According to Tracy King, the Uvalde Democrat who chairs the Natural Resources Committee in the Republican-controlled Texas House of Representatives, “Dade Phelan gets it.”

That’s what King said when seconding the nomination of Phelan (R–Beaumont) for House Speaker at the beginning of the 2023 legislative session. A few weeks later, Phelan appointed King as chair of this committee, just as he did in 2021.

King is one of nine Democrat committee chairs appointed by Phelan this session.

King is one of the longest-serving members of the Texas House, having won his first election in 1994 after defeating a one-term Democrat who later switched to being a Republican while in office. Although he was ousted from his seat by another Democrat in 2002, he won it back two years later after his successor was indicted for fraudulent campaign expenditures.

Although King was a vice chairman twice during his time in office when Democrats controlled the House, he only became a chairman after Republicans gained the majority of seats in 2002, the first time being in 2007 when Speaker Tom Craddick (R–Midland) appointed him to lead the Border and International Affairs Committee. Since then, he has chaired the Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee once and the Agriculture and Livestock Committee three times, and he also lead the Natural Resources Committee during the 2021 legislative session.

The former owner of the Beltone Hearing Aid Center, King is not one of the more vocal members of the chamber, but he votes like every other Democrat on most issues.

He has supported abortion, Medicaid expansion, mask mandates, and leniency for criminals and illegal aliens, while opposing efforts to secure elections, expand school choice, lower property taxes, prohibit boys from playing girls’ sports, and remove critical race theory from public schools.

However, King voted in favor of the right to openly carry a handgun in 2015 and to carry without a permit in 2021.

King has a career legislative rating of F from Texans for Fiscal Responsibility and 33/100 from Young Conservatives of Texas. Last session, he scored a B- with Equality Texas and 83/100 from the Sierra Club.

The Natural Resources Committee has jurisdiction over issues related to “the control and development of land and water resources,” and with a Democrat in charge, legislation advancing that party’s favored policies has a decent chance at getting a hearing and potentially being passed out of committee.

The platform of the Texas Democratic Party calls for a number of changes to the practice of fracking, which has greatly benefited Texas oil and gas producers over the last 15-20 years. Among these changes are a moratorium on new fracking wells, ending leases for fracking on public lands, and banning the use of wastewater in the process.

King’s most notable achievement in recent years was leading the effort to authorize the sale of hemp products in the state in 2019. The previous year, Congress passed a law defining hemp as cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC, distinguishing it from illegal marijuana, which has a higher concentration of the psychotropic substance.

House Bill 1325 received nearly unanimous support in the House and the Senate. Following Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature, the law went into effect immediately, creating some initial confusion among district attorneys throughout the state regarding prosecution of cases involving possession or distribution of marijuana. Limited testing capabilities in some jurisdictions compounded the confusion, leading to a significant drop in arrests for possession of marijuana. Prior to the law’s passage, such arrests averaged more than 5,600 a month, but that figure fell to less than 2,000 later that year.

King was one of four Democrats who did not participate in the quorum break orchestrated by a majority of his Democrat colleagues to delay the passage of election integrity legislation in the summer of 2021. However, when Senate Bill 1 was eventually brought up for a vote during the second special session, he opposed its passage.

Last year, State Rep. Lynn Stucky (R–Sanger) told a constituent that King was one of “seven good Democrats” in the Texas House. Interestingly, one of the Democrats Stucky mentioned was Ryan Guillen (Rio Grande City), who had switched to the Republican Party more than a year before that conversation.

During the 2021 state redistricting process, King was drawn into a new district whose voters supported former President Trump in the 2020 election. However, he was unopposed in the primary and general elections in 2022.

Citizens can use the Texas Scorecard Elected Officials Directory to let Speaker Phelan know what they think about King’s appointment.

Darrell Frost

Since graduating from Hillsdale College, Darrell has held key roles in winning political campaigns, managed a state legislator's Capitol office, and taught at a classical charter school. He enjoys participating in outdoor activities, playing the harmonica, and learning about the latest scientific developments.