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One of the most common questions I get about the Fiscal Responsibility Index is “Why doesn’t Joe Straus have a session rating?”

Much of the answer lies in simply the way the Index is calibrated – we only rate lawmakers based on the votes they take. By tradition, speakers of the Texas House typically don’t cast votes. Therefore, there’s not a specific record of Straus – or any House speaker – casting votes for or against legislation. Sort of.

[side_text]A House speaker can, and should, be rated. [/side_text]Every session, a speaker will typically cast a couple of symbolic votes. For example, Straus voted for himself as speaker and the House tax cut plan (that his coalition team later abandoned). But that small number of votes isn’t really indicative of all that much. And it certainly wouldn’t be fair to compare the few votes a speaker takes to those of the rank-and-file members.

Yet a speaker can, and should, be rated. The most important measure is on what legislation gets to the floor for a vote. No House speaker can completely guarantee passage of legislation – and promises to the contrary are suspect. What a speaker can guarantee that legislation gets to the floor for a vote. The system in the House rules has developed into one in which the Speaker ultimately has total control over what legislation is debated. A speaker can bring to the floor any legislation that he favors. And, likewise, he can quietly kill measures that he dislikes.

Straus Versus The House
All Straus Committee chairs 55%
House Average 58%
Straus’ GOP Committee chairs 65.8%
House GOP average 73%

That happens by means of the committee chairmen he appoints. Under Straus, those men and women are his vassals, and are selected based on their loyalty to him. Their job is to move the legislation he wants moved and stall legislation he wants stalled. Therefore a review of the ratings of a speaker’s committee chairman provides a good approximation of a speaker’s governing philosophy.

The results are less than ideal.

While the Texas House average was a 58 percent on the Index, Straus’ committee chairs averaged 55 percent. The difference is more glaring within the GOP. While House Republicans earned an average rating of 73 percent (passing) on the Index, Straus’ Republican chairmen averaged a failing 65.8 percent. Our results are re-enforced in reviewing the results of the non-partisan ranking of House members by Rice University professor Mark Jones; even there Straus’ GOP committee chairs are less conservative than the House GOP average.)

Joe Straus may not have been casting votes, but as speaker he didn’t have to: his left-of-average committee chairmen did the dirty work for him.

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