It has always bothered me when conservatives win elections but “moderate” Republicans end up running the leadership. In case you haven’t noticed, it happens all the time – once behind closed doors, the leadership does not reflect the elected Members nor the people who elected them. It is time for that to change and one place to start is Texas.
For those of you unfamiliar with what’s going on, there is a fight going on over the next Speaker of the Texas House. It really boils down to two choices: the current Speaker, moderate and Democrat supported Joe Straus, and conservative Ken Paxton.
As arguably the most powerful figure in Texas politics during the legislative session, the Speaker appoints Committee Chairs and those chairs set the agenda. As a result, liberal chairmen can keep conservative reforms from being voted on. This is exactly what happened the last legislative session when Speaker of the House Joe Straus swept into the Speaker slot on the backs of 65 Democrats and 11 Republicans (infamously known as the “Straus Eleven”). Yes, you read that correctly. A Republican Speaker that only had 11 Republicans vote for him. The reward for the Democrats loyalty was handing 14 committee chairmanships to liberal Democrats out of the 32.
These weren’t just any committees either. Democrat Rene Oliveira chaired the Texas House Ways and Means Committee in the 81st Texas legislature. On top of that, Straus handed the Chair of Calendars to Brian McCall – one of the most liberal Republicans in the Texas House, having received a rating of 27% from the Young Conservatives of Texas. The Chair of Calendars is the second most powerful leadership position in the Texas House because he sets the legislative calendar. If you want to kill conservative legislation, put a liberal in as the Chair of Calendars.
But it gets worse. During the 81st legislative session, Straus and his lieutenants burned conservative Texans over and over again.
- Straus lieutenant, Vicki Truitt, lead a push to increase Texas’ gas tax.
- Straus’ Elections Chair Todd Smith killed Voter ID in committee.
- Todd Smith authored and passed McCain Feingold type election law, only to have it vetoed.
- No hearings were allowed on spending limits
- Legislation to provide business tax exemptions to small businesses wasn’t allowed
Straus was recently given a 100% rating from NARAL in Texas and was honored by Planned Parenthood (where his wife sits on the board). He stumped for the poster child of the Left in Texas, Democrat Patrick Rose, this fall while not giving one dime to Republican challengers across the state. The ironic twist in all that is 22 Republican challengers won, including Jason Isaac, Patrick Rose’s opponent.
Possibly one of the most damning pieces of information against Straus is the percentage of Republican bills that were killed under his “leadership”-32%. 32% of Republican bills killed under a Republican Speaker while only 3% of the Democrat bills were killed. Elections have consequences. At least they should. Under former Republican Speaker, Tom Craddick, almost 50% of Democrat bills were defeated in final votes compared to 4% of Republican bills.
On Empower Texans Fiscal Index, the committee chairmen Straus appointed had an average rating on the Fiscal Index of 54%, abysmal by any standard.
Ken Paxton, on the other hand, received a 100% rating from Empower Texans. In contrast to Straus, he received a 0% rating from NARAL, a 97% rating from the Young Conservatives of Texas and an A+ from the NRA. Rock solid, you say? It gets better. Paxton sponsored legislation that would create stronger spending limits in Texas government in 2005, 2007 and 2009 and was lead author on cutting-edge transparency legislation in 2007.
What is troubling to me, though, is to see newly elected Republicans like Stef Carter and Cindy Burkett [updated: Ms. Burkett says she is taking no position at this time] and a rock solid conservative like Sid Miller amongst others endorse Straus right out of the gate and now that Paxton is in the race for Speaker, refuse to withdraw their endorsements.
This race already has some controversy. Last week Bryan Hughes (R) of Mineola voiced his opposition to Straus after he was threatened by an unnamed member of the Speaker’s leadership team. Representative Leo Berman filed an ethics complaint, tainting Straus pledge cards with the specter of bribery.
The Texas Speaker Race will provide an early preview of the consequences for betraying the conservative grassroots coalition that rocked the November 2nd vote. The 2012 primary season is not that far away.
With a host of issue before the next legislative session, with redistricting taking place and Texas in line to get another 4 seats in the United States House of Representatives, the question must be asked: who should be in charge of this process? Straus? Or Paxton?
The answer is clear.