A Not-So-Republican Caucus Chairman - Texas Scorecard

For almost two decades, Republicans have controlled all statewide offices and both chambers of the Texas Legislature. Despite this reality and campaign promises to the contrary, legislative priorities of the Republican Party of Texas have repeatedly been ignored.

While Republicans again maintained majority power in the 2021 regular legislative session, only two of the eight Texas GOP Legislative priorities made it across the legislative finish line.

This failure occurred despite the fact that Republicans make up 83 of the 150 lawmakers in the Texas House of Representatives and 18 of 31 senators in the Texas Senate.

So who shares the blame? One lawmaker—the leader of the House Republicans—might share some of it, as evidenced below by a non-exhaustive list of his votes and actions this year.

State Rep. Jim Murphy’s Questionable Rise to Power

In December of 2020, a month before the 87th Legislative Session began, the Texas House Republican Caucus met to elect a new chairman. After a secret ballot was cast, they announced that State Rep. Jim Murphy (Houston) had taken the helm.

Notably, in their announcement, the caucus made no mention of the Republican Party’s legislative priorities.

“My colleagues have my commitment to apply the experience and knowledge I have developed over the years to my future efforts of providing them with strong, steadfast, and conservative direction,” Murphy said.

Murphy’s election happened despite the fact that he has consistently been rated one of the lowest-performing Republican lawmakers by several legislative rating scorecards over his tenure. Additionally, a Channel 2 KPRC investigation revealed Murphy claims to be an “independent contractor” for Houston’s Westchase Business District, where he got paid more than $312,000 in taxpayer money per year, on top of bonuses for “securing state funding for Westchase projects.”

The Westchase Business District partially overlaps Murphy’s House district, and while state law prohibits state lawmakers from holding taxpayer-funded jobs, Murphy skirts this by claiming to be a mere contractor.

As far as his voting record, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility (TFR) rated Murphy a 35 out of 100 on their Fiscal Responsibility Index once the 87th session was completed in May, while the average Republican scored a 57. In 2019, Murphy was rated a 43.

The Rice University Index rated him as the 76th most conservative lawmaker out of a caucus of 83 in 2021. He was rated the 70th most conservative lawmaker in 2019.

Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT), who boast the longest-running legislative ratings in the state, rated Murphy as a 57 out of 100 in 2019. They have not yet released their ratings for the latest legislative session.

A Contrast to His Democrat Counterpart

In contrast, the House Democrat Caucus chairman, State Rep. Chris Turner (Grand Prairie), boasts legislative ratings that are much more in line with the overall Democrat caucus average. Turner was rated 11 out of 100 in TFR’s Fiscal Responsibility Index, whereas the average Democrat was rated 15 of 100. Turner consistently aids his own Democrat colleagues in supporting their bills and offering amendments consistent with his own party’s platform.

Murphy, on the other hand, rarely takes to the front or back microphone in the House chamber to support his colleagues, let alone stand in solidarity with them as many face a barrage of inquiries from Democrat lawmakers.

Murphy Consistently Opposes His Own Party’s Priority Issues

There were several occasions during the regular legislative session when Murphy was on the opposite side of nearly half his own caucus, coalescing with his Democrat colleagues.

Abolishing Abortion

For instance, in the early days of the legislative session in January, Republican State Rep. Bryan Slaton (Royse City) offered an amendment to the proposed House Rules Resolution, which would have prevented the chamber from considering bills to rename highways before they considered a proposed law to abolish abortion, an issue that is a legislative priority of the Texas GOP. The amendment failed by a vote of 41-99, with 32 of the 99 “no” votes being other Republicans and Murphy.

The House went on to pass 24 bills renaming highways by the end of the legislative session, and they never considered a bill to abolish abortion.

Murphy’s own party’s platform states:

Plank 325. Abolish Abortion: Since life begins at conception, we urge the Texas Legislature to abolish abortion through enacting legislation that would immediately secure the rights to life and would ignore or refuse to enforce any and all federal statutes, regulations, orders, and court rulings that would deny these rights.

Gender Mutilation

Slaton also attempted to amend a bill relating to a prescription drug savings program, which would have prevented puberty blockers from being administered to minors as a part of the program. The amendment failed as 20 Republicans, including Murphy,  joined Democrats. He voted opposite 57 of his Republican colleagues.

Murphy’s own party’s platform states:

Plank 246. Gender Identity: We oppose all efforts to validate transgender identity. For the purpose of attempting to affirm a person 21 or under if their perception is inconsistent with their biological sex, no medical practitioner or provider may engage in the following practices:

 

  1. Intervene in any way to prevent natural progression of puberty.
  2. Administer or provide opposite sex hormones.
  3. Perform any surgery on healthy body parts of the underage person.

