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Vocabulary for Texas Government

Absentee voting: (see "No excuse voting'').

Activists: Judges who practice a judicial philosophy of using the full powers of the courts to
make policy, often interjecting their own values and opinions. Activists are usually liberals and democrats.

Administrative discretion: The latitude that the legislature gives executive agencies to
make policy (i.e., laws) in the spirit of the agencies legislative mandate.

Annexation: The authority of cities to add territory, subject to restrictions set by state law.

Appellate court: A court whose primary function is to review the judgments of other courts
and of administrative agencies.

Appellate jurisdiction: The power of a court to review cases that have been tried elsewhere.

Appropriations: Having to do with taxation, public revenues, or public debt.

At-large election: A system under which city council members or other office-holders are
elected by voters in the entire city (i.e., all voters are eligible to vote for all candidates).

Austin Grant: The agreement under which anglos first entered Texas.

Bad tendency: A view held that the legislatures, and not the courts, should determine what
constraints should exist on speech.

Bicameral: Separated into two houses.

Biennial: Means "two years'' and is used to describe the fact that the Texas legislature meets
every two years.

Bill: A proposed law which is submitted to the legislature.

Bimodal distribution: A distribution of opinions that shows two responses being chosen
about as frequently as each other.

Black Codes: Laws passed after the Civil War designed to restrict the political activity of
black Americans.

Block grants: Federal grants to state and local communities that are for general use in a broad
area, such as community development.

A certificate of indebtedness issued by a borrower to a lender. A bond constitutes a legal obligation to pay the principal of the loan plus accrued interest.

Bracket bill: A local bill disguised as a general bill.

Budget: A bill passed by Congress which reflects the allocation of resources by the

Bureaucracy: A large, complex organization in which employees have very specific job
responsibilities and work within a hierarchy of authority.

Categorical grants: Grants of funds made by one level of government to another, to be used
for specified purposes and in specified ways.

Caucus: A closed meeting of the members of a political party to decide upon questions of
policy and the selection of candidates for public office.

City charter: A document, defined or authorized by state law, under which a city operates.

Civil cases: Litigation in which a person or persons sue other parties for denying them their
rights or causing them harm.

Civil liberties: Freedoms guaranteed to individuals which act as a restraint on government.

Civil rights: Powers or privileges guaranteed to individuals and protected from arbitrary
removal by either individuals or government.

Clear and present danger: Occurs when speech presents the potential for harm to others.
The classical example involves yelling "fire" in a crowded theater.

Clemency: A recommendation of leniency by the governor on behalf of a prisoner. Clemency

includes pardon (where the individual is absolved from the legal consequences of his crime), commutation of sentence (a reduction in punishment), and the reprieve (a temporary interruption of punishment.

Closed primary: A primary in which voters must declare their sup-port for a certain party
before they are given the primary ballot containing that party's nominee.

Closed shop: A situation in which only members of the union holding the contract may be

Cloture: A motion to stop a filibuster which requires a two-thirds vote for adoption.

Coalition: An often temporary alliance of different factions or parties.

Code: A comprehensive collection of statutory laws, organized by topics for easy reference.

Common law: Law which originated in England and which was based on custom and
tradition. Common law is still binding today, and when common law is not sufficiently precise for today's society, it is superseded with statutory law.

Communication: The process of transmitting messages or ideas from one individual or group
to another. Involves three components (sender, receiver, and the message or symbol).

Community property: Property acquired during marriage which, in the event of a divorce,
would be divided.

Concurrent powers: Powers exercised independently by both national and state

government, such as the power to tax.

Confederation: A loose association of independent states that agree to cooperate on specified


Conference committee: A temporary joint committee made up of members of both houses

of the legislature to attempt to reconcile the differing versions of a bill.

Conflict of interest: A conflict that arises when a policymaker participates in a vote or

decision that will have a direct effect on his or her personal livelihood.

Conservative: Someone who believes that the domestic role of government should be
minimized and that individuals are responsible for their own welfare.

Constable: An elected law enforcement officer administratively assigned to a justice-of-thepeace court. Constables typically serve judgments, subpoenas, etc.

Constitutional law: Laws which are written in broad terms to give basic guidance.

