Legislature is starting to lean further to right
The Legislature is inching rightward. Those who think our state lawmakers are too moderate have notched a number of victories over the past year. We’ll know in a few months whether those wins hold up.
Let’s start in the Texas Senate. Republican Sen. Kip Averitt of Waco resigned his seat for health reasons earlier this year, and voters chose tea party champion Brian Birdwell of Granbury to replace him. Averitt was moderate on some issues, having championed more spending on the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Much of the state’s Republican leadership is vociferously opposed to what it sees as federal meddling in state environmental issues. But as leader of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, the soft-spoken Averitt said Texas instead should take a seat at the table to negotiate federal carbon limits to get a better deal for the state.
The new Natural Resources chairman, Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, said in a conference call last week that steps being
Continued from B considered or already taken by the federal government on air and carbon issues amount to “unprecedented encroachment by the federal government,” parroting the exact language used by the lieutenant governor moments before on the same call.
Averitt’s departure also helped create an opening on the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee for GOP Sen. Dan Patrick, the outspoken conservative radio host from Houston.
Now Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, could step aside. Wentworth told the San Antonio Express-News that he will seek re-election this fall and then consider whether he should resign and go to work for the Texas A&M University System. If Wentworth bolts for A&M, voters would choose his successor in a special election. We’ve seen in several contests this year, including Birdwell’s, that tea party activists are particularly powerful in low-turnout races such as primary runoffs and special elections. Wentworth, one of the more moderate members of the Senate Republican caucus, could give way to a more ideologically driven conservative.
Over on the House side, Reps. Tommy Merritt and Delwin Jones, two of the Republicans most likely to vote with Democrats, lost their primaries. Other moderates might emerge from the corps of Republicans elected to the House this year, but there’s little doubt the successors to Merritt and Jones will be more likely to stick with their party. Meanwhile, Rep. David Farabee, D-Wichita Falls, opted not to seek re-election, and a Republican will almost certainly succeed him.
Yes, the Legislature is already conservative. But because it was split between 76 Republicans and 74 Democrats last year, the House passed a number of moderate measures, including those that would make more families eligible for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and impose new spending restrictions on corporations and unions in political campaigns. Those measures died once they left the House, but the fact that they made it that far highlighted a moderate streak that could be weakened next year.
Democrats will have plenty to say about all of this as they try to retake a House majority this fall. They know how to win House seats, having made gains in the past three elections. But several Republican groups are flush with cash and eager to spend it, and the GOP has the national wind at its back. So the move to the right might be about to speed up.