With primary elections in the rear view mirror, the chief question on many capitol observer’s minds is whether the obstructionist coalition of Democrats and liberal Republicans in the Texas House will hold in 2017.
With roughly six months until the Texas Legislature re-convenes, and an uncertain November election in between, the coalition government in the House will be missing some of the top allies of Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio).
Ever since the coalition of Democrats and Republicans took the office from Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick (R–Midland) in 2009, conservatives have been marginalized in the Texas House. While conservatives have failed to dislodge Straus from the dais, they have successfully waged a steady war of attrition against his top allies.
Since 2010, nine of Straus’s committee chairmen have lost their re-election bids.
Just this year, State Reps. Doug Miller (R-New Braunfels) and Wayne Smith (R-Baytown) were defeated by conservative challengers in the Republican primary. Conservatives also defeated State Rep. Marsha Farney (R-Georgetown), who was generally recognized as being Straus’ pick to chair the Public Education Committee next year.
Even more have chosen to surrender rather than suffer defeat. For example, outgoing State Rep. Jim Keffer (R-Eastland) called it quits after narrowly squeaking out an expensive victory in the previous election cycle.
Other coalition-government loyalists gambled for higher office only to come up empty handed. State Rep. Susan King (R-Abilene) suffered that fate, being defeated this year by Lake Travis ophthalmologist Dawn Buckingham in the race to replace outgoing State Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay)
In 2014 the results were similar. State Rep. Dan Branch (R-Dallas) sought the Republican nomination for Texas Attorney General only to be defeated by Ken Paxton—a conservative leader who previously challenged Straus for the speaker’s office in 2010. Same goes for Straus lieutenant Harvey Hilderbran (R-Kerville) who failed in his run for comptroller, as did Straus’ lawyer, Eric Opelia, in his run for Agriculture Commissioner.
In this year alone, Straus lost a quarter of his Republican committee chairs. Such a loss isn’t an anomaly, but part of a greater trend.
Of 20 Republican committee chairs appointed by Straus in 2009, only five are left. Being closely associated with Straus and the Democrat-enabling House leadership may not mean a loss, but it clearly doesn’t lead to a long political life. Or moving up.