Friendly faces fill top committees, Straus critics sidelined

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Rep. Molly White, R-Belton

JAMES RUSSELL  |  Staff Writer

If elections have consequences then 19 representatives who voted for a more conservative candidate in the Texas House Speaker’s race surely learned their consequences on Wednesday, Feb. 5 when four-term House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, released committee appointments.

Straus, a San Antonio Republican, defeated Rep. Scott Turner, R-Frisco, to claim his fourth term as the House’s top leader. Turner received 19 votes to Straus’ 127. When committee memberships were released, those 19 officials, all of whom represent the hard right of the GOP, were appointed to few committees where they may have little relevance.

Case in point: Rep. Molly White, R-Belton, who voted for Turner. The freshman representative from a rural area landed spots on Urban Affairs and Homeland Security and Public Safety.

Meanwhile, Rep. Eric Johnson, a Dallas Democrat and LGBT ally who backed Straus, was assigned to Calendars, Economic and Small Business Development (vice chair), and Homeland Security and Public Safety.

According to Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, an associate professor of political science at the University of North Texas, committee assignments matter. But he couldn’t say whether White’s and others’ assignment were rooted in revenge.

Generally, committee assignments serve two roles. One is to “benefit the legislator for re-election. The best way to ensure a legislator’s re-election is to serve on a committee relevant to his or her constituents.” Eshbaugh-Soha said.

The other reason for committee appointments “is for partisan/political benefits or seniority,” he noted.

More experienced legislators may have developed a specific field of expertise or, just as crucial, they may have collaborated with Straus on legislation or helped him or more powerful colleagues politically.

In White’s case, there is an issue that might affect Belton that does, in fact, fit with Urban Affairs, that she expressed interest in working on this session,” he added.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick released Senate committee assignments last month, plopping a large class of conservative freshman senators into plum positions while booting Democrats from their perches in others.

While the Senate is more conservative this session, the House appointments are good news to Daniel Williams, legislative specialist for Equality Texas. (He previously told the Voice he anticipates a friendlier House than Senate.)

“We’ve known for a long time that this would be a defensive session. Every legislative session has a flavor, has a theme… the 84th regular’s theme is defense.”

Still, Williams said, “There is a lot to be hopeful about in some of the ways House committee assignments came down. I’m confident that, with hard work by our allies, we will be successful in defending Texans from the attacks coming from extremist, reactionary members of the Legislature.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 6, 2015.