Since 2007, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility (TFR) has released the Fiscal Responsibility Index following each session. Comprised of almost 100 votes in 2015, the Index provides a review of Texas lawmakers’ commitment to fiscal conservatism. The Index is useful for citizens who, even if they are politically active, are too busy working and spending time with their family to watch every vote with eagle eye precision. After all, what happens in Austin often conflicts with campaign rhetoric, where the same officials who govern as liberals campaign for re-election as “Reagan-conservative” crusaders.
In an effort to provide political cover to legislators sympathetic to big government, the establishment media attacks the Index every year hoping to discredit it.
Thankfully Dr. Mark Jones of Rice University has, for the past several sessions, provided a non-ideological study of legislators’ voting records. This session, Jones utilized 1,138 non-lopsided roll call votes to calculate a Liberal-Conservative index for House members.
Jones’ findings closely mirror the TFR Index. The 13 most conservative members were all ranked as “Taxpayer Champions” by TFR. The lowest ranking House Republicans on the TFR Index also have the lowest conservative scores on the Jones study.
The minor differences that do exist are the result of differences in metrics and scope.
Because he uses every non-lopsided vote, Jones includes a number of issues that are simply not captured by the Fiscal Responsibility Index, which focuses exclusively on fiscal responsibility, transparency, and role of government issues. Votes on pro-life bills, pro-2nd Amendment bills, parental rights legislation, and other conservative priorities are not tabulated by TFR. For those issues, other groups such as Texas Right to Life, Texas Home School Coalition, and Young Conservatives of Texas do a good job keeping watch.
Jones also puts equal weight on every vote, ranging from major items like the budget down to less significant procedural matters. While more subjective, ratings like the Index show how members voted when the stakes were high and there was significant attention paid to the vote. Jones, on the other hand, captures even votes taken when no one seemed to care that much about the result.
Jones’ work spells bad news for House members who once rated highly as conservatives but decided to cast their lots with the establishment’s ruling coalition. In reviewing his own findings, Dr. Jones takes note of the decline of State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Keller):
“In 2013, Capriglione’s Lib-Con Score was significantly more conservative than that of more than two thirds of the Republican caucus, with a mere four Republicans to his right and 89 to his left. In 2015, Capriglione’s Lib-Con score located him two categories to the left of the Republican Center, with 43 representatives to his right and 53 to his left. Capriglione remained to the right of the GOP median in 2015, but he landed quite far from the rightward edge of the ideological spectrum where he was situated in 2013.”
Such a result was predicted by the Texas Scorecard and other conservatives after Capriglione revealed his intent to betray his conservative colleagues and support liberal incumbent House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) over State Rep. Scott Turner (R-Rockwall). Like fellow turncoat State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker), Capriglione did not pull House leadership to the right, but was rather pulled to the left as a result of his bargain.
Jones also singled out the decline of State Rep. Cindy Burkett (R-Sunnyvale), who shifted from the median of the caucus in 2013 all the way to the left in 2015, with only 17 Republicans wedged between herself and the Democrats. This drastic move was also reflected on the Index.
The conclusions of the study by Jones go even further to reinforce what conservatives already know—that House leadership is significantly more liberal than the Republican caucus at large. Such a result is only natural considering the coalition government of liberal Republicans and Democrats who rule the chamber. The majority of Straus’ lieutenants, such as State Reps. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), John Otto (R-Dayton), and Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen) earn Lib-Con scores much closer to many Democrats than to conservative Republican State Reps. Matt Rinaldi (R-Irving) and Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford).
Jones’ research is further vindication of the quality of the Fiscal Responsibility Index in reflecting legislators’ governing ideology. Unlike establishment imitators, the Index takes a thorough look at state lawmakers and shows specifically where their voting records diverge from campaign rhetoric.