Continuance: A postponement of a court (trial) date.

Cooperative federalism: A view that the various levels of government in America are
related parts of a single governmental system, characterized by cooperation and shared functions.

Co-optation: Influence over state regulatory boards by the industries they are supposed to
regulate, often to the detriment of the general public.

Coroner: The county official responsible for determining the causes of deaths occurring under
violent, unusual, or suspicious circumstances.

Councils of government (COGs): Multi-jurisdictional, nongovernmental, cooperative

arrangements to permit regional approaches to planning, development, the environment, and other problems that affect a region as a whole. COGs are composed of representatives from various units of local government within each region.

Criminal code: A compilation of laws that regulate individual con-duct and spell out
punishments for violations.

Deadwood: Refers to those provisions in the Texas Constitution that are unenforceable
because they conflict with the U.S. Constitution or other federal laws.

Defamation: Injury to a person's character, fame, or reputation by false and malicious

statements. Includes both libel and slander.

Deferred adjudication: A postponement in sentencing and the final disposition of a case

until after a probationary period has passed. If the defendant has not been in trouble during this period, the initial charges and/or convictions are usually dropped.

Direction: Refers to liking or disliking in public opinion polling.

Dual-budgeting: When both the executive and legislative branches prepare separate budgets
for submission.

Dual federalism: A federal system in which national and state government each have
separate grants of power and each is supreme in its own sphere.

Dual primary: Also known as a "runoff" primary election. When no candidate in a field of
contestants receive a majority of all votes cast (i.e., greater than 50%), a runoff election between the two top opponents is held.

Due process: A phrase in the fifth and fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution which
provides citizens certain guarantees against arbitrary government action. Due process consists of substantive due process (which states that laws must be reasonable) and procedural due process (which guarantees certain steps or procedures in the fair administration of the law).

Electioneering: Campaigning actively on behalf of a candidate; the total effort made to win
an election.

Eminent domain: Power of governments to take private property for public use, after just

Engrossment: The preparation of an officially prescribed copy of a bill, with the text as
amended by floor action.

Enumerated powers: The powers explicitly granted to Congress by the Constitution.

Equal opportunity (time) provision: An FCC requirement that broadcast stations afford
all candidates in a campaign equal air time if they allow any candidates in that race to appear on the air.

Ex post facto laws: Laws passed by the legislature and made applicable to acts committed
prior to the passage of the law. Ex post facto laws are prohibited by the U.S. Constitution.

Exclusionary Rule: The rule of law that states otherwise admissible evidence may not be
used in a criminal trial if it was obtained by police conduct that was illegal.

Extradition: A constitutional provision allowing a state to request another state to return a


Fairness doctrine: An FCC regulation that obligates broadcasters to discuss all sides of a
controversial issue.

Federalism: A Constitutional arrangement whereby power is divided between a national

government and constituent governments called states.

Fighting words: Words usually intended as a personal insult to the person being addressed
which by their very utterance tend to incite an immediate breech of the peace.

Filibuster: An effort to kill a bill with unlimited debate, requiring a vote of cloture to
terminate debate.

Fiscal: Having to do with taxation, public revenues, or public debt. Appropriations.

Formula grants: Grants distributed according to a specific formula, which specifies who is
eligible for the grants and how much each eligible applicant will receive.

Franchise: The right to vote.

Frisk: A limited patting down of the outer clothing. Probable cause and the consent of the
citizen is not required.

Full faith and credit clause: A clause in the Constitution requiring that each state respect
the laws, records, and court decisions of another state.

General bill: A bill that applies to all people or property in the state and that becomes a public
law if passed.

General election: An election in which voters choose government officeholders.

Gerrymandering: The drawing of legislative district lines in such a way as to favor one
political party or group at the expense of another.

Good faith exception: Exception to the Exclusionary Rule. Evidence obtained by an invalid
warrant can be used in court if issuing magistrate was impartial and if the officer was neither dishonest nor reckless and objectively believed the warrant was valid (Maryland v. Garrison, 1986).

Government: The legitimate use of force--including imprisonment and execution--to control

human behavior within certain specified boundaries.

Grand jury: A panel that reviews evidence submitted by prosecutors to determine whether to
formally charge an individual with a crime.

