A few years ago, Texas conservatives would be hard pressed to find a more reliable ally in Austin than State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker). She fought for taxpayers and even supported then-State Rep. Ken Paxton (R‑Plano) in his bid for Speaker of the House against liberal Joe Straus.
Laubenberg wasn’t limited to fiscal conservative bona fides either; she also staked out a position as a pro-life stalwart—carrying major legislation across the finish line in the last special session.
When neighboring State Rep. Scott Turner (R-Rockwall) announced his bid for Speaker, a number of conservatives stepped up to support him. Conservatives knew that Turner would work with Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and the conservative caucus in the Texas Senate to pass a bold conservative agenda, while Straus would obstruct the passage of reforms favored by the electoral majority.
Unfortunately Laubenberg could not be counted among Turner’s backers. Instead of standing with her conservative friends and supporters, Laubenberg capitulated, endorsing Straus to hold the gavel during the 84th session.
Speculation mounted that Laubenberg had sold her support for a seat at the table—believing she would receive a chairmanship of either the Public Health or Human Services committees, where she could advance pro-life legislation. But Laubenberg’s Faustian bargain never came to fruition.
Laubenberg did not receive the chairmanship she allegedly bartered for. In fact, Laubenberg was never even granted a seat on any of the health-related committees. Instead, she was given the chairmanship of the Elections committee.
But even that chairmanship represented only an illusion of power. All major campaign finance and election reforms were routed by Straus away from Laubenberg’s committee to his close allies on the State Affairs and General Investigating and Ethics committees. Laubenberg was left with busy work, and managed to even pass little of that.
Forced to carry the water for Straus, Laubenberg was an unhappy warrior. During the debate over Pre-K funding, Laubenberg returned to her instincts and offered an amendment in the defense of fiscal responsibility.
“I brought this amendment because philosophically, I, as a fiscal conservative and limited government person had some issues with the Pre-K program,” said Laubenberg. “But I knew this was important to our governor and it was a different kind of Pre-K program, and so I wanted to support it. For that reason when I looked at the fiscal note on the bill I just about had a heart attack….”
To her credit, Laubenberg’s amendment was an improvement. Under her language, a ceiling of $130 million would have been placed on the bill. However, a San Antonio Democrat pounced, pitching a “compromise” amendment to the amendment that eviscerated her intent. Rather than impose a ceiling, his amendment converted the same number into a floor. Laubenberg argued against the change, implying that without her amendment, she would not support the Pre-K bill.
“To help me line this legislation up with my principles, I presented this amendment and in due respect to Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, in all due respect, your amendment takes the cap off and I am taking the position to table your amendment,” said Laubenberg. “I’m just asking you to help me make this bill a good bill. I’m sorry, it is a good bill, but to keep it in the parameters so I can support it and that’s why I am respectfully moving to table.”
Laubenberg’s motion was not successful. It failed 66-78, as liberal Republicans joined with Democrats to prevent any fiscal restraint from being included. Defeated, Laubenberg quietly surrendered and voted for the bill anyway. On vote after vote, Laubenberg appeared unwilling to reclaim her ability to vote “no,” having traded it away for the illusion of access and power. Commanding an A on the Fiscal Responsibility Index in previous sessions, Laubenberg plummeted to a C this year.
Though only one example, Laubenberg’s track record during the 84th legislature provides a few lessons for lawmakers. The Straus coalition is beholden to the liberal Republicans and Democrats that created it. There are no real “seats at the table” for conservatives who decide to support them. As the Texas Senate under Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick demonstrated this session, for fundamental change to occur, a change in leadership is required.