When House Speaker Joe Straus released committee assignments last Thursday, lawmakers made their typical rush to celebrate themselves and their appointments.
But some lawmakers, especially Democrats, had considerably more to celebrate than others in the nominally Republican-dominated House. With his selections, Straus (R-San Antonio) made it much more difficult to pass the agendas of Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and the state GOP.
Here’s Texas Scorecard’s ranking of the “Winners” who benefitted the most:
With the Texas House ruled by a Democrat-coalition, it is unsurprising they often received far better assignments than their Republican colleagues. Notably, Democrats were awarded chairmanships of several prime committees including Agriculture, Human Services, and Local and Consent Calendars.
Most egregious was the appointment of a Democrat to head the Environmental Regulation Committee. The committee regulates air, land, and water pollution, oversees the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and regularly interacts with the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
By receiving a total of 32 chairmanships and vice-chairmanships, more than two-thirds of the non-freshman Democrats received a leadership position.
Tapped early by House leadership for advancement, State Rep. Linda Koop (R–Dallas) was given a spot on the Appropriations Committee in her very first term. This session, she’s been awarded with two more influential seats: Calendars and Public Education.
With one of the lowest Republican scores on the Fiscal Responsibility Index, Koop has aligned herself against taxpayers and chosen to place her support fully behind the Democrat coalition. She will be empowered this session to obstruct education reform and to hold up all conservative reforms from her place on the Calendars Committee.
An ex-Democrat, State Rep. J.M. Lozano (R–Kingsville) changed parties after his seat was redistricted to be more favorable to Republicans. However, unfortunately for taxpayers, Lozano did little to change his views and consistently votes against conservatives and against taxpayers.
This session, Lozano has been appointed the chairman of the Higher Education Committee not so much for what he supports, but what he opposes.
Lozano has been embroiled in a rather public fight with Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp, who has also butted heads with Straus, over an idea floated by Sharp to combine the A&M System’s campuses in Kingsville and Corpus Christi.
That fight is a useful smokescreen for Straus and his allies at the University of Texas, drawing attention away from the corruption and scandal on the 40 Acres.
An El-Paso Democrat, State Rep. Joe Moody has been the state’s most prominent lawmaker to boldly support the decriminalization of marijuana. Last session Moody succeeded in passing a decriminalization bill out of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence.
Now Moody has been placed in charge of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, where he will have a much larger soapbox from which to promote his issue.
Coming into his second term in the Texas House, State Rep. Dade Phelan (R–Beaumont) has quickly moved up the ranks due to his previous experience in politics. (Phelan is a former legislative staffer.) Phelan now serves as the Vice Chairman of Natural Resources, and also holds seats on the influential Appropriations and Calendars committees.
Phelan is one of a small cadre of lawmakers that exist on an island between the conservative and liberal Republicans in the Texas House. Citizens should keep close watch on him as the session progresses and see whether his promotions came as the result of a bargain with the Democrat coalition.
J.D. Sheffield and Abortion Advocates
As one of the chamber’s two openly pro-abortion Republicans, State Rep. J.D. Sheffield of Stephenville has been a major thorn in the side of pro-life advocates since being elected to the House in 2012. As argued by Texas Scorecard last year, Sheffield and Sarah Davis, another pro-abortion Republican from Houston, are even worse for conservatives than Democrats.
Why? Because with their Republican labels, House Speaker Joe Straus can place Sheffield and Davis in “Republican” spots on committees and still prevent pro-life efforts from succeeding – and that’s exactly what he’s done.
This session, Straus has appointed Sheffield the Vice Chairman of the Public Health Committee, which has jurisdiction over most legislation affecting the right to life. Though Republicans have a bare majority in the committee on paper, Sheffield can be expected to side with the Democrats on the committee in order to obstruct pro-life efforts.
As the new chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, State Rep. Chris Turner of Arlington has been rewarded with committee assignments that will allow him to exert greater influence on the chamber.
Notably Turner was placed on the Insurance Committee, the expected venue in which Texans for Lawsuit Reform’s legislative priorities will be discussed, and the Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility, where Convention of States legislation will be reviewed.
A former ally of conservatives, State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R–Southlake) sided against them last session by supporting House Speaker Joe Straus instead of his conservative opponent.
Though Capriglione maintained that he would hold true to his principles and advocate for them within the Speaker’s team, his voting record sharply declined from “Taxpayer Champion” to an almost-failing grade on the Fiscal Responsibility Index.
With further promotion this session, conservatives should keep close watch on Capriglione to see whether his anti-taxpayer slide continues.
Despite campaigning as a conservative, State Rep. Wayne Faircloth (R–Galveston) quickly moved to cozy up with House leadership during his freshman session. Returning for a second term, Faircloth is now one of the few lawmakers to be granted a seat on four committees while most lawmakers only have two.
As with other lawmakers, citizens should keep close watch on Faircloth to ensure that such benefits weren’t purchased at a price.
Coming into his third term, State Rep. Kyle Kacal (R–Bryan) has been a quiet and loyal follower of House leadership. As someone who can be counted on to do what he is told, it is unsurprising that Kacal has been placed on more prominent committees each session.