The Texas House of Representatives passed a rules package earlier this afternoon by a vote of 123-19. Final passage came after several hours of debate, but not before an attempt to amend the rule to prohibit the Speaker from appointing Democrats as committee chairs was struck down on a point of order.
Prior to considering the rules resolution, the House passed a housekeeping resolution by a vote of 147-2 which included a new section entitled “USE OF HOUSE RESOURCES FOR POLITICAL PURPOSES PROHIBITED.” This section of the housekeeping resolution reads:
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“Pursuant to Section 51, Article III, Texas Constitution, house resources may be used only for a public purpose. A house member, committee, officer, or employee may not use or direct the use of any house resources to further any political purpose. In this section, “house resources” includes appropriated funds, property, services, personnel, or any other thing of value belonging to the government that comes into the custody, possession, or control of a house member, committee, officer, or employee by virtue of public office or employment.”
After State Representative Bryan Slaton (R-Royce City) proposed an amendment to the rules that would have required the Speaker to appoint only Republican committee chairs, State Representative Charlie Geren (R- Fort Worth) called a point of order on the amendment on the grounds that it violated the prohibition on the use of House resources for political purposes that was included in the housekeeping resolution.
House Speaker Dade Phelan sustained Geren’s point of order, ruling that Slaton’s amendment was out of order and violated the housekeeping resolution. In laying out the ruling, Phelan stated that Slaton’s amendment “would require a speaker to use public resources, including staff time and government facilities, on behalf of one political instrumentality.”
Over the last several months, the Republican Party of Texas has focused its efforts on encouraging Republican members of the Texas House of Representatives to amend the rules of the House to prohibit Democrats from chairing committees. While the Republican Party of Texas’ legislative priority to ban Democratic committee chairs applies to both the Texas House and Texas Senate, the Party’s advocacy efforts were focused almost exclusively on the Texas House. Democrat State Senator John Whitmire has long served as Chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice committee.
These efforts also appeared to generate little success, with just 19 of the 86 Republican members of the Texas House being listed on social media graphics disseminated by the Republican Party of Texas as supporting a ban on Democratic committee chairs. No member of the Texas Senate offered an amendment to the Senate rules to ban Democratic committee chairs.
Republican Party of Texas Chairman Matt Rinaldi, who served as a member of the Texas House of Representatives from 2015-2019, did not offer such an amendment to the rules of the Texas House during his tenure as a State Representative.
The Republican Party of Texas expended Party funds on Facebook ads to “Demand all Republican legislative committee chairs.” A review of Facebook ads purchased by the Republican Party of Texas shows that the Party spent far more on Facebook ads about committee chairs than that spent on Facebook ads to help Republican candidates for public office defeat Democrats.
The Republican Party of Texas also utilized its e-mail list and social media accounts to promote charted bus trips and caravans encouraging individuals to come to the Texas Capitol to express their support for banning Democratic committee chairs. The Texas Voice has been unable to identify any mass e-mails or social media posts from the Republican Party of Texas during the 2022 election cycle organizing chartered buses or caravans to assist Republican candidates running in targeted districts.
The practice of appointing standing committee chairs of the minority party dates back to at least 1975, when Democrat Speaker Bill Clayton appointed Republican State Representative Tom Craddick as the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources. At that time, the Texas House was composed of 133 Democrats and 16 Republicans.
The newly passed House rules also included an amendment from State Representative Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi) imposing penalties on members who are absent without leave for the purposes of impeding the action of the House. The new rules impose a fine of $500 per day for such absences, which must be paid by the member’s personal funds.