A member of the Texas House of Representatives since 1985, Houston Democrat State Rep. Harold Dutton Jr. is one of nine Democrats to be appointed as a committee chair by House Speaker Dade Phelan (R–Beaumont) this session.

Dutton was recently named the chair of the Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee, a position he has held in six previous legislative sessions, from 2003 to 2007 and again from 2015 to 2019. He has served on the Public Education Committee since 1997, and he was its chairman during the 2021 session. He also chaired the Urban Affairs Committee in 2011 and 2013.

A self-employed trial lawyer and an adjunct professor at Texas Southern University Law School, Dutton is an occasional ally of conservatives on civil rights issues, but he otherwise largely toes the Democrat Party line—favoring government spending on social welfare programs, restrictions on gun rights, and leniency for criminals and illegal aliens while opposing school choice, protections for female athletes and the unborn, and election integrity.

His legislative ratings from advocacy organizations on both sides of the aisle reflect this reality. Dutton has a career score of F from Texans for Fiscal Responsibility and 19/100 from Young Conservatives of Texas. Last session, he received a score of 3/100 from Texas Right to Life, a C rating from Equality Texas, and 63/100 from the Sierra Club.

During the summer following the 2021 regular legislative session, Dutton joined more than 50 other Democrats in fleeingto Washington, D.C., to block the consideration of substantial election integrity reforms by denying the House a quorum. While there, he and his colleagues lobbied the Biden administration and Congress to pass legislation that would put the federal government in charge of elections nationwide.

It wasn’t the first time he had skipped town.

Back in 2003, when Republicans gained the majority in the Texas House for the first time since Reconstruction, Dutton was one of 53 Democrats who absconded to Oklahoma for four days to prevent a vote on a redistricting proposal put forward by Republicans. Although the stunt succeeded in the short term, the plan was eventually passed after a number of special sessions were called by then-Governor Rick Perry.

On most Democrat policies, Dutton has been a reliable vote.

  • He voted for Medicaid expansion on multiple occasions.
  • He voted against the right to open-carry a firearm and carry without a permit.
  • He has repeatedly voted to prohibit funding for potential school choice proposals.
  • He temporarily blocked legislation prohibiting boys from participating in girls’ sports, eventually passing it out of committee with only a few days left in the legislative session.
  • He voted against a measure to ban mask mandates in public schools.
  • He voted against the Heartbeat Bill passed into law in 2021 and a ban on abortion at 20 weeks in 2013.

Of particular concern to conservatives is his history of being soft on crime.

For many years, he has tried to pass legislation that would classify 17-year-olds as minors instead of adults when charged with a crime, as state law currently prescribes. He also wants to change the redistricting process such that inmates are counted as residents of their hometowns rather than the jurisdiction where they are imprisoned. In 2011, he unsuccessfully sued the state to try to force this change on lawmakers.

In 2015, Dutton stood by State Rep. Ron Reynolds (D–Houston) when he was charged with barratry, and he was caught on tape bragging about how Nick Kralj—a former lobbyist and Austin bar owner whose friend said he worked for the New York mafia—was his “forever friend.”

In 2017, he voted against a measure to ban sanctuary cities for illegal aliens. The following year, one of his campaign workers was caught on video illegally harvesting a voter’s mail ballot and bragging that she had “done 400 already.”

Dutton hasn’t always marched in lockstep with the majority of his Democrat colleagues, though.

He opposed including DNA samples from criminal suspects in a national database before they were convicted, voted against raising the minimum age to legally purchase cigarettes, and voted to reform criminal asset forfeiture practices. In addition, he authored legislation that allows the state to take control of a failing school district, and he was a joint author on the “Tim Tebow” bill allowing homeschooled students to participate in public school activities.

Citizens can use the Texas Scorecard Elected Officials Directory to let Speaker Phelan know what they think about this appointment.

Darrell Frost

Since graduating from Hillsdale College, Darrell has held key roles in winning political campaigns, managed a state legislator's Capitol office, and taught at a classical charter school. He enjoys participating in outdoor activities, playing the harmonica, and learning about the latest scientific developments.