The Joe Straus who put together these committee assignments was a different Joe Straus from the one who made the appointments in 2009. Straus 2.0 is a much more skilled politician. For those who had labeled him a RINO, he spiked that attack by appointing 27 Republican chairs to only 11 Democrats, a ratio well in excess of the Republican majority of 101 to 49. His enemies had focused on Straus’s appointment of Democrat Rene Oliveira as chairman of Ways & Means as evidence that he was too cozy with Democrats. Straus removed Oliveira as chairman but gave him another chairmanship (Land and Resource Management).
The most important chairmanship held by a Democrat is Business & Industry (Joe Deshotel, who chaired the committee in 09, remains as chairman). I thought Pickett might hold onto Transportation, but Larry Phillips got it instead. I did hear some grumbling that transportation is an urban issue and should be chaired by an urban member. Pickett settled for Defense & Veterans’ Affairs, which will certainly help him back home in El Paso. He retains his seat on Transportation due to seniority.
The smartest move Straus made was to honor Tom Craddick, the longest serving member, as Dean of the House. He also named former Craddick lieutenant Beverly Woolley speaker pro tem. These were clear signals that Straus had put the hostilities of 2007 and 2009 (which culminated in his winning the speakership) behind him and that he was ready to move on.
Another shrewd move was installing Todd Hunter as chairman of Calendars. Some key Straus supporters were said to be jockeying for the position, but Hunter has the right demeanor–calm, relaxed, nonthreatening, and basically nonpartisan–to put members at ease.
One of the big questions about Straus’s appointments was whether he would forgive and forget the traumas of the speaker’s race. His supporters didn’t want him to, and he didn’t. Poor Bryan Hughes, who said that he had been threatened by Larry Phillips over redistricting and pulled his pledge to Straus, is on Agriculture & Livestock and Human Services. Straus’s rival for the speakership, Ken Paxton, is on County Affairs and Urban Affairs. Phil King is on Elections and Urban Affairs. Leo Berman is on Elections. You might think that is exactly where Berman would want to be, but the real Elections committee is the House Select Committee on Voter Identification and Voter Fraud, chaired by Dennis Bonnen. Sorry, Leo. And sorry to Larry Taylor, too, who is chairman of Elections and won’t get to do anything meaningful. Many Straus loyalists think that Taylor could, and should, have stopped the Republican caucus straw poll for speaker.
Another interesting committee is Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence. The chairman is former Dallas County commisioner Jim Jackson, an odd choice, it seems to me. The committee has handled tort-reform issues in the past, but the 8-3 Republican majority suggests that issues championed by Texans for Lawsuit Reform are ticketed for quick passage or oblivion. Most likely, it’s the former.
A few weeks ago, while chairmanships were very much the subject of speculation, I raised the possibility that Mike “Tuffy” Hamilton might be the choice for chairman of Licensing & Administrative Procedures. My argument at the time was that Hamilton represented a Republican area that might support gaming–Orange and Jefferson counties. If you put a resort casino on Pleasure Island [corrected from “Treasure Island” in an earlier version] in Port Arthur, that would end the exodus to Lake Charles every weekend and keep gambling dollars in Texas. Well, Hamilton got the chairmanship, and the anti-Louisiana strategy still makes sense to me.
The most interesting new chairman is Harvey Hildebran at Ways & Means. He has always wanted to be a player, but he has been relegated to second-string positions. This is his big chance. If the Republicans are ever going to raise revenue, this will be the year. He is also on State Affairs. If Hildrebran is ever going to have a breakout year, this is the time.
What about members who are underutilized? Start with Rafael Anchia. He’s on Land & Resource Management and Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services. The latter is his area of expertise, but still, this is one of the top talents in the House, and he’s relegated to the back benches. Charlie Howard paid the price for supporting Paxton. He’s on Energy Resources, Agriculture & Livestock, and Rules & Resolutions.
Don’t count on seeing a lot of Borris Miles. The inner-city Houston rep is on Agriculture & Livestock. The Democratic party switchers, Ritter and Pena, apparently caught the late train. Ritter remains chairman of Natural Resources. Pena has the chairmanship of Technology.
I don’t see much for Straus’s critics to harp on. He has loaded up on Republican chairs, strengthened the Appropriations committee, and banished his enemies to the dark corners of the Capitol. This guy knows what he is doing.