preferment and opportunities frequently hinge on who's got the
political power. Aside from that, you
have a politics that is more interesting-
there are more interesting characters in
it, and more conflict.
ME: They really have always had Kingfishers and Willy Starks ....
RM: Oh, yes. And over here we have
these little piddleyass scandals, the Claytons with a few thousands, while over in
Louisiana they are stealing millions.
ME: The pie is littler. Here you can always say I have my job.
RM: Or if you lose one job, you can get
ME: Do you have some ideal that you
would like to see in Houston? Some
growth of a cultural and political life?
RM: I think that will come only slowly,
and only after Houston settles down. This
rapid growth is detrimental to development of much political consciousness I
Houston is very much a 19th Century
city. It's dominated by private economic
elites. Politics hasn't counted for that
much. If you believe in a 19th Century
laissez-faire doctrine, I suppose you think
that's good. The Chamber of Commerce
does-l don't. I'd like to see the city become generally more political, more
things decided politically.
I think a small step in the right direction was the fight over the billboard ordinance. Here, by political power, you are
trying to restrict a bunch of private entrepreneurs who for years had done anything they wanted. If you wanted to put
a huge orange sign on the top of your
building, that's fine. Or if you wanted to
stick something 120 feet up in the air,
that's your business. But you think in a
big city, especially, there are general political concerns, and these ought to be reflected in the political marketplace.
I would like to see Houston become a
place in which real political issues—like
what kind of city we are going to have
here—are debated and discussed and
where there is more planning and more
coordination. Not the haphazard catch-
elite make these decisions.
ME: Doesn't the old laissez-faire way
have to yield, because it can't cope with
the new realities of Houston?
RM: I think that that's the case. In the
area of mass transit we have seen that
very clearly. For years we had a private,
entrepreneurial transit system that just
totally broke down and collapsed. And
because the collapse is threatening to
strangle growth, even the growth elites
become willing to opt for a political solution. I think it's probably inevitable the
city will become more politically active.
For example, the most likely cataclysm that would befall Houston would
be a hurricane. We haven't had one for a
long time, not since all this growth and
development occurred. There's a good
possibility that if we had, we'd find that
the pattern for growth and development
we've encouraged over the years really
isn't hurricane-proof. We might have hu-
mongous loss, if not of life, of property.
We've had localized flooding that's got
people up in arms here and there around
the city. They are talking about land use
control, and making developers do different things.
It's almost inevitable that we'll have a
severe storm here at some point. And as
one of the results, it will make people examine the way we have ignored the consequences of growth.
ME: Can you generalize about the effects of growth? Is it true that an intellectual infrastructure here is missing because of the disorganized expansion? Is it
harder to develop a city culture, comparable to New Orleans', because of all this
19th Century procedure?
RM: In culture, Houston is in some ways
quite exciting. It's relatively open. You
don't have resistance to change. There is
money enough, surplus wealth, one of the
consequences of the economic boom. So
artists and others have some opportunity.
But still it's mostly potential, as I see it.
Putting it together may take a while. You
need third and fourth generation old
money around . . .
ME: People who know and can afford
what they want?
RM: You have some of that in Houston.
But Houston is maybe about where Chicago was in 1890. I think Chicago is
probably the most comparable American
city. Houston is even like Chicago's slogan, priding itself on being a city that
works. It is not a Southern city. Not
slow, life's pace here is very fast. A very
economic city, like Chicago was. I think
we'll develop as Chicago did, with a significant cultural base, but it will take a
ME: Chicago had good and bad—Dreiser
and Sandburg, Capone and Daley.. . .
RM: Well, if we had grown like Chicago
had, and during the same period—60 or
80 years ago—we would have had political
machines, too. By the time our growth
came along, the machines were kaput.
The conditions don't exist to sustain
ME: So there is no single power elite in
RM: No. But you have networks of elites.
They are very influential in certain policy
areas. One of the reasons is that you split
up government here. Some issues are
dealt with primarily at the state level.
