Despite the Republican Party of Texas overwhelmingly opposing placing Democrats in leadership positions in the Texas Legislature, State Rep. Cole Hefner (R–Mt. Pleasant) is vigorously supporting the practice. 

In the March primary election, more than 80 percent of Republican voters in Texas voted for a ballot proposition opposing awarding Democrat lawmakers with committee chair positions.

At the Republican Party of Texas’ convention last month, delegates voted to make ending the practice a legislative priority in the upcoming legislative session.

“Going on offense means when we put our time and treasure into electing Republicans, we expect Republicans to lead our state, not the party that wants to destroy everything we hold dear,” Texas GOP Chair Matt Rinaldi told delegates during his opening speech of the convention. “This means that Republicans need to end the practice of appointing Democrats to chairmanships.”

“We can’t compromise with Democrats who have a different and incompatible vision for our future,” Rinaldi added.

But while the comment received raucous applause with Republican attendees, Republican lawmakers have been less than enthusiastic about the new attention being placed on the “traditional” practice of having the speaker of the House place members of the minority party into leadership positions.

When a rule change was proposed in 2021 to do away with the practice, State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R–Deer Park) read a prepared speech saying he preferred some Democrats to be chairs over some Republicans before the proposal was overwhelmingly defeated. Speaker Dade Phelan has repeatedly defended the practice, as well.

This week, the Smith County Republican Party held a meeting at which they considered a resolution that simply supported the legislative priority passed at the Texas GOP Convention, which states:

To ensure all legislative priorities are given a fair opportunity to become law, the Republican- controlled Texas legislature shall adopt a rule that would end the practice of awarding committee chairmanships to Democrats.

State Rep. Cole Hefner (R–Mt. Pleasant), whose district contains a portion of Smith County, told the local Republican precinct chairs assembled to vote against the resolution. He also defended the practice of Republicans giving Democrats powerful positions, saying that Austin should not work like Washington. 

Hefner noted that when the House was under the control of a moderate Democrat, they shared the power with Republicans.

“Keep in mind, that rule doesn’t say ‘Democrat or Republican,’ it says ‘majority party,’ so one of these days when the Democrats take control, the shoe could be on the other foot,” said Hefner.

The resolution under consideration, however, noted that while such civility has been extended in the past, the political dynamics between the two parties are much different now:

[S]uch civility has progressively eroded over the years as conservative principles have remained steadfast, and the left has moved further and further leftward towards socialism, secular humanism, and Marxist state control, including the degradation of morality and promotion of godlessness.

Craig Licciardi, who filed the resolution, told Texas Scorecard the importance of that difference.

“A speaker who is willing to take the Republican Party majority we give him in November, and turn around in January and give away tons of leverage we just earned, needs to be stopped from wasting literally millions of dollars and millions of man-hours of grassroots conservatives,” said Licciardi.

“The notion that if we have a speaker exclude Democrats from committee chairmanships, that we will have Democrats and a handful of squishy Republicans put another anti-conservative speaker in place, is a lousy excuse.”

As for the question of whether the Texas Legislature should operate like Congress with partisan chairs, Licciardi pointed to the failure of conservative priorities to pass in Texas.

“He asked us the rhetorical question, ‘Does Washington work?’ I think a better question would be, ‘Does Austin work?’ We have had full state-wide Republican control for 20 years, yet our conservative priorities, with few exceptions, continue to be ignored session after session.”

Despite Hefner’s opposition, the resolution passed 17-14, with the county party encouraging more to jump onboard.

Brandon Waltens

Brandon serves as the Senior Editor for Texas Scorecard. After managing successful campaigns for top conservative legislators and serving as a Chief of Staff in the Texas Capitol, Brandon moved outside the dome in order to shine a spotlight on conservative victories and establishment corruption in Austin. @bwaltens