In addition to releasing the Pro-Life Scorecard, Texas Right to Life has also made public the 84th Session Dishonorable Mentions List. This is an additional tool to tell the full story and reveal the truth about some of the biggest enemies of Pro-Life efforts and legislation. The vast majority of work and effort that either advances or stifles Pro-Life Legislation happens behind closed doors, far from the eyes of the voting public.
This is why Texas Right to Life will continue to release a more detailed look at who is on the Dishonorable Mentions List and explain how they earned this shameful designation. These elected officials did more harm than good to the cause of Life and this series will explain exactly how.
Representative Debbie Riddle
Probably the most surprising name on Texas Right to Life’s Dishonorable Mentions List for the 84th Legislative Session is Representative Debbie Riddle. Pro-Lifers have been very disappointed in Riddle’s performance in Austin recently, including her earning a bleak 55% Pro-Life voting record in 2013 and her public support of legislation that would have expanded the power of physicians and hospitals to enforce their deadly “quality of life” ethics on vulnerable patients.
This session, Riddle attempted to bolster her Pro-Life credentials by authoring what was marketed as a Pro-Life bill. However, seeing the loopholes and weaknesses of the bill, Texas Right to Life and other Pro-Life advocates called for the bill to be substantially strengthened. Riddle refused and blocked efforts when multiple Pro-Life representatives attempted to strengthen her bill.
The most public blunder during 2015 that earned her a spot on the Dishonorable List, was casting a vote against Pro-Life Priority SB 575 in the House Calendars Committee on May 24th. At 9:15pm on the very last day the Senate Bill could be scheduled to be considered on the House floor, for some reason, Riddle joined her other Republican colleagues on the Dishonorable Mentions List (openly anti-Life Republican Sarah Davis and Representative Patricia Harless) and four anti-Life Democrats to defeat the Pro-Life measure. Engaged Pro-Lifers knew the political games being played with SB 575 and were watching more closely than Riddle expected perhaps. Immediately, Pro-Life advocates and anti-Life reporters bombarded Rep. Riddle, her office, and her Facebook page with questions, outrage, and denunciations. Feeling the political weight of her anti-Life vote, Riddle asked for the Calendars Committee to vote once again on the measure, and two hours later, at 11:10pm, she reversed her vote, and the committee scheduled the Pro-Life bill for a House floor debate.
Even though Riddle reversed her vote to buy herself some political cover, the damage was already done. Because the schedules for House Floor debate had already been filled up, the last spot the Calendars Committee could schedule SB 575 was on the very last day that a Senate Bill could be heard on the House floor. This worked in perfect harmony with Chairman Cook’s malicious intent and the Democrat’s ability to run out the clock before SB 575 could be heard—the fate of Pro-Life Priority Bill SB 575 was sealed.
Chairman Byron Cook
As discussed earlier in detail, Chairman Byron Cook served as one of the biggest barriers to Pro-Life victories in the 84th Legislative Session. Not only did he vote against a Pro-Life amendment that would have raised reporting requirements on elective abortions in Texas, but he refused even to vote twice on a Pro-Life amendment that would have closed a loophole in Texas law that allows for preborn children with disabilities to be aborted after 20 weeks. Even worse, Chairman Cook wrote a public letter to all the House members advocating for keeping such a deadly loophole in law.
But in addition to his dismal voting record, Chairman Cook was the primary cause of death for multiple Pro-Life bills this session. Not only did he refuse to schedule a hearing for more than ten Pro-Life bills, including four pieces of Priority Pro-Life Legislation, but he also stalled or weakened strong Pro-Life bills that did come before the committee. For example, once the Senate passed SB 575, the first Pro-Life bill of the legislative session, Chairman Cook delayed moving the bill for almost two weeks until finally voting out a weakened version of the bill the last possible day the rules allowed. This delay tactic ended up killing SB 575 since clear deadlines were looming, and in range for the Democrats to chub. “Contentious” legislation can be planned around House deadlines – Cook deliberately set SB 575 to die on the House floor in such a way that he could seemingly blame the Democrats for chubbing while punishing his political enemies. Unfortunately, his victims are the preborn children whose deaths will be paid for by our tax dollars. Fortunately, voters in House District 8 are smarter than Cook gives them credit for, and they will easily see through his deadly games.
As Chairman of the House Committee on State Affairs, Cook heard, moved, and voted for legislation that Texas Right to Life and other Pro-Life advocates strongly opposed. He even authored, heard, and voted out multiple bills that attacked the free speech of nonprofit organizations, like Texas Right to Life, and ignored our concerns in committee, including the extremely dangerous HB 37. Cook’s commitment to attacking the free speech of groups like TRL and our donors was so extreme that on the very last day Senate bills could be heard on the House floor, he decided to waste precious floor time on his “ethic reforms,” even though other House Representatives asked him to postpone so Pro-Life Priority SB 575 could be heard first. He refused, and neither bill became law.
All this and more leads us to give Chairman Byron Cook the MOST Dishonorable Mentions of the 84th Legislative Session.
What happens in Austin no longer stays in Austin. For too long, entrenched incumbents believed they could ignore the grassroots and the ideals on which they campaigned and manage our great state. Texas Right to Life, for one, will be silent no more.