Corporate Welfare

Murphy has also been a consistent champion of corporate welfare schemes, which allow elected officials to give out exclusive taxpayer-funded perks—such as property tax exemptions and even straight cash—to their hand-picked companies.

In the 87th Legislative Session, Murphy was the author of House Bill 1556, which would have expanded the Chapter 313 tax abatement program for an additional 10 years. This program allows school districts to offer large tax breaks to renewable energy and other businesses. Notably, a bipartisan coalition of House lawmakers effectively tacked on amendments nullifying its ultimate effect, which caused Murphy to kill his own bill.

Just a few days before that bill was considered by the House, however, they passed a similar bill that extended the program for an additional two years by a vote of 112-29. Murphy voted in favor of such an extension. That bill went on to die in the Texas Senate, as they never brought it up for consideration.

Murphy’s own party’s platform states:

Plank 185. School Property Tax Abatements: We support repealing Tax Code Chapter 313 school property tax abatements.

Murphy is also an advocate of using the Major Events Reimbursement Program, a state government scheme that uses citizens’ money to help fund certain hand-picked events in the state.

Murphy voted in favor of bills allowing the Professional Bull Riders World Finals, the NASCAR Texas Grand Prix race, the Concacaf Gold Cup, and the National Hot Rod Association Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex to the list of events that qualify for such a publicly funded reimbursement.

Murphy’s own party’s platform states:

Plank 189. Special Funds: We urge the Texas Legislature to abolish the Special Events Trust Fund program, the Texas Enterprise Fund, and the Moving Image Industry Incentive Program.

Moreover, Murphy voted in favor of a bill that created the Texas Music Incubator Rebate Program to provide rebates for a portion of the alcoholic beverage taxes collected from eligible music venues and music festival promoters to assist in bringing live musical performances to communities in Texas. The bill boasted a negative impact of more than $20 million for the next two years and an additional $10,100,000 every year thereafter from Texas General Revenue Funds.

Social Justice

Murphy was supportive of a healthcare legislative priority of House Speaker Dade Phelan that would have created the Office for Health Equity within the Texas Health & Human Services Commission. The bill passed the House but died in the Senate, as it was never considered. Murphy joined House Democrat lawmakers and voted against 51 Republican members of his own caucus to advance the legislation.

Notably, the executive agency went on to create the office anyway, outside of the purview of the state Legislature, using federal taxpayer dollars.

Murphy’s own party’s platform states:

Plank 276. End-of-Life Patient Protection (C):  We support legislation to prohibit the discriminatory rationing of healthcare services premised on any aspect of the patient, including a patient’s age, race, sex, disability, or perceived quality of life.

Murphy also supported a bill that would have added a course in “digital citizenship” to sixth-grade student curriculum, where teachers would get to determine what is good or bad content on the internet—leading to discrimination against unpopular sources of information and views, a decision that normally falls to the parents.

Murphy voted against 40 of his Republican colleagues on the bill. The bill later went on to die in the Senate, as it was never considered.

Similarly, Murphy supported legislation that would require public schools to offer ethnic studies curriculum, voting against 59 of his Republican colleagues to help Democrats pass the bill.

Furthermore, he supported a bill that would allow money allocated to public education to provide additional “social and emotional” learning programs, controversial curriculums often used to teach children to applaud high-risk and destructive sexual behavior. Murphy voted against 56 of his Republican colleagues.

Welfare Expansion

Voting against 47 of his Republican colleagues, Murphy supported a bill that would have increased the personal needs allowance for Medicaid recipients who are also long-term care facility residents from $60 to $75, costing a total of $10 million over the next two years and an additional $5 million every year thereafter.

Similarly, he voted for legislation that expanded Medicaid services to military medical treatment facilities, allowing them to be considered a Medicaid provider eligible for reimbursement for certain services, even though 54 of his fellow Republican colleagues did not.

Murphy’s own party’s platform states:

Plank 257. Medicaid Reform: We support Medicaid block grants to the states and returning Medicaid to its original purpose to be temporary assistance. We oppose any further expansion of Medicaid.

Murphy supported legislation that would have expanded the number of hours that are capped to receive benefits from a shared work plan to qualify for shared work unemployment benefits, ultimately expanding the overall benefit and growing the size of government. He voted against 56 of his Republican colleagues.

