At least one Republican primary candidate running for Congress isn’t interested in joining the most conservative caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Former State Rep. Kenneth Sheets (R–Dallas) told attendees at a candidate forum Tuesday night that, if elected to Congress, he will not join the House Freedom Caucus.
Sheets is one of eight Republicans vying to represent Texas’ 5th Congressional District. Six candidates participated in the forum hosted by the First Ladies Republican Women’s Club. Three were asked, “If elected will you, if invited, join the Freedom Caucus?”
Sheets, who was first to answer, said “no,” he would not join the House Freedom Caucus, calling it divisive. “I’m about unifying the Republican Party,” he explained.
“We need to be fighting the Democrats, not each other,” Sheets added.
Yet minority-party Democrats aren’t the obstacle to passing conservative legislation in the House. Conservative Republicans formed the House Freedom Caucus in 2015 in opposition to then-Speaker John Boehner and the GOP establishment. Their mission:
“The House Freedom Caucus gives a voice to countless Americans who feel that Washington does not represent them. We support open, accountable and limited government, the Constitution and the rule of law, and policies that promote the liberty, safety and prosperity of all Americans.”
The House Freedom Caucus wants to unify the Republican Party, too – around conservative principles and policies.
Sheets is campaigning as a “limited government Conservative” who will “fight to roll back the burdensome and unnecessary regulations from the Obama Administration.” Yet his comments suggest that “party unity” is more important than fighting fellow Republicans when necessary to keep his promises to voters.
The House Freedom Caucus pushed for a full repeal of Obamacare after President Trump took office. Though nearly every congressional Republican campaigned on a promise of “repeal and replace,” many including party leadership balked at delivering on that promise once Trump was elected. Voters may wonder which Republicans Sheets would unify with in similar situations.
Sheets earned a career “C” rating on Empower Texans’ Fiscal Responsibility Index during his three terms in the Texas House. As happens with many legislators, Sheets’ voting record grew less conservative the longer he was in office. He declined from an “A+” rating in 2011, to a “D” in 2013, to earning a failing score of 69 in 2015. Sheets also voted that year to re-elect Joe Straus as House Speaker.
Two other candidates at the forum were also asked about joining the group. Charles Lingerfelt said “maybe,” agreeing with Sheets that “we need to unify.” Bunni Pounds responded “yes,” she would join, “because that’s what the people of the 5th District want.”
The three other contenders at the forum – Danny Campbell, Sam Deen, and Jason Wright – weren’t asked the question, but all three confirmed to Texas Scorecard that they would join the House Freedom Caucus. Campbell said he views an invitation to join as “a sort of litmus test for a conservative.”
Candidates Lance Gooden, a state representative from Forney, and David Williams didn’t attend the forum.
Republican voters in the 5th Congressional District should know who their next representative will caucus with in Washington before casting a primary ballot in March. As for Sheets, the House Freedom Caucus may not be interested in him joining them, either.