You can read our follow up article here: Part II: Texas Democrats’ Surprising Success in Austin
On the surface, Texas is one of the reddest of red, Republican states. Republicans control every statewide office. In fact, no Democrat has won a statewide office in nearly 20 years nor has Texas voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1976. Republicans also control both houses by large majorities. The tradition of Texas being a Republican state seems secure enough that outgoing Governor Rick Perry bragged that “the University of Texas will change its colors to maroon and white before Texas goes purple, much less blue.” So, with all of this power locked up in Republican hands, does this mean that Texas Democrats have very little opportunity to accomplish anything?
The answer would be quite the opposite, and no, I am not talking about Wendy Davis’ filibuster. While it did accomplish one thing, showing how a yelling, screaming, heckling audience could paralyze Republican Senators and the Lt. Governor, it did not stop the law in question (HB 2) from being passed. However, Democrats in both the Texas House and Senate are very successful at getting laws passed and enacted.
In just the 140 days dedicated to the 83rd Regular Session, Texas legislators filed a total of 5,868 bills (we did not include resolutions), 3,950 in the House and 1,918 in the Senate. Of those bills, 1,437 passed both chambers and were sent to the Governor’s desk. Rick Perry only vetoed a miniscule 26 bills, or 1.8%. So, 1,411 bills became law from the 2013 Regular Session. How does this convey Democratic success? Well, nearly HALF of all the bills enacted into law in the great Republican, red state of Texas were authored or co-authored by Democrats.
|Total Passed||Vetoed||Signed||Not Signed||All|
|Total Passed||Vetoed||Single Author||Co-Authored||All|
|Democrat Success Rates||House %||Senate %||Total %|
|Bills Passed Both Houses||51%||39%||45%|
|Vetoed by Governor||1%||1%||1%|
|Enacted into Law||50%||39%||44%|
|Democrat Representation in Legislature||37%||39%||37%|
You may be asking yourself, how is this possible? How can Democrats who are the substantial minority, 95-55 in the House and 19-12 in the Senate, get so many bills passed? After all, Gov. Perry signed 99% of the Democrat authored bills into law. When asked why he didn’t veto more than 1% of the Democrat bills, a spokesperson for Governor Perry’s office offered this statement, “Republicans and Democrats can work together. Texas is not an absolute partisanship. The Governor signs legislation based the merits of the bill and whether it’s in the best interest of Texas.” While this sounds nice and friendly and seems like the perfect “reaching across the aisle” image a potential 2016 Presidential candidate might want to portray, the spokesperson obviously never bothered to compare the Democrat and Republican state party platforms. They couldn’t sound more partisan on rhetoric and issues.
One explanation would be Democrat-friendly leadership within the House. As shown in the graph, only 39% of the bills coming out of the Senate were Democrat-written or co-written, but 51% of the laws sent to the governor’s desk from the House were Democrat-written or co-written. This means the MINORITY party in the House, outnumbered by nearly 2-1, was the MAJORITY when it came to laws passed. How can this be? There is one probable answer: Speaker of the House Joe Straus. He was elected as House Speaker in 2009 by every Democrat and 11 Republicans and has remained in power ever since. How? You see, to become Speaker of the Texas House, you only need 76 votes. So, with 55 Democrats, Straus only needs 21 out of the 95 Republicans to side with him. In order to keep Democrat support, he has appointed many of them to chair and vice chair committees. Here is a list of Democrat committee chairs:
|Tracy King||Agriculture & Livestock|
|Sylvester Turner||Appropriations – S/C on Articles I, IV, & IV|
|Rene Oliveira||Business & Industry|
|Garnet Coleman||County Affairs|
|Abel Herrero||Criminal Jurisprudence|
|Ryan Guillen||Culture, Recreation, & Tourism|
|Jose Menendez||Defense & Veterans|
|Jim Pickett||Homeland Security & Public Safety|
|Richard Raymond||Human Services|
|Rafael Anchia||International Trade & Intergovernmental Affairs|
|Mike Villarreal||Investment & Financial Services|
|Joe Deshotel||Land & Resource Management|
|Senfronia Thompson||Local & Consent Calendars|
|Ruth McClendon||Rules & Regulations|
|Carol Alvarado||Transparency in State Agency Operations|
|Harold Dutton||Urban Affairs|
It’s pretty easy to assume that the Democrat chairs of these committees would give easy opportunity for fellow Democrats to get bills past committee and onto the floor of the House. This ability though is enabled by only one person, the Speaker who makes the appointments, Republican Joe Straus.
Despite the bragging Republicans do about their Texas stronghold, the legislation that gets passed isn’t nearly as dominated by these Republicans as the picture that’s painted. Wherever you want to place blame, the biggest enemy may be arrogance. It’s safe to assume that Democrats may have done the same boasting about Texas turning Republican in the 60’s and 70’s. Oh, how the tables have turned. The tables may turn again if Republicans aren’t more careful.