Despite grassroots activists’ growing frustration, Republicans in the Texas House appear unwilling to break their fragile alliance with the Democrats. Speaker Dade Phelan and his top lieutenants are considering minor wrist-slaps for quorum-breakers rather than the actual penalties – such as those promoted by the Republican Party of Texas.
Ever since the House Democrats left the chamber without a quorum in mid-July, Speaker Dade Phelan (R–Beaumont) actively forbade Republican members from imposing penalties—despite the explicit authorization of the Texas Constitution to do so.
Now, Capitol sources report Phelan might be comfortable with imposing a $1,000 fine on the Democrats—which can be paid for out of their campaign accounts. In context, State Rep. Jared Patterson (R–Frisco) has calculated that the Democrats‘ 37 days of obstruction cost Texas taxpayers more than $1.5 million.
While the fine might appear steep, observers say “it’s nothing” in the context of campaign accounts that often hold tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. That it isn’t levied personally against the lawmakers means that, according to election experts, a single Democrat donor could pay the “fine” as campaign contributions to the legislators or as a single gift to a political action committee that could, in turn, distribute the funds to campaign coffers.
Other sources add that Phelan has been unwilling to allow the imposition of meaningful penalties, such as stripping the quorum-busters of their committee chairmanships. That unwillingness was seen on the floor this week in back-and-forth exchanges between Phelan and Republican State Reps. Bryan Slaton (Royse City) and Tony Tinderholt (Arlington).
If Mr. Phelan and the Republican Caucus wanted to make the penalty for quorum-busting sting, they would strip the Democrats of their committee chairmanships, set a fine at $1,000 per day—and forbid offenders from using campaign funds.