Last week, Dr. Mark Jones of Rice University unveiled his spread of the Texas Senate from left to right. As with the House, the study once again validates the accuracy of the Fiscal Responsibility Index. This session, the Texas Senate served as the conservative anchor of the legislature for two major reasons.
The first was the change in leadership from David Dewhurst to new Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Patrick arrived at his new post with a conservative mandate and set to work to push conservative policy goals. Unlike his predecessor, his campaign rhetoric became his legislative priorities and he actually accomplished many of them. As promised, he repealed the infamous “two-thirds Rule,” which amounted to a Democrat veto over conservative legislation, and opened the window for pushing issues like campus carry, judicial reforms, and pro-life legislation.
Patrick’s agenda also pulled the more liberal members of the Senate Republican caucus over to the right. While a jaw-dropping half of them failed the Index last session, none of them repeated their failing grade this time. In fact, those that failed last session increased their scores an average of 18.5 points this session.
While Patrick certainly helped whip some members into shape, the biggest changes resulted from liberal members not coming back. As we’ve pointed out, every single liberal Republican that left the Texas Senate (via retirement or electoral defeat) was replaced with a more conservative Republican. The same was true for Democrats. In November, Democrat Wendy Davis was replaced by staunchly conservative Republican State Senator Konni Burton of Colleyville, who proceeded to earn the distinction of “Taxpayer Champion.”
In the same election cycle, State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) was thoroughly trounced by Patrick in the lieutenant governor election. Van de Putte went on to resign her senate seat in an unsuccessful bid for mayor of the Alamo city, and was replaced by State Rep. José Menéndez (D – San Antonio) in a special election. Menéndez, like all Democrats, closed the session with a failing score, but improved relative to his predecessor. Rather than ranking as the second worst Democrat, Menéndez landed 5th from the bottom. Hey, it’s something ain’t it?
The results of the Jones study provide further confirmation that liberal Republicans stand in the way of conservative reforms. The most liberal Republican (both on the Index and in Jones’ study) is State Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler), who joined with Democrats to oppose spending cuts and tax relief measures. Eltife announced last month that he was not running for re-election, perhaps because of what happened during the previous election cycle to the most liberal Republican from Jones’ study—John Carona.
A consistent supporter of bigger government, Carona went down in a high profile primary battle in Dallas where he was soundly defeated by Dallas businessman Don Huffines. Campaigning as a conservative, Huffines went on to make good on his promise to fight for taxpayers and also earned the distinction of “Taxpayer Champion” in his very first session—even to the point of irritating fellow Republicans for his commitment to phase out taxes and repeal regulations.
Eltife likely surmised that if he announced for re-election, his fate would mirror that of his former colleague and decided it wasn’t worth the effort. His vacancy has forced what has become a battle between two conservatives for his senate seat. Indeed both candidates, State Reps. David Simpson (R – Longview) and Bryan Hughes (R – Mineola), have been consistent defenders of limited government, so far making the contest for Senate District 1 a race that conservatives “can’t lose.”
While Eltife cemented himself as the most liberal Republican on both metrics, a number of other Republicans were not far behind. State Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Midland) was ranked the second most liberal by both Jones and the Index, and often joined Eltife in standing with Democrats. Unfortunately for taxpayers, Seliger does not have to make his case to voters again until 2018.
Lucky for him.
Last election, Seliger barely edged out conservative challenger Mike Canon to return to the Senate. That time he had the two-thirds Rule and a number of Democrats on his left to provide political cover. If history is any guide, Seliger will assume the position of the most liberal Republican in the Senate next session immediately preceding a run for re-election.
Jones’s study and the results of the 2015 Fiscal Responsibility Index continue to illustrate more of what we already know, both in terms of policy from within the chamber and skittishness back home in the district. Conservatives have risen up and seized control of the body politic. Grassroots Texans have been concentrating their focus and building positive momentum; they’re both winning elections and holding lawmakers accountable. The fruits of their efforts are on full display and are growing greater each day.