Houston Chronicle

No mood for games

Texas House speaker appoints diverse group to head committees, but ideologues remain.

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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.

 ?? Bob Daemmrich / CapitolPre­ssPhoto / Pool ?? Some of Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan’s new committee chairs have a history of being more interested in scoring political points than in getting things accomplish­ed for their fellow Texans.
Bob Daemmrich / CapitolPre­ssPhoto / Pool Some of Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan’s new committee chairs have a history of being more interested in scoring political points than in getting things accomplish­ed for their fellow Texans.

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