Under a time crunch imposed by Texas House leadership and facing a troubling rules resolution proposal, conservative state representatives who two days ago faced down the Speaker won several important battles at the Capitol Thursday.

The rules proposal, House Resolution 4, contained language expanding an existing House investigatory panel to allow it to use closed meetings to attack state officers for not “serving the best interests of their state agency.” This language appeared to be aimed at whistleblowing UT Regent Wallace Hall and others who have butted heads with the agencies they oversee in an effort to uphold their oaths of office and to protect taxpayers.

Representatives Bill Zedler and Jonathan Stickland began the day by arguing that members had not been provided adequate time to read the resolution, which had been filed just 24 hours and 9 minutes before the House convened to vote on it. Comparing the rush to the tactics of Nancy Pelosi, Stickland was recognized on a motion to postpone the resolution until the following Wednesday to allow members adequate time to read and debate it.

The motion failed along lines paralleling the vote for Speaker, but the conservatives’ resolve was made clear – bully tactics would not be tolerated.

As discussion began on amendments, conservatives who supported Turner were vocal and articulate in debate.

First an amendment from liberal Republican State Representative Jason Villalba was rebuffed. The amendment would have consolidated additional power with the Speaker to ignore violations of House rules. After a healthy debate, the amendment was withdrawn.

Next, Representative David Simpson was successful in adopting his “honest clock” proposal, a measure that will require the House Journals to accurately reflect when the body convenes and recesses and end the bizarre practice of stopping the House clocks to manipulate the history books. The common sense measure had faced significant opposition in 2013 and was defeated that session.

Representative Matt Rinaldi, a vocal and effective conservative freshman member, was the first up with an amendment addressing the proposed investigatory committee. Rinaldi suggested striking the troubling “best interest” language as well as a clause allowing closed-door investigations of “support groups” related to state agencies.

Rinaldi was articulate and earned the vocal support of fellow freshman Representative Mike Schofield and other conservatives. The freshman legislator from Irving stood up to aggressive questioning by veteran establishment lawmakers, Representatives Larry Phillips and Dan Flynn, facing down and refuting their arguments. Notably, the veterans tussled with Rinaldi without acknowledging the new lawmaker’s short, three day tenure – a sign of implicit respect the two probably did not intend to display.

Despite clearly winning the argument, Representative John Smithee, the author of the resolution, moved to table the Rinaldi amendment and it was again defeated along lines paralleling the Speaker’s election.

It appeared that House Speaker Joe Straus and his allies were prepared to whip members to vote against anything offered by Turner’s supporters, regardless of the merits. But the conservatives kept fighting and within a matter of minutes, a degree of peace suddenly broke out in the House. Members of House leadership were suddenly acknowledging that there were problems with the language in the rules addressed by the Rinaldi amendment.

After negotiation, Rinaldi offered his amendment again, in a slightly different form making clear that state officers were expected to serve the best interests of the state of Texas, not their state agencies. The amendment was adopted unanimously. Representative Matt Krause followed with another unanimous amendment eliminating the dangerously vague “related support groups” language from the resolution.

Conservatives closed out the debate with several other key victories.

Representative Matt Schaefer was successful with a proposal that brings light to the expansion of occupational licensing requirements, and though unsuccessful in the voting, Representative Simpson gained ground and respect on proposals to bring transparency to the legislature’s conference committee process. Representative Stickland parlayed a proposal to prohibit special privileges for legislators into support for a constitutional amendment to end the practice, as well as other reforms related to transparency in the committee process.

Lawmakers who abandoned the conservatives during the Speaker’s race were largely unseen during the debate, though Representative Giovanni Capriglione was vocal on social media arguing that the investigatory committee language – the language House leadership eventually agreed was in fact problematic – was not worth opposing. Representative Ron Simmons made an appearance at the front microphone to announce the continuation of pro-Democrat “Purple Tie Thursdays,” but was met with laughter and sarcasm from fellow members.

At the end of the fighting, members were able to agree unanimously to adopt the rules package. The moral of the day’s story was clear: when conservative leaders stand firm on principle, face down fear tactics, and articulate good ideas and reforms, they not only win the battles but win respect from their colleagues.

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.