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A Texas Political Tradition — And A GOP House Speaker — Could Sink Conservatives’ Education Agenda, Republicans Say

Many Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives are opposing a longstanding rule that gives the minority party committee leadership roles, arguing this could present obstacles to the GOP’s education agenda for the upcoming legislative session.

The state’s House of Representatives has a tradition of giving the minority party chair positions on committees to foster bipartisanship, but the policy has come under fire by the Texas Republican Party and many conservative lawmakers for undermining certain GOP priorities, according to The Texas Tribune. The Texas GOP is concerned that their education legislation will be stymied by Democratic committee leaders.

Republican state Rep. Bryan Slaton, who is introducing an amendment to remove the minority chair rule, called the tradition “completely disrespectful” to Texas voters.

“If the majority of Texans want Republican leadership that is what they should get,” Slaton pointed out. “And on top of that, it’s not bipartisan when they’re actively killing GOP priorities.”

Republican primary voters in Texas strongly supported school choice legislation, according to a Texas Republican Party survey ahead of the 2022 election. The survey proposed a variety of priorities including pro-life legislation, protection for prayer in schools and ensuring that no one in the state is “penalized” for refusing to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine.

Standing in the way of implementing such an agenda is the House’s tradition of giving minority party members chair spots, according to Matt Rinaldi, chairman of the Republican Party of Texas and former member of the state House of Representatives. Rinaldi told the Daily Caller News Foundation that, as nearly 40% of the committee chairs are controlled by Democrats, many conservative priorities have failed to materialize.

“Texas voters have elected Republicans to every statewide office since 1994 and to legislative majorities since 2003,” Rinaldi stated. “They did not give Republicans a legislative mandate for decades just to have them relinquish power to Democrats who oppose their entire legislative agenda.”

Slaton’s amendment to abolish minority committee chairs was also on the 2022 public ballot, with 81% of Republican primary voters saying they were in favor of ending the practice, according to state GOP polling. Slaton argued that voters had already decided who they wanted in power during the elections and that their choice should not be taken away from them, especially when it doesn’t lead to bipartisan legislation.

During the last congressional term, the state’s education committee chair was held by Democratic state Rep. Harold Dutton, who openly stated that school choice legislation was not a priority for him for the upcoming session.

“What is the problem that you’re trying to cure with school choice?” Dutton asked. “People have told me to my face that ‘we think that parents who have their kids locked in a low-performing school ought to have some way out?’ I said … why don’t we go fix the dang school?”

Rinaldi said that if Dutton or another Democrat were to continue to hold power over the education committee, then “school choice is dead,” along with any other GOP priorities in education.

“Any bill to protect young children from inappropriate sexual content is dead,” Rinaldi said. “Republicans would be ceding legislative victory on any bills that would be referred to a committee chaired by a Democrat.”

Slaton told the DCNF that he expects his amendment to be opposed by state Rep. Dade Phelan, the current speaker of the House.

Phelan has been staunchly in favor of upholding the tradition and said a debate will be held on the rules to ensure “every member will have a voice,” according to the Texas Tribune. Rinaldi called Phelan’s “[open] disregard” for the wishes of his constituents “shocking” and warned it would have repercussions.

“The current speaker has been defiant and publicly defended sharing House leadership with Democrats,” Rinaldi said. “Our polling shows this will be a top issue in the 2024 primaries and those who openly disregard their voters by giving political power to Democrats will see a significant backlash when they run for reelection.”

Both Rinaldi and Slaton mentioned an incident during the previous term where Democratic members of the state house fled Texas for Washington D.C. for over a month to prevent the GOP from voting on its election reform bill. This behavior, according to Rinaldi and Slaton, disqualifies the argument that bipartisan leadership has fostered unity between the parties.

“As long as the Democrats can use their power as chairman to kill bills, water down bills, etc., they will do it,” Slaton said. “Why would they get themselves in that important of a position to have conservative legislation passed on their watch?”

Dutton and Phelan did not respond to DCNF’s request for comment.

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