As RedState.com editor Erick Erickson opined to conservatives in the U.S. Congress last week, “It’s not enough to just oppose bad bills.” While the balance of power may be different in the Texas Legislature, the same lesson applies to conservatives in the Lone Star State. We must do more than simply say, “No!” We must use every tool at our disposal to advance the conservative cause.
In his post “Conservatives, Not Liberals, Are the Problem,” Erickson implores congressional conservatives to get their hands dirty and start using parliamentary tactics to block bad pieces of legislation coming up – specifically for House conservatives to vote against procedural rules for debate and amendments, and Senate Republicans to filibuster “anything under the sun” until the leadership gives time for members to legitimately read and amend bills.
While the House and Senate chambers of the Texas Legislature do operate under different parliamentary (and constitutional) rules than their national counterparts*, the lesson applies just the same.
Conservatives are not using every tool at their disposal.
Especially after the bungled speakership race, conservatives in the Texas House could have used the parliamentary rule known as a “Point of Order” to their advantage, but an amendment by Rep. Phil King took substantial power away from members by consolidating it in the hands of the moderate House leadership. Speaker Straus was given much more discretion which rules to enforce and how.
In other words, when bad legislation that violates House rules comes to the floor for a vote, conservatives must now rely on Speaker Straus to determine if it “substantially” violates the rules, instead of just technically violating it.
But all hope isn’t lost. The House will take up the state budget (initially written by the Senate this biennium) in the coming weeks, and members will have an opportunity to amend the bill, so long as it doesn’t change general law. That means conservatives will be able to put forth amendments that cut wasteful government and reprioritize existing resources (such as eliminating diversions from the State Highway Fund), forcing moderates to go on record defending bigger and more inefficient government.
Of course, this means conservatives must step up with the courage to put forth (and fight for) the amendments, even if the chances of passage are not in their favor.
And with a more conservative Texas Senate, there’s even less of an excuse for conservative senators to waver in offering bold policy reforms.
Filing conservative legislation isn’t enough in either chamber of the Legislature, just as opposing bad legislation in Congress isn’t enough. State Rep. Joe Pickett (D–El Paso) made that painfully obvious when he admitted publicly that as a committee chair, he’s regularly asked by authors and co-authors of bills to quietly kill their own legislation it so never actually moves forward.
So as taxpayers, we cannot rest on our laurels because good legislation has been filed. We have to turn up the pressure on legislators to make sure needed reforms such as spending caps, zero-based budgeting, and the elimination of the franchise tax see the light of day on the floor of both chambers—just like we must keep the heat on them to stay way from calamitous policy proposals such as Medicaid expansion, gas tax increases, or funding increases for a broken public education system (especially until the finance lawsuit is finally resolved.)
Bottom-line, conservatives must do more. We as taxpayers must do more. To win, we have to play the game. A good effort is simply just not good enough anymore.
*The Texas House rarely sets rules on debate and amendments. Typically, the amendment process is only restricted by a deadline for pre-filing on major legislation, or for appropriations bills to ensure no more money is spent than what was set in the original bill. The Texas Senate, as well as the House, cannot pass a bill to engrossment until third reading, giving members at least 24 hours to read a bill before final passage.