Take labor-management disputes. Unions
are most effective in state legislative politics. The politics of education are handled
through a separate set of structures,
school boards, school districts. Parents
and administrators fight and squabble,
there's suburban versus inner city—the
key government here remains the city
government. More than any other, it controls the pace of growth and development. That's the fundamental fact about
Houston is a growth and development
city. The growth and development elites
are very influential. It's not six or seven
people sitting around deciding what to
do, like Jesse Jones tried to do 40 years
ago. It's a whole bunch of these people
that all have shared interests. Downtown
bankers, downtown lawyers, developers—
the city is a money machine for them.
They want to preserve the conditions that
led to this terrific economic expansion.
That includes some very diverse people
that probably can't stand to be in the
same room with each other.
When you couple this with the fact
that the mayoral elections cost a ton of
money to win—Where does the money
come from? From people in growth and
development. It hasn't made a hell of a
lot of difference who wins or loses. The
basic policies don't change that much.
You might get a Welch, a Hofheinz, a
McConn—they're personally different,
but there's consistency in the policies
ME: In all this expansion and control, is
there any place for women to make a
contribution in politics, or to have some
RM: Houston is a pretty good town
for women in politics. It's a new city,
without a traditional, engrained, male-
oriented political organization. Women
can be elected here. People will just as
soon vote for women as men. We have
tions, such as law, are still somewhat
closed to women.
But women are held back here because
Houston's basis of growth has been the
energy field. The energy industry is dominated by oil companies, that are male-
dominated. Engineering provides most of
the management. There are few women
engineers, few women in the economic
elite. There are more women in the
economic elite in other cities than in
Houston. Here a few women get in by
virtue of marriage—Oveta Culp Hobby,
ME: You don't think the oil industry
has opened up much to women?
RM: No. And it's going to continue to
be difficult. If you read the Texas Monthly article on EXXON, it gives you a
pretty good description of how to make
it in a big oil company. There are a lot
of things there very detrimental to
women. One, you almost have to be an
engineer. Two, you have to put in right
off the bat a lot of early time out in the
field. Then you are continually transferred. Some women have that flexibility,
but that's something more likely for men
to have. In an oil company you don't go
to New York, stay there 30 years, and
then move to the top. You go to Kaplan,
Louisiana, and to Baton Rouge, Houston,
and Darien, Connecticutt and then back
to Houston, and New York—you get ten
And it's an old boy network. A lot of
these guys got their degrees at state colleges. Cracking that is not going to be
easy. But there is so much wealth, and
economic well-being in the industry here,
that in peripheral areas there are a lot of
economic opportunities for women. But
not in the core industries that drive this
ME: Are they going to swing the presidential race, these industries, for Reagan?
How do you see the candidates' chances
in the final months?
RM: Well, if Reagan can't win in Texas,
he better give it up. But it is a sign of the
weakness of his campaign that he is going
to have serious problems here.
The basic fact is that we have two
weak candidates, and so the election is
actually going to hinge upon external
events which occur in the last two weeks
of the campaigns. There will be a lot of
voter movement back and forth, a lot of
attitude change depending on what happens in the world.
Nationally, Carter is stronger. He has
been a weak president, but he is a skilled
campaigner, with a well-organized, internally united campaign staff. His biggest
problem is the recession—it's hard to
shrug off a nine percent unemployment
rate. Mondale is strong with labor, blacks
and Jews, so Carter comes in with some
advantages. Plus, he's able, to some extent, to control events from the White
House. He can call the pace a bit.
Reagan's camp exhibits conflict between moderates and hard-liners. His
choice of vice president will show which
way he is leaning. He ought to pick
Baker, but if he chooses to run with
Kemp or the other ideological people, it
will show he plans to present a more conservative choice.
ME: How does John Anderson figure
into the picture?
RM: Things are very difficult traditionally for a third party, and Anderson's campaign shows the problems. His support is
diffuse, not concentrated in a few states
that would give him electoral college
votes. He will probably get several million
votes, anyway, but not enough to put the
outcome in the House of Representatives,
let alone win. On balance he will hurt
Carter, especially in Texas, as a choice for
moderates, but in the North and Northwest he will take moderate Republican
voters away from Carter. But it depends
on what happens in those last two weeks.