Across Texas, grassroots activists are frustrated with Republican officeholders at every level of government—and they should be.
Despite supermajorities in the Texas Legislature, full control of government in Washington, and having prevented Democrats from winning statewide office for more than two decades, Republican voters haven’t received the conservative reforms they were promised. Election after election they’ve rolled up their sleeves and worked hard to elect those who promised to be conservative champions only for those same politicians to betray those promises almost immediately after taking office.
It’s for this reason two years ago at the Texas GOP Convention in Dallas that Republican delegates amended party rules to allow for a censure, a resolution formally condemning Republican lawmakers when they seriously and repeatedly betray Republican principles.
For years, delegates have sought the power to expel Republican officeholders who betray Republican principles from the Republican primary ballot. While those efforts were not fully successful, delegates did adopt a compromise rule that allows the party to formally condemn wayward officeholders and to allow the party to withhold party resources from them.
Rule No. 44 – Censure Process and Penalties
A County or Senatorial District Convention or a County or District Executive Committee may by a two-thirds (2/3) vote of those present and voting adopt a resolution censuring a Republican public or party office holder representing all or a portion of that County or District for three (3) or more actions taken during the current biennium in opposition to the core principles of the Republican Party of Texas defined in the Preamble of the Party Platform as described in Rule No. 43A.
Such a resolution may include a request to the State Convention or SREC that the named office holder be penalized. If such a request is included, the delegates of the State Convention by majority vote, or the State Republican Executive Committee by a two-thirds (2/3) vote of the full membership, may vote to concur with the resolution of censure and declare that no Rule or Bylaw enacted by any division of the Party at any level that demands the Party be neutral in intraparty contests shall be observed with respect to the named candidate, and no financial or other support shall be provided to their campaign by the Party except that which is required by law.
Any such penalty shall expire at the beginning of the State Convention following its adoption.
Since the rule was adopted, a number of lawmakers have been censured by their local GOPs: House Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio, State Reps. Byron Cook of Coriscana, Chris Paddie of Marshall, and Travis Clardy of Nacodoches, and this past weekend Tarrant County Republicans in Senate District 9 censured US Sen. John Cornyn and US Reps. Michael Burgess, Kay Granger, and Kenny Marchant for their vote on the omnibus spending bill.
It’s true that many of those have yet to make it through the process, but so far only two censures—those of Straus and Cook—have been debated by the State Republican Executive Committee, and only the Straus censure was ratified by the state party.
How could that be?
Some of it stems from the clunkiness of the rule with its wonky and onerous requirement that an officeholder take three or more specific actions that violate the party’s rather non-specific core principles. Another reason is that the two-thirds of full membership of the SREC threshold allows a small number of SREC members to effectively scuttle any measure by skirting the vote.
Perhaps the most compelling reason that censures have failed, however, is because no one on the SREC has, as of present, been held accountable for their votes on them for better or for ill.
That could soon change at the upcoming state convention where every member of the SREC will have to campaign in order to keep their posts. Delegates could also clean up the rule with tighter language that expresses to grassroots activists which actions do and do not qualify for censure, lower the threshold necessary to adopt it, or strengthen the penalties for those subjected to it.
All will depend on the will of the delegates.
Either way, Republican officeholders who think they can ignore the Republican Party, its platform, and its grassroots are headed for a rude awakening. It is entirely possible that the delegates at the upcoming convention will craft a tool through a strengthened Rule 44 that could see arrogant Republican officeholders stripped of their party affiliation and forced to run for reelection as independents.
Regardless of whether the rule is sharpened, grassroots activists need to treat censure resolutions with the weight the motion deserves. A serious tool for serious transgressions, the censure is not intended, and indeed is wholly unfit, for use as a tool for simply sending a message to redeemable Republican officeholders.
To be sure, Republican activists should be clear what they expect from their elected officials. But that can be done by passing resolutions, encouraging their friends and family to call the officeholder, working against them in elections, and other efforts. The censure ought to be reserved for offenses deemed so grave that an elected officeholder should lose the right to call himself a Republican and lose access to the party’s nomination.
Grassroots activists can effect conservative change a great number of ways, as we have seen each election cycle and legislative session. Let us not forget that responsible and focused use of the censure is only one of the tools available and that in order for it to be truly effective it must be used wisely.