Grants: Federal appropriations (i.e., monies) that are given to states to fund state policies and

Hyperpluralism: A situation that arises when interest groups become so powerful that they
dominate the decisionmaking structures, rendering any consideration of the greater public interest impossible.

Ideology: A highly organized and coherent set of opinions which form a belief system.

Impeachment: The process of formally accusing an official of improper behavior in office. It

is followed by a trial, and if the official is convicted, he or she is removed from office.

Implied powers: Powers of the national government that arise out of either the enumerated
powers of Congress, or the necessary and proper clause.

Incumbent: A candidate in a race who already holds the office.

Indecent speech: "Sexual and excretory" speech which is "patently offensive" and prohibited
from the airwaves.

Indictment: A finding by a grand jury that there is enough evidence against an individual to
warrant a criminal trial.

Individualist political culture: The pattern of political values, beliefs, and behavior that
emphasizes politics as a necessary but dirty business and an opportunity to disburse rewards and favors to one's supporters.

Inevitable discovery: Exception to the Exclusionary Rule. Allows for the seizure of
evidence if the issuance of the warrant is assured and the evidence will most certainly be found anyway.

Initiative: A procedure by which voters can propose an issue to be decided by the legislature
or the people, themselves by referendum.

Influence peddling: Using the access to powerful people one has gained through prior public
service in order to benefit personally.

Inherent powers: Powers that the national government may exercise simply because it exists
as a government, such as the right to conduct foreign affairs.

Intensity: Refers to the degree of liking or disliking.

Interest group: A private group of citizens who attempt to influence government policy in
areas of concern relevant to the group.

Iron triangles: The mutually supportive and beneficial relationships that exist between
interest group lobbyists, the heads of state executive branch agencies, and members of the particular legislative committee or subcommittee that oversee those agencies.

Issue network: A loose group of individuals or interest groups who share a common policy

Laissez-faire: An economic policy that opposes any form of govern-mental intervention in

business. Literally it means "leave be."

Latency: Public opinion about potential issues of the future which have not yet crystallized.

Least drastic means: The notion that a law may not broadly stifle fundamental personal
liberties when the end can be more narrowly achieved.

Libel: Written defamation.

Liberal: Someone who believes in an active role for government in domestic policy areas and
in providing help to individuals and communities in areas such as health, education, and welfare.

Libertarian: A system of belief that is opposed to all government action except that which is
necessary to protect life and property. Libertarians also reject government involvement in areas concerning moral choice. The libertarian influence in Texas is strong.

Line item veto: The power of the governor to strike individual items in the appropriations

Lobby: As a noun, a lobby is an interest group. As a verb, it means to attempt to influence a

legislator's decision on a bill, either directly or indirectly.

Lobbyist: A person who attempts to influence government policy on behalf of an interest


Magistrate: A minor official with limited judicial authority, such as a justice of the peace or
the judge of a municipal court. Magistrates typically issue search and arrest warrants, set bond, etc.

Merit system: (for the selection of judges, cf. Missouri Plan).

Message power: The governor's means of formally establishing his priorities for legislative

Metropolitan area: An urban area composed of one or more large cities and surrounding
suburban communities.

Missouri Plan: A proposed design for the selection of judges which would satisfy both the
public accountability issue and the judicial independence concerns of the selection process.

Moralist political culture: A pattern of political values, beliefs, and behavior that
emphasizes citizen participation and government responsibility for the whole community.

Municipality: Another term for "city."

Necessary and proper clause: The clause in Article One of the Constitution that gives
Congress the means to execute the enumerated powers, and serves as the basis for Congress' implied powers. Also called the "elastic clause" and "sweeping powers clause."

No bill: Indicates that a grand jury has refused to indict a suspect for a crime.

No excuse voting: Absentee or early voting. The voter does not need to explain why he or
she cannot vote as schedule.

Normal distribution: A symmetrical, bell-shaped distribution of opinions centered on the

most frequent response or mean.

One party system: (aka weak party system). A state which is dominated by a single political
party. It is characterized by an absence of party competition, inadequate debate of public policy, low voter turnout, and is usually dominated by conservative issues and interests.

Open meetings: Laws which require state and local government to conduct most of their
actions in public and maintain records for public inspection.

