In the aftermath of Wednesday’s announcement of committee assignments in the Texas House, the establishment political media scrambled to use the assignments to promote their traditional narrative of how fealty to “leadership” results in access to “power.” The narrative says that those who support House Speaker Joe Straus get “plum” – meaning lucrative – committee assignments, while those who oppose his administration get “punished,” along with their constituents.

The media were quick to point the finger at those conservatives who had stayed true to their convictions and supported Scott Turner for Speaker. These members were “foolish” and had allegedly been punished with “bad” committee assignments, while members who sold out their principles and constituents were lauded for reaping great “rewards.”

To paraphrase a quote from Ronald Reagan, “It isn’t so much that the liberal media is ignorant. It’s just that they know so many things that aren’t so.”

The reality is that the Speaker and his allies engage in a false barter with members. It reminds us of the trade offered by Bart Simpson to his father, Homer: “I’ll trade you this delicious doorstop for that crummy old Danish,” offered Bart. In much the same way, House leadership, the media, and the lobby are all busy telling members that they will really enjoy a spot on a “powerful” committee if they will just trade in their crummy old ability to vote “no.”

A “coveted” spot on House Appropriations is put up as the sweetest plum of all. Many in the media were quick to latch on to the fact that Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, who infamously turned his back on his former conservative ally Scott Turner at a local Tea Party meeting, was given a spot on the “budget writing” committee.

However, as we have pointed out before, members on the Appropriations Committee don’t actually write the budget. That task is reserved for a small handful of appointees to the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) and the bureaucrats they employ. After the budget is released by the LBB, the Appropriations Committee members meet early and often, but only end up tinkering around the edges of the initial document. Then, after both chambers pass the budget, it is sent to another small hand-selected group on the conference committee who largely rewrite the document as they see fit.

In return for their appointment and ability to engage in (but probably not affect) the “tinkering around the edges” stage of the “budget writing” process, members of Appropriations are expected to vote for the budget not only on the floor, but also after it is thrust back upon them by the conference committee.

Other so-called conservatives who turned their back on Turner were lauded for assignments to “plum” committees, like Energy Resources or Environmental Regulation. These appointments remind us of another great Simpsons moment, when Homer Simpson is appointed to be head of the union at the Springfield nuclear power plant.

Homer: So what does this job pay?
Lenny: Nothing.
Homer: D’oh!
Lenny: Unless you’re crooked.
Homer: Woo Hoo!

The reality is that every member is appointed to at least a couple of House committees, no matter how many times they wink at Joe Straus. On each of these committees, members have a choice between serving their constituents and serving powerful lobby interests. Some committees deal with more deep-pocketed lobbyists than others, and so the price for selling out can be more lucrative in terms of campaign contribution dollars and lobbyist perks depending on where the Speaker places a member. But for those members who faithfully serve their constituents, the pay-off is nothing more than their $600 a month salary, no matter what committee they’re appointed to.

Those conservative members who stand by their principles have a reward that no lobbyist or Speaker can give them. They have clear consciences. They have independence and freedom to serve their constituents without reservation. They have the freedom to say “no.” They have the ability to use the power vested in every duly elected member to attempt to re-chart the course of the legislature, and this great state, towards greater liberty for all Texans.

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.