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The founders of the Texas initiative and referendum movement were two ministers: Rev. A. B. Francisco of Milano and Rev. B. F. Foster of Galveston. Also important in Texas I&R leadership before 1900 was Judge Thomas B. King of Stephenville, county judge of Erath County.

The movement was slow to catch on in Texas. By 1912 Congressman (later U.S. Senator) Morris Shepard had declared himself in favor of I&R; in 1913 the legislature passed a bill allowing I&R as an option for home rule cities and a state constitutional amendment providing for statewide I&R.

The latter amendment would have required more petition signatures to put an initiative on the ballot than were needed in any other state: 20 percent of the number of ballots cast in the previous election. When the amendment was put on the ballot for voter approval in 1914, voters rejected it, to the delight of I&R advocates, who believed that they could get the legislature to pass a better version. They were unable to do so.

After a hiatus of more than half a century, Texans' interest in getting statewide I&R was revived when Californians approved their electrifying Proposition 13 tax cut initiative in 1978. Leading the movement was Republican State Senator Walter Mengden of Houston, who had pushed unsuccessfully for I&R at the state's 1974 constitutional convention and in the legislature until his retirement in 1982. Within a month of the California vote, Governor Dolph Briscoe and gubernatorial candidate William Clements had announced their support for statewide I&R.

Clements reiterated his commitment once elected, telling the legislature on 25 May 1979: "I have made it absolutely clear to everyone that if I do not get I&R passed, I will call a special session." But Clements failed to keep his promise. Leading the opposition was the Houston lobbyist James K. Nance, whose law firm represented such major corporate clients as Union Carbide, DuPont, Houston Power and Light, Pennzoil, and United Texas Gas Transmission.

In 1980 the state's Republicans put an I&R measure on their May 2 statewide primary election ballot, and party members endorsed it by a seven to one margin. Initiative advocates lost a strong ally when Senator Mengden retired, however, and the effort for statewide I&R seemed to be running out of steam. Nevertheless, Texas Republicans put the I&R question on their primary ballot again on May 6, 1982, and party voters favored it by a five to one margin.

However, when George W. Bush was elected Governor in 1994, he allowed the state’s Republican Party to remove the pro I&R plank from the Party’s platform and replace it with an anti I&R platform. This change effectively ended any chances of I&R being adopted in the state for the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, state I&R activist Mike Ford – founder of the group Initiative for Texas – has pledged to continue the fight. His group has been instrumental in educating the citizens of Texas about the importance of the I&R process.

Adapted from David Schmidt, Citizen Lawmakers: The Ballot Initiative Revolution (Temple University Press, 1989).

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