Open primary: A form of primary election in which any voter may participate and vote for a
slate of candidates in either political party.

Open records: See "open meetings."

Open shop: A business establishment or factory in which workers are employed without
regard to union membership.

Original jurisdiction: The authority to try a case (i.e., conduct a trial). State district courts
have original jurisdiction only.

Overbreadth: When a statute is designed to burden or punish activities which are not
constitutionally protected, but which is so broad that the statute also prohibits protected speech.

Pardon: The governor's grant of a release from the legal consequences of a criminal act.

Parimutuel betting: A system of betting on races whereby the winners divide the total
amount bet, after deducting expenses, in proportion to the sums they have wagered individually.

Parole: The early release of an inmate from prison, subject to certain conditions.

Party platform: Statements of party goals and specific agendum which are taken seriously by
candidates, but are non-binding. The platform is made up of "planks," each of which represents a different issue or interest.

Permanent party organization: The small, fixed organization the handles the routine
business of a political party.

Petit jury: A panel of citizens that hears evidence in a civil lawsuit or criminal prosecution
and decides the outcome by issuing a verdict. Criminal juries typically have twelve members and the verdict must be unanimous. In civil cases, there are often six members and the verdict need not be unanimous.

Place system: An at-large election in which all candidates run for a numerically designated
place--or seat--on the policymaking body.

Plural executive: A fragmented system of authority under which most statewide, executive
officeholders are elected independently of the governor. This arrangement restricts that governor's power to effectively administer state affairs.

Pluralism: A system in which many conflicting groups within the community have access to
government officials and compete with one another in an effort to influence policy decisions.

Political action committee (PAC): A committee established by an interest group to raise

money, make campaign contributions, and to spend money or provide services on behalf of the candidates they support.

Political culture: The common body of values and beliefs held by Americans which shapes
their perceptions of and attitudes towards politics and government, and which also influences their political behavior.

Political participation: Encompasses a broad range of citizen activities from involvement in

learning about politics to engagement in efforts that directly affect the structure of government, the selection of government authorities, or the policies of government.

Political party: A broadly based coalition that attempts to gain con-trol of the government by
winning elections, in order to exercise power and reward it members.

Political socialization:
The life-long process of acquiring political values, attitudes, and behavior through life experiences and interaction with family, friends, and other individuals and institutions.

Political tolerance: The willingness to extend procedural rights and liberties to individuals
with whom one disagrees.

Politics: The competition to shape government's approach to society's problems and goals.

Poll tax: A tax once levied on voters which was designed to keep minorities and poor whites
from voting.

Power: The possession of control over others.

Precinct: A specific, local voting area created by the county commissioners court.

Precinct chairperson: The party official responsible for the interests of a political party in a
voting precinct. The typical duties of a precinct chairperson include supervising party volunteers, encouraging voter registration, and getting out the vote on election day.

Precinct convention: A meeting held by a political party on the same day as the party
primary. In presidential election years, the precinct conventions and the primaries are the first steps in the selection of dele-gates to the party's national nominating convention.

Primary: An election held within a party to nominate candidates for the general election or
choose delegates to a national nominating convention.

Prior restraint: Restraint imposed prior to a speech being made, a newspaper being
published, or a motion picture being shown. Also called censorship.

Private sector: Business and industry.

Probable Cause: The existence of facts or circumstances, or trust-worthy information that

create a reasonable belief to an unbiased magistrate that a crime is involved.

Procedural due process: Guarantees a fair decision-making process before the government
takes some action directly impairing a person's life, liberty, or property.

Progressive tax: A tax which is proportionate to income, so that the rich pay more than the
poor. For example, one person might pay an income tax of 13% on $25,000 while someone earning $50,000 might have to pay a tax rate of 28% of their total earnings.

Project grants: Federal funds given for specified purposes and based on the merits of the

Proposition: An issue, printed on the ballot, to be voted on during a referendum.

Proprietary power: The power given to the state that provides for the public ownership of
airports, libraries, parks, etc.

Pseudo laissez-faire: A belief that as a rule, government should not become involved in
business, but should become involved if asked to by business.

Public sector: The state bureaucracy.

