With the release of the 2015 Fiscal Responsibility Index the record is clear—the Texas Senate has radically improved when compared to the previous session. As this publication anticipated, much of that can be explained by the fresh leadership of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats, but just as well, much of the improved atmosphere in the upper chamber can be attributed to new faces in the Senate.
With only two exceptions, every freshman Republican Senator scored higher on the 2015 Fiscal Responsibility Index than their predecessor.
In Dallas, State Sen. Don Huffines received a 95. His predecessor—liberal Republican John Carona—scored a 60. Huffines blazed a conservative trail through the Senate, drawing the ire of existing Republicans for his dedication to cutting taxes and a staunch defense of the Second Amendment.
Just west in Canton, State Sen. Bob Hall validated the grassroots effort that supported his election, proving he was indeed the “right Bob for the job.” Like Huffines, Hall also succeeded in ousting a liberal in the Republican primary. Hall edged out incumbent Republican State Sen. Bob Deuell, who had scored a 53 on the 2013 Index. In his first session, and in stark contrast, Bob Hall notched a perfect score of 100.
However, the biggest coup was not won in the Republican primary, but on Election Day in Colleyville, where Tea Party activist Konni Burton took back SD-10—the home turf of failed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. Texans would be hard pressed to find a stronger fighter than State Sen. Burton, who boasts a score of 100 on the 2015 Index. Her district saw the biggest improvement given her liberal predecessor’s score of 43.
Two retirements also paved the way for stronger defense of taxpayers. Both State Sens. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) and Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) came to the Senate from the House after the incumbents vacated the seats to go work for Texas universities.
Perry replaced the most liberal Republican in the Senate last session—Robert Duncan—who scored a 48 in 2013. This session, Perry scored an 87.
Creighton replaced State Sen. Tommy Williams, who scored a 59. Creighton scored a 90 on the 2015 Index in his first session in the Senate, earning him the distinction of “Taxpayer Champion.” The score also marked a minor improvement from his tenure in the House.
State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) also compiled a strong record, besting that of her predecessor Glenn Hegar, who successfully won election to the office of Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. Like Creighton, Kolkhorst also improved her own record compared to her time in the lower chamber.
So who were the Republican freshman that did not out-score their predecessors?
State Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano), who replaced Attorney General Ken Paxton, didn’t score any higher, but he cannot really be blamed – Taylor did not have the opportunity. He matched Paxton’s perfect score last session with one of his own. Notably, Taylor’s score this session is a one-point improvement from his previous record in the House, where he scored a 99.
Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) fell slightly below the legacy built by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, but still recorded a strong score of 87 in the Index. Most notably, Bettencourt championed a stricter limit on local property tax increases, although the measure failed to receive a vote.
Otherwise known as the “Liberty 8,” the Senate Republican Freshman Caucus is already off to a great start working on behalf of Texans. Their record this session—in providing tax relief, limiting government, and other reforms—serves as a testament to each of them. But they weren’t alone. One would be remiss to forget that much of the hard work was done at the grassroots level by ordinary citizens whose engagement made their elections possible. With limited exception, each one faced substantial challenges from liberal Republicans, Democrats, or both, and prevailed with the strength of conservative voters.
If grassroots activists continue to work hard, they can send additional reinforcements to the conservative delegation in Austin. The open seat elections spurred by the retirement of State Sens. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler) and Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay) both seem like great places to start.