This 85th Session of the Texas Legislature has been dominated by the political games and personal attacks on the conservative members, many of whom belong to the House Freedom Caucus, orchestrated by the leadership cabal of moderate Republicans and pro-abortion Democrats of the Texas House of Representatives.
With yesterday’s midnight deadline looming for the passage of House bills, House leadership once again did not disappoint, again singling out and punishing members for no other reason than their conservative voting records and proclivity to expose the vindictive tactics of House Leadership. In order to achieve an important legislative goal and left with no other recourse after respectfully enduring months of abuse and the thwarting of conservative legislation, the Freedom Caucus successfully organized and executed an effort that killed scores of bills anointed by House leadership.
The open disdain of the speaker and his chairmen toward the mainstream Republican House members already had tensions rising. The majority of House members, including some Democrats, support conservative reforms for Texas, real reforms that impact Life, faith, freedoms, the protection of our women and daughters, fairness in education, family equality, and other measures. These measures would all pass 90-60 if a vote on the House floor was ever allowed. But House leadership has systematically stalled all such legislative proposals while prioritizing bills that are antithetical to the conservative movement.
Preborn children are being torn limb from limb in the womb while House leadership ceaselessly claims to be Pro-Life. Yet with only three weeks left in the session, not one single bill that reduces the 55,000 annual Texas abortions has been heard on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives.
On Thursday, May 11, in another coercive procedural maneuver, House leadership suspended the rules of the House to schedule votes on 120+ bills on the Local and Consent Calendar for the following day. Historically, the Local and Consent Calendar includes bills that are non-controversial, unopposed, and apply to limited jurisdictions (such as a new local library or naming a building). But under the current progressive House leadership, the Local and Consent Calendar has become a tool to ram through questionable measures that would otherwise be debated and defeated. As such, House members have often selectively killed specific bills on the Local and Consent Calendar on the basis of principled, studied objections. The main objection last night was the quantity; properly vetting and reading 120+ bills would have been impossible after working until midnight and then needing to be on the House floor at 10:00 a.m.
However, after conservatives and members of the Freedom Caucus objected to the rules suspension for the Local and Consent Calendar, dozens of their bills were removed from the Local and Consent Calendar—a blatant act of political retribution ensuring the death of the conservatives’ bills. This attack from leadership was personal and severe.
Subsequently, the Freedom Caucus called a press conference to shed light on the ever-changing rules of the House. Representative Jeff Leach (R-Plano) described the move as “another direct shot at the conservative members of this House” by leadership. Representative Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) elaborated, “Our bills have been targeted for weeks…for conservative legislators, their bills have been targeted because of the voting record of those legislators. If you are too conservative, you cannot represent your district.”
After the press conference, the Freedom Caucus masterfully used parliamentary procedures and debate tactics to break free from the suffocating hands of House leadership. The Freedom Caucus spent time at the back microphone of the House, methodically deliberating the policies before the full House, and thereby burning the clock with protracted debate (called “chubbing”). In doing so, the Freedom Caucus killed bills that House leadership wanted to pass by the midnight deadline. Leadership was given a lethal dose of their own bitter medicine last night.
Once the Freedom Caucus achieved the goal of killing those House bills, similar proposals that are still viable in the Senate will likely emerge as much stronger policy reforms, e.g., the Sunset bills that reauthorize state agencies. In sessions past, Pro-Life amendments have been successfully added to Sunset bills related to health and medical agencies. The Sunset bills under consideration in the State Senate reflect more conservative policy, which is a main reason the Freedom Caucus wanted to kill the limp versions scheduled on the House calendar last night.
The process of writing Sunset bills is another example of draconian leadership. The House versions of these measures have been so watered-down that no substantial reforms or reorganizations are offered in the Sunset bills. House leadership demanded that the meaningful provisions of the Sunset bills be removed so that Pro-Life amendments would be rendered non-germane, thus squashing another opportunity for Pro-Life dialogue and victories. Conservative, Pro-Life members had no choice last night but to take dramatic and drastic action to kill the remaining bills, clearing the way for these Senate bills.
More importantly, House leadership controls the pace of the session. They are responsible for killing their own bills AND also for killing Pro-Life bills that they intentionally set at the end of the calendar for yesterday. Leadership could have used the time since January to prioritize and pass not only their bills, but also important bills that reflect the Texas Republican Party Platform, like the Dismemberment Abortion Ban, which received overwhelming grassroots support. The blame and responsibility of yesterday’s events in the Texas House of Representatives ultimately lies solely with House leadership who not only set the pace and the calendars, but also the tone and the collaboration—for better or worse.