A mere two days into the 88th Texas Legislative Session, Republican lawmakers in the state House had already killed a GOP grassroots priority to ban Democrat committee chairs, leaving constituents wondering how committed their representatives are to other party priorities.
On Thursday, January 12, busloads of Republican voters from across the state converged on the Texas Capitol in Austin to find out.
During a bus ride to and from Austin arranged by the Collin County Republican Party, Texas Scorecard spoke with voters about their expectations for the 140-day legislative session that began January 10 and their experiences when visiting representatives.
The trip was timed to show grassroots support for an anticipated vote to stop giving Democrats powerful committee chair positions in the Republican-controlled House. Instead, newly re-elected House Speaker Dade Phelan scheduled the rules vote for Wednesday, then helped derail an amendment to ban Democrat chairs so it never received a vote.
“Let’s just say I’m disappointed,” said Cindy Davidson, a Collin County Republican voter and precinct chair who traveled to Austin to deliver that message personally.
Cindy, who is represented by State Rep. Justin Holland (R–Heath) and State Sen. Bob Hall (R–Edgewood), is a homeschool mom and brought her teenage son and daughter on the trip as a real-life learning experience.
She told Texas Scorecard she opposed Phelan as speaker because he stops Republican-priority legislation. “I don’t understand why,” she said.
Though disappointed about Phelan’s failure to ban Democrat chairs, Cindy said she was more upset that the Democrats who broke quorum last session were never penalized.
Cindy said she was happy the House passed a rules amendment to punish future quorum-breakers, but she was not happy they used a new housekeeping rule prohibiting use of House resources for “political purposes” as an excuse.
“What are we doing here? It’s all politics,” she said. “It’s just absurd.”
She went to Holland’s office on Thursday but never got to see him and ask why he didn’t back the ban on Democrat chairs.
Cindy did meet with Hall. “He’s awesome. I love that man,” she said.
She said she’s confident Hall will fight for her top issues, which include strengthening election integrity, protecting parental rights, stopping the sexualization and indoctrination of children, and securing the border.
John and Denise Stufflebeam also made the trip to Austin.
The Collin County couple got involved in politics a few years back, first with the Convention of States, and now with True Texas Project as well as their county Republican Party.
John said they “learned from scratch in Collin County” about the political process.
“I wasn’t so naïve as to think we’d win the vote to ban Democrat committee chairs,” he told Scorecard. “But I was disappointed we weren’t given the opportunity to be there for the debate.”
“I’m also disappointed there’s not a large enough group of lawmakers to make a difference,” he said. “We need to grow that group.”
Denise added, “What we needed in Austin was what we saw in D.C.”
John said he and Denise are in complete agreement with the eight priorities identified by thousands of delegates at the Republican Party of Texas convention.
If our lawmakers aren’t working on those priorities, they’re not doing what we sent them there to do. There’s not one in the Texas Legislature I feel confident is working for us.
“I don’t have a whole lot of confidence,” Denise said, “but I hope to be proven wrong.”
Still, John doesn’t want the grassroots to let their energy dwindle out.
“They have to know we’re here and what we want,” he said. “We have to be involved, champion things we want. We’ve got to learn the process to participate.”
McKinney resident Tammy Warren also rode the Collin County GOP bus to the Capitol, taking time away from her job and family to call on lawmakers in Austin.
Tammy and her husband are represented by Paxton and newly elected State Rep. Frederick Frazier (R–McKinney), who other constituents described as still learning the ropes. Tammy said she often discusses issues with another Collin County lawmaker, State Rep. Matt Shaheen (R–Plano).
“My main fight is stopping the sexualization of children,” she told Scorecard, adding that she has grandchildren in liberal Austin ISD. “We need to get the indoctrination out of our schools. Kids just need their innocence.”
“Why is it so hard?” she asked.
Tammy said she wasn’t surprised by lawmakers’ speaker selection or failure to ban Democrat chairs because she’d already talked to local Republican representatives and they were for Phelan and against the ban.
But she was disappointed the rules vote was “handled dirty, so grassroots couldn’t be a part of it. Phelan didn’t want the pressure of grassroots lobbying.”
After talking with Shaheen and Paxton, Tammy said she was happy they were working on parental rights bills, and she felt her voice was heard.
“The most exciting part is just to be part of the process,” she said. “It was absolutely a good day.”
Constituents also visited with State Rep. Jeff Leach (R–Allen), another member of the Collin County delegation, and exchanged lists of legislative priorities. Leach’s 13-item list contained just a couple of the RPT priorities.
Between office visits, Republican activists—many wearing “Ban Democrat Chairs” shirts—filled the House gallery, creating a sea of red as House and Senate members met jointly to canvass the results of the November election.
Many in the Collin County group also joined hundreds more Republican voters from across the state at a Republican Party of Texas press conference held on the Capitol grounds Thursday afternoon.
RPT Legislative Priorities Chair Jill Glover denounced the House rules process that blocked a vote on constituents’ priority to ban Democrat chairs, saying lawmakers “rolled over and played dead.”
While Phelan’s denial of a vote on Democrat committee chairs still rankles, Republican voters may yet see some movement on that priority.
House committee assignments will be made over the next few weeks, and House rules give the speaker full discretion to appoint committee chairs, regardless of party.
“We voted for a Republican majority, so why should we give anything to them?” said precinct chair Anu Saraf.
“There should be no Democrat chairs,” said Collin County GOP Vice Chair John Myers.
Countering several representatives’ excuse that some Republican lawmakers are less conservative than some Democrats, Myers added, “Don’t give them committee chairs either.”
All the activists agreed they need to keep pressure on lawmakers to pass their priorities.
“Every citizen should be in contact with their representative and senator,” Denise added.
Texans can use Texas Scorecard’s Elected Officials Directory to find contact information for their state lawmakers.