Are Sarah Davis and J.D. Sheffield Actually Worse than Democrats?

Rep. Sarah Davis (R–West University Place) and Rep. J.D. Sheffield (R–Gatesville) are consistently rated as the least conservative Republicans in the Texas House. On the Fiscal Responsibility Index, they only score three and four points higher than the highest ranked Democrat. But despite having voting records that are marginally better than Democrats on fiscal and role of government issues, are they actually worse than a Democrat when it comes to the liberty and prosperity of Texans?

Consider the issues that are not included on the Fiscal Responsibility Index.

Sarah Davis has been openly “pro-choice” for years. J.D. Sheffield, despite being elected as the result of a crossover effort run by Planned Parenthood, had claimed to be pro-life until this session. However, in a debate on the House floor, Sheffield finally admitted he supports abortion rights. But Democrats are reliably “pro-choice” and typically have anti-taxpayer voting records, so how are these two Republicans worse for Texans?

The answer is simple. With “Republican” branding, liberal Speaker Joe Straus uses the two legislators to take up “Republican” spots on committees, hoping his trick fools unassuming Texans.

For instance, the Public Health Committee in the House typically handles pro-life legislation. It is critically important to pro-life Texans. This past session, Straus appointed six Republicans and five Democrats to the committee, ensuring – at least on paper – a narrow Republican advantage.

But Straus appointed both Sheffield and Davis to the committee, guaranteeing that the real partisan balance, particularly on pro-life issues, was seven-to-five in favor of liberal Democrats and pro-abortion interest groups.

Similarly, the Appropriations Article II subcommittee is in charge of drafting the portion of the budget relating to Health and Human Services, including issues related to abortions. On that subcommittee, Straus again appointed four Republicans and three Democrats, giving the Republicans the appearance of a narrow one-vote advantage. But Straus put both Sheffield and Davis on the committee, meaning the real balance was five-to-two in favor of the liberals.

The consequences of Sheffield and Davis carrying the GOP label plays out throughout the House under Straus. Straus is able to appoint Davis to positions to which he would only ever appoint a Republican, effectively giving the Democrats a gift.

For instance, when a joint interim committee was created in 2013 to look at the state’s ethics laws, Straus appointed Sarah Davis to chair it. The committee proceeded to waste an entire interim, ultimately filing its report after its due date. The report contained less than a single page of actual content and was based on a single hearing in which the public was not allowed to testify.

Because she chaired that committee and was a “Republican,” Davis was tasked with carrying major legislation relating to ethics laws and the Texas Ethics Commission. In one debate on the floor, Davis’s failure to do her job was exposed when she could not answer a simple question about the number of commissioners present on the TEC. In one of the session’s most embarrassing moments, Davis was forced to call out to Empower Texans’ counsel Trey Trainor in the gallery to ask him to answer the simple question.

If Sarah Davis or J.D. Sheffield were replaced with a Democrat, the new representative would probably have a marginally worse voting record. However, Straus could no longer use the two “Republicans” to thwart conservative reforms and fool Texans. That, coupled with the inherent value of truth in advertising would certainly be a better result for Texans.

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Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel for Empower Texans. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony received his J.D. in 2012 from UT Law School. While in school, Tony served as Senior Vice Chairman for Young Conservatives of Texas and helped manage its legislative affairs. During the 83rd Texas Legislature he served as Chief of Staff for Rep. Jonathan Stickland. Tony resides in Austin and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.

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