No mood for games
Texas House speaker appoints diverse group to head committees, but ideologues remain.
While millions of Texans languished without power last week, a dozen of their state representatives were trying on power’s trappings. Political power, that is.
The dozen members, among 34 committee chairs appointed by House Speaker Dade Phelan last week, will be heading House committees for the first time. Phelan named 21 Republicans and 13 Democrats. Five committee chairs are women and 14 are either Black, Hispanic or Asian American. State Rep. Joe Moody, a veteran El Paso Democrat, will return as speaker pro tem.
Diversity is a good thing, of course — as are fresh perspectives — although there’s one category we wish the speaker had ignored: ideologues more interested in scoring political points than in getting things accomplished for their fellow Texans. A few of Phelan’s choices proudly wear the capital I on their chests.
The most glaringly bad choice among Phelan’s ideologues is state Rep. Briscoe Cain, a member of the hard-line conservative Freedom Caucus. The Deer Park Republican flew to Pennsylvania after the November election to offer assistance to Rudy Giuliani and other members of the misbegotten legal team trying to toss out millions of votes. Cain would have fit right in with Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Jenna Ellis and other cranks and conspiracists who called themselves former President Trump’s “elite strike force team.” He is not fit to chair the House Elections Committee, particularly during a session where Gov. Greg Abbott and Cain’s Freedom Caucus cohorts have vowed to do all they can to make it harder, not easier, for Texans to cast their ballots.
Phelan also named one of Cain’s fellow Freedom Caucus members, Fort Worth Republican Matt Krause, as chair of the General Investigating Committee. Krause replaces state Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, who will now serve as chair of Ways and Means, the committee that writes the tax laws. (Another member of the Freedom Caucus, state Rep. Kyle Biedermann, a hardware store owner from Fredericksburg, has filed a bill seeking to form a committee to prepare Texas to secede.)
State Rep. Todd Hunter as chair of the all-important House Redistricting Committee is also a questionable choice. Hunter will lead the once-every-decade process to redraw the state’s political maps. It’s not that the veteran Corpus Christi Republican doesn’t have the experience; in fact, his experience is the problem. The last time Hunter got his hands on the mapmaking computers, back in 2011, he helped draw racially gerrymandered districts in Nueces County (Corpus Christi). So ruled federal judges, who called out Hunter specifically for his efforts “to further undermine Latino voting strength.” Given his tendencies, Hunter is likely to succumb to the temptation to gerrymander enough congressional districts to help the GOP regain control of the U.S. House in the 2022 midterm elections.
Phelan’s other choices were not particularly surprising. Fortunately, they weren’t alarming either. In fact, they seemed to reflect the speaker himself in the initial weeks of the session: conservative, to be sure, but prepared to use the powers of government to address the state’s needs.
At a time when Texas is facing unprecedented challenges — a pandemic, a devastated economy, a rickety health care system and now the lingering effects of a weather catastrophe — one criterion will determine whether Phelan has chosen wisely: Will his committee chairs use their knowledge, wisdom and experience to benefit the people of Texas, or will they play political games, choosing ideology over the common good? We suspect the speaker is well aware that long-suffering Texans are in no mood for games.