The Fight for the Commission
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An Idea Whose Time Had Come
People riding the Missouri, Kansas, & Texas
The constitutional amendment passed by the voters in 1890 added the following to Article X, Section 2, the section that declared the railroads to be public highways and common carriers and that allowed the legislature to set and enforce rates. The amendment read:
To further the accomplishment of these objects and purposes may provide and establish all requisite means and agencies invested with such powers as may be deemed adequate and advisable.
The amendment made a railroad commission legal, but it was still up to the Texas legislature to create the commission. Commission bills had been failing in the legislature for ten years. Would 1891 be any different?
Alexander Terrell led the fight on the House floor. Terrell had helped establish the University of Texas and the new Texas Capitol. For years, he had spoken out for railroad regulation. Thomas Brown of Grayson, who had introduced the 1889 bill that had passed the House but failed in the Senate, was also back. Brown was an expert on the railroad lobby and the tactics it would try to use to defeat the commission bill. In the Senate, Martin Crain and George Jester carried the commission banner.
Five commission bills were introduced, each differing in details. Hogg compared the situation to a wagon that had lost its coupling pin and was trying to go in five directions at once. One of the main sticking points was whether the commission should be appointed or elected. Hogg insisted on an appointed commission, in order to shield it from elective politics. Railroad allies were equally determined that if a commission passed, it would be elective, because an elected commission might be easier to control.
The Railroad Commission bill as enacted, April 6, 1891
The railroad lobby went to work on the legislators, providing nightly steak buffets complete with unlimited wine and liquor and card games that the legislators invariably won. On a more sophisticated level, railroad allies offered amendments to commission bills to strip out the enforcement provisions.
Commission advocates finally settled on the Terrell bill, which passed the House by a large margin, just as it had done two years earlier. Then came the Senate fight. In spite of the railroad lobby’s best efforts, public support for the bill was too strong for them to overcome. In the end, the Senate approved the creation of a railroad commission, 26-0, with five abstentions.
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