When Representatives Jonathan Stickland (R–Bedford) and J.D. Sheffield (R–Gatesville) arrived in Austin in January, they were both freshman Republican legislators; newly elected to their first public offices. Both ran for office with an “R” next to their name and on their websites they proclaimed themselves “conservative Republicans.” But that’s just about where the similarities stopped. After a regular session and three special sessions of voting, the evidence is clear that these two men’s political stances are a world apart.

Stickland, representing House District 92, which covers portions of northeast Tarrant County including Hurst, Euless, and Bedford, earned a 100, the highest possible score this session on TFR’s Fiscal Responsibility Index. Throughout the session, he stood out as a leader of the 2013 freshman class. Stickland was willing to stand up against immense pressure, always saying “no” when the grow-government crowd was threatening everyone that they must vote “yes.”

J.D. Sheffield, on the other hand, scored a pathetic 27.5—the second lowest score for any Republican in the House. Sheffield found every opportunity to not only stand with liberal Republican House leadership on every issue, but to stand alongside the liberal Democrats on many issues as well.

Stickland was recruited by the NE Tarrant TEA party in the fall of 2011 to challenge fiscal moderate Rep. Todd Smith who averaged “D”s and “F”s on the Fiscal Responsibility Index when he was in office. Having never run for office, Stickland outworked his opponent, driving the long-time incumbent to leave the race and take a long-shot chance at an open Senate seat. Smith lost to Senator Kelly Hancock and was sent back to his day job as a plaintiff’s lawyer. Meanwhile, local tax-raiser Roger Fisher declared for office against Stickland with the backing of the local establishment. But Stickland mopped the floor with him, 60–40, all the while pointing out Fisher’s record as a tax raiser on the Bedford city council. Stickland ran as a conservative, promising to fight for limited government and more liberties for all citizens. His 100 proves that he delivered on that promise.

Sheffield, on the other hand, won after taking his second shot at conservative Republican Sid Miller in 2012. Sheffield had lost to Miller in 2010 in the race to represent House District 59, a rural district which stretches from Stephenville in the north, to Gatesville in the southeast, to Brady in the southwest. But this time, Sheffield had secret partners helping propel him to victory. While deceptively labeling himself a “conservative Republican” and working to pick up conservative voters disappointed in Miller’s support of embattled moderate Speaker Joe Straus,  Sheffield grabbed the backing of the school administrator lobby—the deceptively named “Texas Parent PAC”—along with the backing of Texas chapters of Planned Parenthood.  Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, daughter of former Governor Ann Richards, was apparently very pleased with the results of the election, admitting after the win that Planned Parenthood worked behind the scenes in District 59  using phone calls and emails to turn-out liberal voters to support Sheffield.

Did the liberal groups know something about Sheffield that he was hiding from the Republican primary voters in District 59?

They must have. Throughout the session, Sheffield racked up bad vote after bad vote after bad vote. While principled conservative leaders like Jonathan Stickland were voting in Austin like they said they would back home, Sheffield was joining the liberals at every step.

While it would be easy to criticize J.D. Sheffield for going along with liberal House Republican leadership in increasing spending 24% over the previous session, he really set himself apart when he voted with liberal Democrats on their biggest priorities. When Republican representatives met privately in caucus earlier this year to determine if they would support adopting the Medicaid expansion provisions of ObamaCare, Sheffield was reportedly the only Republican to raise his hand and speak-out in support of the Obama Administration’s poison pill. He followed through on that support, voting for an amendment by liberal Democrat leaders Lon Burnam (D–Fort Worth), Chris Turner (D–Arlington), and Trey Martinez Fischer (D–San Antonio) which would have brought ObamaCare to Texas. When other Republicans later backtracked and corrected their votes, Sheffield stood by his vote in support of ObamaCare.

Likewise when liberal Democrat Chris Turner (D–Arlington) sought to empower the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to use new permitting tools to fight “climatic changes, including global warming,” J.D. Sheffield was the only Republican to support that amendment.  In fact, even two Democrats voted against the amendment. He was also the only Republican to vote against SB 864, a common sense measure to reduce the number of hours of instruction required to get a concealed handgun license. (The reduction matched the required number of hours to the amount of content prescribed for the course so that applicants would no longer be sitting around.) On that vote Sheffield was only joined by 29 of the 55 House Democrats and voted to the left of such notorious gun rights advocates as Carol Alvarado (D–Houston), Garnet Coleman (D–Houston), and Dawnna Dukes (D–Austin).

But the nonsensical left-wing votes didn’t stop there. When liberal Democrat Eric Johnson (D–Dallas) attempted to push through a bill that would increase penalties for failing to file a report on annual water usage with the TCEQ from $25 to $5000 (Yes, you read that right), J.D. Sheffield cast the deciding vote for the measure, which passed forward in the process 67–65. When Democrat Roberto Alonzo (D–Dallas) offered an amendment to allow illegal immigrants to get Texas drivers permits, Sheffield voted against most of his party and with the Democrats to support the measure. During the special sessions, J.D. Sheffield was the only other Republican, along with openly-pro-abortion Republican Sarah Davis (R–West University Place), to consistently vote with liberal Democrats to water down comprehensive pro-life legislation.

Meanwhile, Stickland was willing to vote “no” on all of the expansions of government power that came before him. In fact, he worked to master the House rules so that he could kill bad legislation on procedural points of order.

While Sheffield was busy voting for liberal priorities, he didn’t get much done in the way of legislation. His big accomplishment appears to have been being House sponsor on a bill by Democratic Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D–San Antonio) that added a pharmacy tech to the Texas State Board of Pharmacy. He did also pass a bill that tweaked some laws for a local hospital district and a bill that added a new specialty license plate for Air Force veterans. But Sheffield failed to pass his “first major bill,” a measure designed to bring home the bacon to a local university.

Remember, when a representative votes with leadership, it’s supposed to be a lot easier for him to pass his biggest bills. But it was Jonathan Stickland, the guy who was willing to say “no” to the bad bills and the big budgets, who walked away with the big legislative accomplishments.

Against intense pressure, Stickland succeeded in passing his “first major bill:” a measure that allows children of military service members time-off from school to spend with their parents when they go on deployment. Likewise, Stickland gained national press when he succeeded in setting a national standard for email privacy by requiring the government to get a warrant when they read a person’s emails.

The lesson in all of this is that tools like the Fiscal Responsibility Index are necessary to know where elected officials really stand. Not every candidate is going to be a Jonathan Stickland. He’s a guy who was honest with the voters about who he was and didn’t back down to pressure when he was in Austin. Unfortunately there are too many J.D. Sheffields; candidates who campaign as “conservatives” and then go to Austin and legislate like liberals.

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.


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