Murphy’s own party’s platform states:

Plank 241. Welfare Reform: (B): Reforming welfare programs to require recipients work, learn, and train to move toward self-sufficiency.

Growing Government

Even though the Texas Sunset Commission recommended the state of Texas discontinues the State Board of Geoscientists, the Texas Legislature decided to fund the agency anyway.

State Rep. Jeff Cason (R–Bedford) offered an amendment to the proposed budget for the next two years, which would have taken the money allocated to the Board of Geoscientists and instead spent it on additional bullet-resistant vests for local law enforcement and the Texas Department of Public Safety. Murphy voted against that amendment and against 49 of his Republican colleagues.

Murphy’s own party’s platform states:

Plank 159. Government Spending and Taxation: We in the Republican Party of Texas believe in the principles of constitutionally limited government based on federalist principles. To this end, we encourage our elected officials at all levels of government to work to reverse the current trend of expanding government and the growing tax and debt burdens that places on “We the People.” Government spending is out of control at the federal, state, and local levels, and action is needed.

Murphy voted in favor of legislation that would have created an unnecessary criminal offense and would have required any individual being towed behind a motorboat to wear a personal flotation device or life vest. If they chose not to, it could result in a Class C misdemeanor and up to a $500 fine. He voted opposite 61 of his Republican colleagues.

He voted in favor of a study on establishing a statewide homelessness data system, opposite 56 of his Republican colleagues. The bill would have imposed a $2.4 million financial burden on the state with no guarantee it would have a significant impact on decreasing homelessness in the state or that it would adequately maintain the system altogether. The proposed study had no provisions of what specific data points would be collected or how long homeless individuals would remain in the system after they found housing.

Murphy supported legislation that would impose new taxes on e-cigarettes, even though 56 other Republicans voted against it.

Bonded Debt

Democrat State Rep. Gene Wu (Houston) authored a bill that would have allowed a municipal management district to provide for improvement projects and services to fund projects related to educational facilities like a playground or playing-field improvements. An amendment was adopted by State Rep. Mayes Middleton (R–Galveston) that would have essentially gutted the bill, preventing such an expansion or potential debt obligations. This caused Wu to postpone the bill indefinitely, ultimately killing it.

Murphy opposed such an amendment and voted with House Democrats against 75 of his Republican colleagues.

Murphy authored a bill that allowed water districts located in 10 specific counties to issue bonds, eliminating an existing prohibition on the amount of outstanding debt issued to finance parks and recreational facilities.

In total, the Texas House of Representatives voted on more than 75 bills relating to both creating new special purpose districts or empowering existing ones with the ability to issue bonds and use eminent domain. Murphy did not vote against a single one of them.

Murphy’s own party’s platform states:

Plank 176. Management Districts: We oppose the creation of management or special purpose districts with the authority to impose taxes and bonded debt, and we oppose the use of eminent domain by these districts.

Other Miscellaneous Issues

Murphy voted against an amendment to a healthcare legislative priority of Speaker Dade Phelan’s establishing the Brain Institute of Texas. The amendment, authored by State Rep. Jeff Cason (R–Bedford), would have included pornography addiction to the list of addictions to be researched by the newly established Brain Institute. There were 59 Republican lawmakers who voted for it.

Murphy’s own party’s platform states:

Plank 285. Pornography Crisis: The State of Texas shall recognize that pornography is a public health crisis.

Murphy voted to perpetuate the ability for state and local executives to mandate masks. When the Texas Pandemic Response Act was considered, State Rep. Cody Vasut (R–Angleton) offered an amendment that would explicitly prohibit mask mandates from both the state and local executive branches. Murphy joined House Democrats and voted against the amendment, in opposition to 72 of his Republican colleagues.

Murphy’s own party’s platform states:

Plank 58. Mask Mandates: Government should not be able to force businesses to require face coverings.

The First Step is Understanding There is a Problem

Republicans have controlled the state Legislature and all statewide offices for almost two decades, and yet, as is seemingly always the case, their own party’s priorities are routinely ignored.

Every election cycle, thousands of Republicans from across Texas get together at a state convention and decide which issues will be included on a party platform, as a statement of principles and an effort to provide guideposts to elected officials who run on the party’s brand. The platform is a culmination of work from party officers and grassroots delegates from precinct, county, and the state conventions—yet it is largely ignored.

Murphy is not the sole reason, as he shares the brunt of that responsibility with so many other lawmakers, but he is a good example of the problem—conservative activists organize and rally to express priority needs in the state, yet so-called Republican lawmakers in the Texas Legislature frequently do the opposite.