LBJ with friends in front of helicopter he used to campaign during the 1948 campaign.
From T. H. Molina Photo Collection.
Former Texas Governor Coke Stevenson’s Duval County drubbing at the hands of Congressman Lyndon Johnson in 1948 did not go unnoticed by the former governor. He lashed out at the “bloc” and “machine” voting practiced by “Latin Americans” in Duval and surrounding counties. His friends at the Dallas Morning News editorial page were quick to chime in on his behalf.
In a Sept. 1, 1948 editorial entitled “Stevenson ‘Slur’ At Duval County” the News took exception with Johnson’s characterization of Stevenson’s complaints as a “slur” against the electorate of Texas. Johnson noted that Stevenson had not complained the four previous elections when he had received the overwhelming support of Duval County. Moreover, he did not hear complaints from Stevenson on boxes that he carried 100 percent in the King Ranch or by margins of 8 to 1 in the ritzy River Oaks section of Houston.
The News pointed out that Duval County had only 4,679 voters with paid poll taxes. Of these, Johnson received 4,622 and Stevenson 40. This meant only 17 registered voters stayed home. How could this be in a county full of Spanish-speaking illiterates, the News asked. Duval County ranked 253 out of 254 Texas counties in “median school years” for its residents. The turnout rate was above the state and national average.
The News’ editorial intoned “…we have a truly ‘peculiar position in Texas politics’ where a county of largely Spanish-speaking population and a minimum educational qualifications think with such apparent unanimity of opinion at the polls and exercise the right to vote on a basis far above the average for the state or for the United States. It is the ‘peculiar habit’ sometimes referred to as machine politics and bossism.”
The following day, in an editorial proclaiming Stevenson the winner by a “bad margin,” the News called for measures to reduce “to a minimum the possibility of herding ignorant voters to the polls to vote at the will of a political boss.” These measures included “proper use and count of absentee ballots” and a “restriction on campaign expenditures.” These issues should sound familiar to present-day voters.
Several days later, on Sept. 6, 1948, the News saw a need to defend its first editorial in light of criticism readers directed at them concerning the hypocrisy in that these “bloc” counties had supported Stevenson in prior elections. The News defended its position by noting that those elections had not been close and the bloc votes had made no difference. In the 1948 senatorial election, the bloc votes could “override the majority of the non-bloc-voting people of Texas” and decide the winner. This could result with Duval County electing its own United States Senator.
The News called for an investigation of the Duval County bloc vote in order to inject “fear” on the county’s voters or else the “integrity of the Texas ballot” would be lost.
In a prescient piece of writing, the News pointed out that “County election officials have been known to disenfranchise their counties by not making the official return. It is of the utmost importance…that every box should be properly reported and properly counted.”
The importance of this last statement would be an understatement. The real story was yet to unfold.