Reapportionment: The drawing of new boundary lines for legislative districts based on the
results of a census.

Recall: When an incumbent is removed from office before his or her term expires.

Recidivism: A tendency to return to criminal activity.

Referendum: When the public votes directly on a policy question.

Regressive tax: A tax--such as the sales tax--where the poor pay proportionately more than
the rich.

Regulation: Actions taken by government to impose restrictions on business.

Reserved powers: Powers not specifically enumerated to Congress, and therefore reserved to
the states and the people under the tenth amendment to the Constitution.

Retrospective voting: Voting based upon looking back and making judgments about the
way things have gone and the kind of government experienced during a political leader's time in office.

Right-to-work law: A state law that prohibits collective bargaining agreements providing for
compulsory union membership and other activities or advantages that favor labor unions.

Runoff election: An election that is held when no candidate receives a required percentage of
the vote in an earlier election. Usually held between the two candidates who received the majority of the vote in the first election.

Salience: The extent to which people feel issues relate to their own lives. When an issue
suddenly becomes important to the voters it becomes salient.

Sample: In public opinion polling, a small representative portion of the universe

School district: A type of special district providing local public education for children in its

Search: The prying by police into hidden places.

Search Warrant: A written order, issued by a magistrate and directed to a peace officer
commanding him to search for any property or thing, and to seize the same and bring it before such magistrate.

Seditious speech: Speech that advocates the violent overthrow of government.

Separation of powers: The division of political power into one of three branches.

Session power: The governor's constitutional authority to call the legislature into special

Sin tax: Taxes levied on tobacco and alcohol among other--and often luxury--items.

Single-member district: A system in which a legislator, city council member, or other

public official is elected from a specific, geographic area.

Slander: Speech that is defamatory and tends to prejudice another person in his reputation,
office, trade, business, or livelihood.

Social Darwinism: A belief based on Charles Darwin's principle of natural selection. Social
Darwinism states that a person deserves to be wherever it is that they are on the socioeconomic ladder.

Sovereignty: The power of self-rule.

Special election: An unscheduled election called to fill a vacancy after an incumbent has
stepped down or died in office, or to decide on a special matter, such as a bond.

Speaker: The presiding officer in the state House of Representatives.

Split-ticket voting: When a voter selects candidates from both parties.

Stability: Measures public opinion over time.

Statutory law: Laws which have been codified and are precisely stated.

Straight-ticket voting: When a voter votes for all the candidates sponsored by a political

Strong party system: When a state enjoys strong competition from two parties, neither of
which dominate over the other.

Substantive due process: Deals with issues that challenge the government's right to
regulate the conduct in question (e.g., smoking in public buildings).

Suffrage: The right to vote.

Sunset laws: Laws calling for the periodic review of an agency to determine whether the
agency should continue to exist. Sunset laws fix termination dates for these agencies which are automatic unless the agency can show a continued public need for the agency's services.

Supremacy clause: The clause in the Constitution specifying that the Constitution and the
laws of Congress shall be the supreme law of the land.

Symbolic speech: Speech dealing with issues such as the hair length of police officers, the
wearing of black arm bands, flag burning, etc.

Temporary party structure: That component of a political partys structure that comes
into existence during a general election year.

Three-pronged test of a law: Also called the "Lemon test." A judicial test of a law
involving religion to determine whether the law violates the establishment clause.

Tort: A wrongful act, damage, or injury done willfully or negligently.

Tort reform: Changes in state law to put limits on personal injury lawsuits and damage

Traditionalist political culture: The pattern of political values, beliefs, and behavior
historically dominant in Texas that emphasizes rule by an elite.

Trial court: A court whose primary function is to initially hear and decide cases. Trial courts
have original jurisdiction.

Trial de novo: The right of a petitioner to request a new trial at the county-level appellate

True bill: An indictment issued by a grand jury.

Two party system: When a state enjoys strong competition from two parties, neither of
which dominate over the other.

Universe: The entire population of a group about which information is sought

Vagueness: Occurs when a law is not sufficiently precise.

Weak party system: A state that is dominated by a single political party. It is characterized
by an absence of party competition, inadequate debate of public policy, low voter turnout, and is usually dominated by conservative issues and interests.