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Memo 07.23.2021 5 minutes

Playing Fair with Cheaters

Texas House Democrats Breaking Quorum In D.C. Host News Conference

It’s time to end the era of shared house leadership in Texas.

How does a voter in Texas elect a legislature controlled solely by Republicans? The simple answer should be, as it is in other states, to elect a Republican majority. Unfortunately, in Texas right now, they can’t.

As the eyes of the nation fix on Texas House Democrats who have fled the state to prevent a vote on election integrity legislation, many of those same Democrats preening daily as underdog civil rights protestors before the CNN cameras actually have powerful leadership positions in a legislature under Republican control.

This is surprising to many non-Texans. In Congress, and in virtually every other state, the party that wins a majority of the legislative house controls the chamber. In New York, Democrats hold the leadership posts, control the committee chairs, and set the legislative policy agenda. In Republican Missouri, Republican legislators, elected by Republicans to set a Republican course, control the legislature and its leadership positions.

Texas is the largest Republican-controlled state in the nation. Texans haven’t backed the Democratic candidate for president since 1976. Democrats haven’t won the Governor’s Mansion since 1990. They haven’t held a chamber of the Legislature since 2003. Yet Republicans, despite having near supermajorities at times over the past decade, have continued to embrace a legislative tradition whereby the majority party voluntarily shares legislative control with the minority party. This is a vestige of a bygone era that not yet been retired in Texas, despite the near extinction of the conservative southern Democrat.

Overall, 14 of 34 House committees are chaired by Democrats, including the powerful House Committee on Public Education. With few exceptions, these chairs are not conservative “Blue Dog Democrats” who share our values, but not our party label. In fact, they are extremists more along the line of Nancy Pelosi than the late Zell Miller.

For example, Democrat Joe Moody of El Paso, Republican Speaker Dade Phelan’s choice for Speaker Pro Tempore, the second-ranking House leadership position, accused Governor Abbott of promoting racial violence against Latinos, labeled his Republican colleges racist for supporting a sanctuary city ban, and called President Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton “hate-monger[s]” who are “directly responsible” for the El Paso shooting that killed 23 people. 

Democrat Chris Turner of Arlington, chair of the Committee on Business & Industry, called for the impeachment of Attorney General Paxton for filing a lawsuit questioning the results of the 2020 election.

Democrat Rafael Anchia of Dallas called for the impeachment of President Trump, the arrest of Congressmen voting against certification of the election, and organized the Democrat walkout to delay election integrity legislation.

Democrat Poncho Nevarez of Eagle Pass was appointed to chair the Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee after assaulting and threatening a Republican lawmaker on the floor of the House, and retained his position after being arrested for possession of two grams of cocaine at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

Why are Republicans giving powerful leadership positions to Democrats who promote such hateful and divisive rhetoric and actions against Republican voters and elected officials?

Some defenders of this system argue that if Democrats are excluded from leadership, they will have no skin in the game and will be more likely to bring House business to a standstill. But shared control wasn’t successful in stopping the recent quorum bust over election integrity legislation. Furthermore, this hasn’t happened in states like Florida and Missouri, which reserve leadership positions for the majority party and have arguably been far more successful in passing conservative legislation with smaller GOP minorities. 

In contrast, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, with one exception, eliminated the practice of shared legislative control in the state senate. Yet the senate has been far more successful at passing GOP priorities, and was able to maintain quorum and pass election integrity legislation, even as house Democrats fled to D.C.

Bipartisan legislative control may have made sense at one time. But it is a practice that no longer makes sense in today’s political world. The mainstream of the modern Democratic party is far too extreme for such an arrangement to be practical or prudent. In addition, the practice has failed to provide any benefit to Republicans by preventing Democrat obstructionism. The Texas House GOP should let this practice die with the session and allow voters to elect a Republican legislature that is run solely by Republicans.

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