With the general election a happy – very happy! – memory, now comes time to elect the third-ranking constitutional office: the Texas House Speaker. Lobbyists and lawmakers are accustomed to citizens checking out as the governing begins; in truth, citizens must be more engaged than ever.
In short order House members will decide if they wish to let backroom dealmakers run the state, or a transparent governing structure.
When legislators gather at noon on Tuesday, January 13, 2015, members of the House will cast what is arguably their most important vote of the session. The House Speaker has major influence on how bills are dealt with, and which bills get heard.
For more than a generation, Texans were forbidden from engaging in that discussion. Everything was decided behind closed doors, and the result was a legislative process that allowed members to be “for” something at home they didn’t actually want to pass in Austin. That prohibition was declared unconstitutional, opening the door for greater citizen involvement in the legislative process.
Now that citizens can be engaged, we must insist that House operations – including the choice of leadership – take place in the open.
That first vote of the session is a vote on what legislation will and won’t get a hearing in the Texas House. It will be a vote on what legislation will die an ignoble death behind closed doors at the hands of the speaker’s committee chairs, and what will get a public vote on the floor of the House.
So who is your legislator for?
STRAUS AGENDA: STOP CONSERVATIVES
House Speaker Joe Straus and his leadership team have made it abundantly clear that killing conservative reforms tops their agenda. Spending limitations, tax reform, education reforms, pro-life legislation… are all viewed with disdain by the Straus leadership team.
We know that because they have blocked those measures for two sessions running, despite a near super-majority of self-described conservative Republicans. And we know that because Straus team members have openly stated their intent is to block conservative legislation coming from the Senate.
Just as important, though, is how Straus has used his power as the third-ranking constitutional officer in the state to attack conservatives and whistle-blowers. It was the Straus leadership team that relentlessly attacked University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall for asking questions that revealed widespread corruption and financial malfeasance at a major state university.
Is your legislator for Joe Straus? Is your legislator for using the power of government to silence whistle-blowers and conservatives? A vote for Joe Straus is a vote for business as usual.
This week, a top performing freshman representative who last session championed transparency and citizen engagement, State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione of Southlake, told his constituents, in so many words, he was abandoning his previous stance and was now for the Austin status quo.
His constituents, who voted a well-funded Straus committee chair out of office to support him, responded swiftly. Julie McCarty, who heads one of the most active tea party groups in the state and lives in Capriglione’s section of Tarrant County, described her “disappointment” with his actions.
“I believe that Gio thinks we will forget this vote, or that we’ll overlook it when he does some good things, or more likely that no one would bother to run against him,” McCarty wrote. “But what will come next? If he sells out once, there is no turning back. The ‘other side’ now knows he does have a breaking point, and they just have to keep at him long enough to get him to give in.”
McCarty concluded: “If he does indeed cast a vote for Straus come January, it is time to replace Gio. It’s a difficult conclusion to come to, but what else can we do? Our voice is all we have.”
Whether he wants to admit it or not, Capriglione is enabling a continuation of the attacks and retribution that have been a hallmark of Joe Straus’ speakership. Worse, Capriglione is doing so knowing there is a conservative option.
RACE IS ON
State Rep. Scott Turner, a dynamic conservative from the Metroplex, has announced his candidacy for the speakership. Turner has been travelling the state speaking to conservative groups. In the times I have heard him speak, Mr. Turner’s message has been focused on making the Texas House truly a house of the people, a legislative body that is transparent and open to the citizens.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
What is your legislator supporting: cronies perpetuating a culture of backroom deals, closed doors and retribution, or a leadership fairly giving a voice to the reforms Texans demand?
If you don’t know today, you will know on Jan. 13, 2015, when House members take a record vote. They will be voting for either an Austin insider who uses his power to thwart good government, or a conservative campaigning on a message of reform and integrity. Who would you chose?
Let your representative know on what side you stand. And don’t forget what they choose.