Politicians are judged primarily on their philosophical commitments and voting record. Other things that determine the effectiveness of a politician, like agenda-setting and toughness, need more attention.

In fact, if these categories became a common part of judging politicians, the difference between conservatives, moderates, and liberals would become much easier to discern. After all, a politician can “hold” a conservative philosophy, but by not pushing for–or pushing against–an agenda consistent with the pressing needs of his constituents, he can serve the interests of a competing philosophy without ever having to cast a “bad vote”.

A lack of toughness in fighting for an agenda has the same effect. A politician can articulate conservative philosophy during campaign season, and even voice support for an aggressive agenda consistent with his commitments, but lose the battle by timidity. Alexander Hamilton said “A country that can prefer disgrace to danger is prepared for a master and deserves one.” Mr. Hamilton’s wisdom is equally applicable to cowardly “conservatives”, too ready to allow forces in the Democrat machine, including the media, dictate their agenda.

These are major factors in American politics, where conservative philosophy consistently wins elections, but by a combination of bad agenda-setting and weak resolve, politicians grow government. This can happen by design or through incompetence, but the results for constituents are identical.

This dynamic is relevant in the Texas House of Representatives Speaker’s race. Joe Straus, last session’s Speaker, takes cover behind some legitimate conservative trappings. However, the Texas Speaker is the key to agenda-setting in the Texas House. By appointing liberal committee chairs last session, Speaker Straus assured many important planks in the conservative agenda never saw the light of day.

Texans, and all Americans, need to understand why the government keeps growing despite almost universally conservative election campaigns and better-than-expected voting records for politicians. The key is agenda-setting and toughness. Winning useless fights isn’t good enough.

After riding a Tea Party wave that resulted in the election of a massive majority of Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives, Texans deserve a Speaker who is philosophically conservative, will seek a conservative agenda, and has the resolve to fight for it. Texans deserve legislators that will do the same.