Early voting started a couple of days ago in Texas, and it sure makes it easy to vote for a primary election dated for May 29. Given that I will be in Rome visiting relatives on that date, it is nice to know that I can still vote early in Texas. Should I say, “Only in America?”

Not to be too proud, but I voted in the Republican primary. Ten years ago—and surely 20 years ago—I would have voted in the Democratic primary, in that all the local elections were decided in the Democratic primary. Things have changed on the Gulf Coast of Texas.

I was disappointed that Santorum bailed from his presidential bid—and it looks as if Paul has bailed too—before the Texas (let alone Pennsylvania) primary. As recent as 2008, the Texas Democratic primary mattered when it was between Hillary and Barack. But back then, the primary was held in mid-March. It is in late May because of the dispute over the redrawing of newly added Congressional districts.

In the 2008 primary the nation learned about the “Texas Two-Step” that the parties have established between counting popular votes and counting delegates to the state party convention at local precinct meetings. For all of its populism, Texas demands committed populism, i.e., if you really care, you need to go to the precinct meeting. I’m sure the local Paulistas will make the most of this.

Texas also has an open primary, so who knows who voted for which candidate in which party back in 2008. There was no such luck this time on the Republican or Democratic side.

No doubt, all the presidential names were on the ballot. I saw Michele Bachmann’s name, and I was tempted to pull the lever in her direction just to spoil the ballot, but one vote doesn’t count, even in a spoiled ballot, and especially in a losing cause.

In Texas we have partisan elections for all state designated positions. This year a lot of constables, sheriffs, and judges—judges on the district and appellate level—were open for election. Of course, state House and Senate, Congressional House and Senate, and the Presidency were all on the ballot too.

But who can honestly keep up with all this stuff? In Texas, the appellate judges generally have no challengers in the primary election, but on the district level there were several candidates. District courts deal with important criminal (felony) and important civil (high property value) cases—but who can really vote on this in an informed manner? It asks too much.

Texas comes under criticism for its popular election of judges—from the local JP to the Court of Criminal Appeals and Supreme Court. An independent judiciary, it seems, is best kept under wraps by elective office for limited terms. This political populism is good locally, and it makes one appreciate the idea of federalism vis a vis the supreme law of the land. Not to be in favor of centralization, but I wonder about the sound judgment of elected judges as much as I wonder about the US Supreme Court in its appointment for good behavior. This raises questions about the appropriate role of auxiliary precautions such as separation of powers on the partly federal—partly national general level, and popular self government on the state and local level.

For good or ill, it seems that state and local government have lost their vitality and importance in terms of small “r” republicanism. State and local government have become as administrative as anything else.

That said, if you vote in the Texas Republican primary you can vote in the typical terms of national rhetoric for this or that self-proclaimed conservative Republican—they all say they are conservative and who am I to doubt? Principles matter, but they all say the same thing. Whether it is sheriff or judge or state legislator, I suppose I vote like most others do, i.e., in terms of personal connections. My dad was a friend with that guy, that woman is married to my doctor, I taught Government to that girl’s father, etc., etc. Let’s hope he or she who is personally upstanding  also knows stuff, and knows it well. This is, of course, typical of “face-to-face” local politics in America.

So anyway, I voted today.

Articles by John Presnall

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