Friday, March 6, 2015

Boss Rule in South Texas

Four years ago, I researched some of the state’s past election contests, which include such notable Texans as Jose Antonio Navarro, Elisha M. Pease, and some less notable Texans such as Sam Ealy Johnson Jr.  However, the one that most interested me was the election contest of State Senator Archer Parr – the boss of Duval County.  The challenge from D. W. Glasscock represented an attack on the political machine controlled by Parr (an attack which he survived), and it sparked an interest in the boss rule of South Texas – eventually leading me to Evan Anders work on the subject of boss rule in the Progressive Era.

While the focus of my interest – Archie Parr and his organization – would be a fixture in state politics for decades, his rise was aided and influenced by Jim Wells.  Wells was tutored in boss politics by Stephen Powers, and like Powers and the other bosses who preceded him, Wells adopted the Spanish patronage culture prevalent in rural South Texas.  This system allowed Wells and others to gain control over the voters the majority Hispanic population, and thus, control over the local governments of South Texas.
Well’s fall would ultimately come in 1922, but from the 1890’s until that time, he lead the conservative Democrats in opposing prohibition, stifling reform and in securing their business interests through the development of the Trans-Nueces.  To secure their interests, they manipulated Hispanic voters, resorted to outright vote fraud, intimidated voters, and even killed their political rivals.  And while Wells was never personally charged with a crime, his influence and guidance pervaded the entire boss system.  His control of Rio Grande Valley politics made him the target of the Republican Party, Independent Democrats, and Progressives. 
The successful development of the Rio Grande Valley through irrigation, ports and railroads ultimately lead to the undoing of Wells, as Anglos from the Midwest and other parts of the country began to move into the region.  These migrants detested the political bosses and the Hispanic population they controlled, and often supported the Progressive reforms, such as prohibition, women’s suffrage, etc. – particularly restrictions on Hispanic voting.  As these reforms were achieved, Wells lost his power base, and by 1922, he could no longer the deliver the votes for his allies. 
While Wells was ultimately undone, other bosses adapted.  Archie Parr supported the campaigns of progressive governors and maintained his control over Duval County well into the 20th Century.  And even after the fall of the Parrs, the remnants of boss rule have lingered in parts of South Texas. 
Anders, Evan. Boss Rule in South Texas: The Progressive Era. Austin: U of Texas, 1987.
Anders, Evan. "The Origins of the Parr Machine In Duval County, Texas," Vol. 85, No. 2, October 1981, pp. 119-138.
Anders, Evan. "Boss Rule and Constituent Interests: South Texas Politics during the Progressive Era," Vol. 84, No. 3, January 1981, pp. 269-292.

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