Conservatives around the Lone Star State rejoiced Wednesday afternoon when the Texas Senate did away with the long reviled two-thirds rule by a vote of 20–10*, with Sen. Craig Estes voting “present, not voting.” A united Republican caucus joined by lone Democrat Sen. Eddie Lucio successfully adopted a new set of Senate rules with a lower threshold required to bring a bill to the floor.
The infamous rule stood as an obstacle to conservative reform for years. By utilizing parliamentary procedure to require a supermajority to even begin debate on legislation, the rule had a track record of empowering the Democratic minority to kill conservative policy initiatives.
This session, however, a number of defenders of the rule have been replaced by new senators that are more conservative. The chamber also has a new president, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who fought against the rule and made its repeal a focal point of his campaign for office.
Ever since his time as a freshman Senator in 2008, Patrick has assailed the rule.
“We should have a simple majority vote,” Patrick said during a brief floor speech in 2007. “What happened to majority rule? What about Jefferson and Madison and Monroe? It was alright for them.”
Though he was defeated 30-1 on the vote to repeal, State Sen. Patrick was proven right in May of the same year when Democrats used the rule to defeat Voter ID from being passed into law. In following sessions, Dewhurst exempted certain legislation from the two-thirds requirement, rather than offering true reform to the rule itself.
Each time Democrats howled that their sole tool for compromise was dead, and each time they still used it to block conservative reforms in the Senate.
Wednesday was no different, with a number of senators moaning that the chamber is falling prey to partisan politics and running over the citizens of Texas.
Such moans and groans are akin to toddlers who throw their toys from their seat in the grocery cart. Just about any mother will pick it up and hand it back to them, and the child will usually throw it again. Enabling mothers will keep handing the toy back, but most will eventually pick up the toy and place it in her purse, prompting a tantrum with gratuitous sobs and wails of dismay.
“This is a sad day for the Senate and one that we will look on later with regret,” said Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston.
While it is Democrats that are the most visibly upset about the rule change, liberal Republicans will be on the losing end as well. Democratic State Sen. John Whitmire (Houston) confessed before the body that a number of Republicans asked him to kill campus carry legislation. Knowing that their fingerprints would not be on the bill’s defeat, they were able to hide behind the rule and mislead their constituents about their pro-Second Amendment bonifides.
With this significant barrier out of the way, the path should be clear for common sense conservative reform that has been blocked for years. School choice, campus carry, repealing the franchise tax, and other conservative policy reforms have a much greater chance of passing as a result. Still, it will be up to grassroots activists to keep a close watch on their legislators and ensure that the opportunity this session will not be wasted.
*The record vote is unofficial until the official list is printed in the Senate Journal.