On Friday, the Republican Party of Texas published a list of incoming and returning state representatives who have expressed support for banning Democrat committee chairs in the Texas House of Representatives. The list includes 18 of the 86 Republicans elected to the chamber during the November election.
Historically, the majority party in both the Texas House and Senate has appointed members of the minority party to chair several legislative committees. Proponents claim the practice promotes bipartisanship and measured deliberation, but in recent years, Democrats and moderate Republicans have used it to kill legislation that enjoys broad support among conservatives, despite the GOP holding majorities in both chambers for nearly two decades.
Republican voters and activists want to end this practice.
During this year’s primary elections, 81 percent of Republican voters indicated they agree that “the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature should end the practice of awarding committee chairmanships to Democrats.” A few months later, more than 5,000 delegates to the Republican Party of Texas Convention selected this objective as one of eight legislative priorities for the upcoming legislative session.
Although this issue has elicited intense emotion within the party’s base, few elected Republicans have indicated their stance.
In the House, committee chairmanships are appointed by the speaker, whom the members elect from among themselves. If the majority party is not united in their preference for speaker, the minority can influence the selection, which has occurred multiple times since Republicans gained the majority in 2003.
Expressing opposition to the eventual speaker or his preferred policies entails considerable political risk, as the speaker gets to decide which members sit on each committee and which committees to refer bills to. The speaker can punish members by giving them unfavorable committee assignments or referring their bills to committees where there is little chance for them to pass.
Current Speaker Dade Phelan (R–Beaumont), whose position is being contested by State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R–Arlington), wants to continue appointing Democrats as committee chairs, which likely explains why more Republican House members haven’t publicly disagreed with him on the issue.
The exposure it’s getting from the Republican Party of Texas could prompt some members to get off the fence.
These are the only Reps we are aware of who have publicly called to end the practice of awarding committee chairmanships to Dems. We need ALL Republican elected officials to publicly state they will vote to BAN DEMOCRAT COMMITTEE CHAIRS in the House rules. #txlege #NoDemChairs pic.twitter.com/ECFiFnnK4b
— Texas GOP (@TexasGOP) December 2, 2022
Of the 18 new or current members listed in the announcement, eight are members of the Texas Freedom Caucus. In response to an inquiry from Texas Scorecard, three Freedom Caucus members confirmed that they would vote to end the practice of awarding committee chairmanships to Democrats. The support of the other five members is inferred from the caucus’s publication of their “2022 Guide to Republican Party of Texas Primary Ballot Propositions,” in which they jointly recommended a “yes” vote for the proposition calling for an end to this practice.
However, with the exception of State Rep. Brian Harrison (R–Waxahachie), who was not yet a member of the Texas House, every one of the House Freedom Caucus members listed in the announcement voted against a rule that would have ended this practice during the last regular session. State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R–Deer Park) even publicly denounced the proposed rule from the House floor, arguing that the Texas House should reject the partisanship that pervades the U.S. House of Representatives. However, State Reps. Matt Schaefer (R–Tyler) and Cody Vasut (R–Angleton) recently indicated they would vote in favor of such a rule in the next legislative session.
Texas Scorecard reached out to the House Freedom Caucus to confirm the position of members included in the list published by the Republican Party of Texas. At the time of publication, we had not received a response.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, committee chairs are selected by the lieutenant governor. On Friday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told radio show host Mark Davis that he’s reduced the number of Democrat committee chairs since he assumed office in 2015. Patrick added that next session, he intends to appoint just one Democrat as a committee chair: State Sen. John Whitmire (D–Houston), the longest-serving member of the Senate and the chair of the Criminal Justice Committee since 1993. Whitmire recently announced he is a candidate for the Houston mayoral election next year, and should he win, Patrick indicated he would appoint a Republican to replace him as the committee chair.
In replies to the Texas GOP’s announcement on Twitter, several users tagged their state representatives, urging them to proclaim their support for the effort to ban Democrats from holding committee chairmanships.
Citizens can find contact information for their representatives in the Texas Scorecard directory.