Political tongues are waging with word Democratic State Representatives Allan Ritter (D-Nederland) and Aaron Pena (D-Edinburg) have swapped the ‘D’ for an ‘R’ in advance of the legislative session, giving the GOP a secure super-majority in the House. Now we’ll see if the GOP can handle the power.

Without question, theirs is a bold – even risky – move; one that should be congratulated. The switches put the House GOP over the numerical top, in the rarified climes of super-majority status.

And unlike the most recent party switcher, Chuck Hopson (newly R of Jacksonville), the Ritter/Pena switch comes not with a Hail-Mary “trust me” to voters right before an election, but an “I’ll prove it” before a legislative session.

In switching now, before the start of the Session, Mr. Ritter and Mr. Pena will create a record under their new party label on which to stand when they go before Republican Primary voters in March 2012. This means both men have the 140 days of the legislative session to demonstrate a better voting record and commitment to the principles that have put the Republican Party in such strong standing before the voters decide on re-electing then.

While both Ritter and Pena can say truthfully that their voting records as Democrats — conservative by the measure of the liberals in their party, but far below that of even the most liberal of Republicans — were driven leftward by the structure and demands of the party bosses, they will put their new-found freedom to test for all to see come January.

Mr. Ritter is among the last to the party in his home county, which has been trending more and more Republican. Mr. Pena is at the vanguard in his heavily Democratic, deep south Texas home.

But again, neither man is asking primary voters to just trust them. Instead, they are asking their voters to watch them, and watch them carefully. They are not asking for a free pass right before a tough election, they are asking for strict policy accountability from those who might otherwise view with suspicion the commitment of their switch.

Mr. Ritter and Mr. Pena should be welcomed into the GOP. Their votes can ensure significant policy reforms, like constitutional spending limits and meaningful ballot security, are enacted. If the election of 2010 was indeed a repudiation of liberal Democratic policies, as I and others have said, then the super-majority Republicans now enjoy in the Texas House must mark a decidedly different direction in the affairs of Texas politics and policy.

Concerns about appeasing liberals or appealing to their misguided agenda can now be put safely aside.

For the GOP, the pressure to deliver on conservative initiatives and priorities just got even higher. If any job is left undone come May, expect the Texas electoral tsunami to take out what it brought in. The Republicans will have no one to blame.

If the Republican super-majority can deliver, though, Texas will benefit and the voters will remember.

With the welcome switch of Mr. Pena and Mr. Ritter, the balance of governing power has altogether changed in the state Capitol. Now we see if the GOP has the courage and wherewithal to use this power to lead Texas boldly and effectively.

(This post was updated from the original, with Mr. Pena’s confirmed party switch.) 

Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael Quinn Sullivan is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. He is a native Texan, a graduate of Texas A&M, and an Eagle Scout. Previously, he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine contributor, Capitol Hill staffer, and think tank vice president. Michael and his wife have three adult children, a son-in-law, and a dog. Michael is the author of three books, including "Reflections on Life and Liberty."


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