87th LegislatureState HouseWith Opposition to GOP Ticket Items, Rep. Lyle Larson Stakes Out Antagonist Position in His Own Party

The San Antonio Republican has taken a position of opposition to many of the priorities championed by his fellow GOP legislators.
August 24, 2021
Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) has carved out his niche in Texas politics as the Republican who votes often with Democrats on issues of significance and chides his own party.

Some praise him as a maverick, others criticize him as a Republican-in-name-only, and still more just consider him there. 

The latest example was a directive to the House Sergeant-at-Arms to send for absentee Democratic members that had been breaking quorum for close to a month — bringing the entire legislative process to a screeching halt. That motion led to the issuance of 52 civil arrest warrants by Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont).

Larson was one of 12 “no” votes on the motion and the only Republican. He tweeted in reaction, “Arresting members to come to the house floor. Have we got to the point where we believe our own bull shizz so much that we arrest our own colleagues. Civil discourse took a nasty turn today.”

Rated the most liberal Republican by Rice University’s Mark P. Jones’ post-session legislative rankings, Larson spent much of the 87th Regular Session criticizing the state’s top Republican,  Governor Greg Abbott, and voting with Democrats on some big party line issues.

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Perhaps the biggest ticket item on the agenda for Texas Republicans is the election reform bill — the epicenter of the quorum break fight. In the sole vote cast on that bill during the regular session, Larson voted against Senate Bill (SB) 7 on both of its floor votes. 

SB 7 faltered on the final day of session when Democrats walked out of the chamber to prevent the final version from passing to engrossment.

“The voter bill is one of those things that we know we don’t have an issue with but have boxed ourselves in with a lot of political BS,” Larson has said since.

Other points of distinction include Larson’s support for Medicaid expansion — a topic suggested every legislative session that has yet to grow any legs. Larson penned an op-ed supporting the expansion early on in the regular session and was one of nine GOP members who signed onto such legislation as joint authors, signaling it had the support of a majority of the House.

But in the end, the expansion fell flat, deflating with Larson being the only Republican to vote for the effective expansion during the budget vote.

Larson was also the lone Republican that voted against the ban on Critical Race Theory.

However, on Republicans’ arguably two biggest legislative accomplishments during the regular session, the “Heartbeat Bill” and “Constitutional Carry,” Larson voted with his GOP colleagues.

In a not-so-tacit shot across the bow of his own party, Larson said in May, “A hyper partisan agenda with extreme gender and racial overtones is a sure-fire way of continuing alienation of folks that you seek to grow your ‘big tent’ philosophy.”

“The shifting demographics will present a limited future for your party. #TexasIndependentParty”

A member of the legislature since 2011, Larson is a former Bexar County commissioner. He was a close ally of former Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), a quintessential moderate Republican.

During the 87th legislative session, not one of Larson’s 24 filed bills passed into law. Only one passed the House and three others emerged from the initial committee process, none of which made it to the chamber floor.

In previous sessions, Larson’s legislation has fared better — a combined 14 of his bills passed into law during the 85th and 86th regular sessions.

During this past session, Larson was seldom seen at the front or back microphones in the chamber advocating or critiquing legislation on the floor.

But previously, Larson was much more involved in the legislative process. In 2017 and 2019, he was chair of the House Natural Resources Committee.

A kind of tide began to turn in 2017 when the lingering spat between Larson and Governor Greg Abbott boiled over. Larson accused Abbott of “pay for play” appointments — prioritizing large campaign donors for state commission and board positions.

Larson spearheaded legislation to ban the practice during the 85th regular session as ethics reform, named in Abbott’s emergency item list. That bill passed the House but was left to die in the Senate.

At the end of that session, five of Larson’s six bills that passed both chambers were vetoed by Abbott. On top of that, Abbott endorsed Larson’s 2018 primary opponent, Chris Fails — a rare move for a governor with an incumbent member of his own party.

Larson survived the challenge and was eventually endorsed by Abbott in 2020.

But another domino fall occurred shortly after the initial height of his feud with the governor. Larson’s close ally, Straus, forwent re-election in 2018. Keeping his chairmanship, Larson maintained a position on the general leadership team for the new speaker, Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) — but was not as close with Bonnen as he was with Straus.

Larson was not on the infamous “target list” at the center of the quid pro quo controversy involving Bonnen and then-Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan. But the San Antonio Republican was among the first Bonnen allies to pull support from his speakership.

During the speakership race around Election Day last year, Larson was not among the initial backers of Phelan for the House’s highest position and was instead among the group backing Rep. Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria).

Along with all but four members, Larson voted for Phelan’s speakership on the first day of the 87th legislative session.

But this session, Larson saw the accolades he previously possessed evaporate. With no chairmanship and little personal legislative success, Larson has simply existed. And with the increasing hostility for his nominal party, the San Antonio Republican has pushed his way into a party of one.

Larson’s office did not return The Texan’s interview request.


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and 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.