87th LegislatureState HouseTexas House Members Call on Presumptive Speaker to Appoint Only Republicans to Pivotal Committee Chairmanships

The ability of the Texas Republican Party to pass its legislative priorities during the upcoming session may hinge on who oversees the committees through which they must pass.
December 18, 2020
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Reps. Kyle Biedermann (R-Fredericksburg) and Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington) and incoming representatives Jeff Cason and Bryan Slaton officially called on presumptive Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) to appoint only Republicans to committee chairmanships that will oversee GOP priorities in the upcoming session.

The eight legislative priorities approved by the Texas GOP are — in order of passage — election integrity; religious freedom; children and gender modification; the abolition of abortion; constitutional carry; monument protection; school choice for all; and a ban of taxpayer-funded lobbying.

“We hope you decide to reform how Republican Speakers have operated in the past when they have declared a significant portion of our Republican Party’s agenda dead the day committee assignments come out,” the letter to Phelan reads.

Slaton added on Twitter, “I’m eager to see how soon-to-be-speaker Phelan responds. If Republicans unite behind a GOP agenda, then we accomplish what Texans deserve.”

“This past action,” Biedermann said of the appointment of Democrats on Facebook, “killed a key pro-life bill and even constitutional-carry, the top Republican priority to protect our second amendment rights.

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In 2019, one of the legislative priorities in bill form, the abolition of abortion, died in the Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee. However, that committee is chaired by Republican Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano), who declined to advance it citing concerns over criminal penalties for women who chose abortion.

A related piece of legislation, the Heartbeat Bill — a prohibition on abortion after a fetal heartbeat appears — died in the Committee on Public Health, chaired by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston).

Another GOP priority met a similar fate in the Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee, chaired by Rep. Poncho Nevárez (D-Eagle Pass), who will also not return after his own interim scandal.

Constitutional carry legislation died in Nevárez’s committee after then-Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) falsely accused Second Amendment activist Chris McNutt of intimidating his family at their home while canvassing in support of the bill.

Republican speakers have historically appointed Democrats to some committee chairmanships as a gesture of bipartisanship. Just like with intra-party colleagues, committee chair appointments are often used to reward those who backed that particular speaker politically during their campaign for the position.

The day after the election, Phelan announced he’d secured enough votes to become the next speaker — releasing a list of support that has since grown.

Republican Party of Texas Chair Allen West made headlines last month when he spoke out against Phelan as the presumptive speaker, citing, among other things, his concern for the political lives of the Republican priorities.

Phelan will replace outgoing Speaker Dennis Bonnen who chose not to run for re-election after Empower Texans President Michael Quinn Sullivan released a recording of Bonnen offering a quid pro quo to the grassroots conservative organization.

Committee chairmanships are assigned during the session after the speaker is officially elected and House rules passed, but they are likely being preliminarily vetted and chosen behind the scenes right now. The legislature convenes on January 12, but daily protocols for the session have yet to be nailed down in light of the pandemic.

After months of closure, the Texas Capitol grounds reopened this week, and rules for the opening day of the 87th Legislative Session have been set.

Governor Abbott said Thursday that he expects the capitol to open again sometime soon.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include Rep. Biedermann’s comment.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.