Loyalty Vote on Day One

With the power to determine all of the committee chairs and the assignment of bills, the speaker of the Texas House controls whether conservative reforms live or die in the legislative process. Over the last three legislative sessions, conservative members of the Texas House have mounted challenges to the Democrat coalition that currently controls the speaker’s office and who have used that position to stifle popular conservative reforms.

No challenge to the status quo appears forthcoming. That means every member will own the results of House leadership this session. There will be no excuses for obstructionism.

Despite the lack of an opponent, the word from the Texas House is that Speaker Joe Straus wants a “loyalty vote” to start the session. Loyalty, that is, to the Democrat coalition’s speaker, not the conservative principles embraced by Texas voters.

Make no mistake: with no other option, it’s a meaningless vote. With only Straus’ name in nomination, there could be 149 of the 150 House members voting no, and he’d still be the speaker. Voting for or against Straus on the first day of the 2017 session will mean nothing.

Straus has held on to power because too many members of the Republican caucus have settled for conservative crumbs from the table of the Democrat coalition. They have been unwilling to suffer the price of missing cocktail parties and losing favor with lobbyists in order to deliver the promises they made to their voters.

Despite a near super-majority, senior Republicans who claim at home to be conservatives (yet rarely exhibit the courage of their convictions on the House floor) capitulate in hopes that some day the Democrats will tire of controlling the office and it will be the GOP’s turn to run things. And, trust them, then they’ll govern with the conservative principles they have thus far failed to exhibit.

Their inaction is why sanctuary cities still exist in Texas… It’s why property taxes haven’t been reformed… It’s why spending limits haven’t been adopted… It’s why labor unions haven’t been stopped from pilfering public employee paychecks… It’s why parents don’t have more choices in public education.

The list of reforms long promised by conservative lawmakers that have been stalled or killed is too long to mention here. They have produced little but excuses.

While the House is Republican, Democrats control the policy outcomes because they control the speakership. Indeed, Mark Jones of Rice University has confirmed that since Straus took office in 2009, House Democrats have been on the winning side of votes on the final passage of bills more often than Republicans.

Meanwhile, the Texas Senate managed to push through more conservative reforms in 2015 – the first session Dan Patrick served as lieutenant governor – than the Texas House had done in nearly a decade. That shows the importance of good leadership. (Those reforms were by and large killed by Straus once they traveled west of the rotunda.)

This session, the Republicans fronting for the Democrat coalition have no place left to hide. Gone is the shell game with the old Senate leadership in which the chambers took turns passing and killing conservative reforms.

The Texas Senate is on a mission to pass landmark reforms. The governor has signaled a bevy of items he wants passed. All the levels of the federal government are held by Republicans. Obama is gone; the Democrats can stop nothing of substance.

Anything not done in 2017, any long-held reform championed by the GOP not passed, will be the result of obstruction by Republicans in the Texas House.

The coalition leadership should schedule a record vote for speaker; it is good precedent for members to go on record “for” the leadership they tolerate. But since the vote is meaningless in 2017, some lawmakers may vote “aye” to avoid dealing with the pettiness of the Democrat coalition. Others may chose to vote “no” in defiance of the corrupt Democrat coalition.

Either way, the proof will always be in the policy results at the end of the Session. Those who vote “no” have just as much responsibility to find a “leadership” solution as those who vote “aye.”

A Straus “loyalty vote” will remind every legislator that if conservative priorities fail to reach the floor, it is the fault of ‎the members… and that starts with the speakership vote each session.

But make no mistake: in 2017, there are no excuses.

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Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael is president and CEO of Empower Texans. A graduate of Texas A&M, former newspaper reporter, one-time Capitol Hill staffer, think tank vice president, and an Eagle Scout, Sullivan is married with three children. He divides his time between the Metroplex, the rest of Texas, and Austin.

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