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Deconstructing House Committees

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The question is whether Craddick made a good-faith effort to treat members fairly in making committee assignments. There are two ways to look at this. One is individually. Did Craddick retaliate against members who challenged him for speaker? This is what is likely to get all the attention. But the other way to examine the fairness of committee appointments is collectively. This is what SHOULD get all the attention. In a House in which Republicans have a narrow 6 vote majority (81-69), Democrats have been effectively shut out from being able to shape major legislation in committee. The reason is that Craddick packed the most important committees with Republicans and the least important committees with Democrats. In what I consider to be the nine most important committees, Republicans have a 66-31 edge on Democrats:

Appropriations: 18R, 11D
Environmental Reg: 5R, 2D
Financial Institutions: 5R, 2D
Natural Resources: 6R, 3D (including Puente, chairman)
Public Education: 6R, 3D
Public Health: 5R, 4D
Regulated Industries: 6R, 3D
State Affairs: 7R, 2D
Transportation: 8R, 1D

Now let’s look at ten of the least important committees. Here Democrats outnumber Republicans, 54-26, including one committee on which the balance is 9-0:

Border and International Affairs: 4D, 3R
Corrections: 4D, 3R
County Affairs: 6D, 3R
Criminal Jurisprudence: 7D, 2R
Defense Affairs and State-Federal Relations: 7D, 2R
Economic Development: 4D, 3R
Judiciary: 5D, 4R
Juvenile Justice: 9D, 0R
Law Enforcement: 4D, 3R
Urban Affairs: 4D, 3R

The division of committees is completely partisan. And things get worse when you consider that the Democrats who did get on major committees are, for the most part, back-benchers or younger members, with the exception of Hochberg on Public Ed, Coleman on Public Health, Gallego on Natural Resources, and Oliveira and Turner on Regulated Industries. The two Democrats on State Affairs, for example, are Jessica Farrar and Marc Veasey.

[ADDED, 1/29 12:42 a.m. Undoubtedly some Republicans believe that Tom Craddick treated Democrats no worse than Pete Laney treated Republicans. William Lutz of the Lone Star Report sent in this comment, to which I replied:

Lutz: How is the partisan makeup of key committees any different from [what] Pete Laney did to the Republicans? Consider the following from 2001, when the Democrats held a razor-thin majority:
Appropriations 18-9D
Calendars 7-4D
Public Education 6-3D
Public Health 7-2D
State Affairs 8-7R
Transportation 6-3D

Yes, Tom Craddick gave Republicans control of the major policy committees. That isn’t any different from what Bob Bullock and Pete Laney did when they were in charge.

To which I responded:
William Lutz is the extremely astute editor of the Lone Star Report. However, there is a world of difference between Laney’s appointments in 01 and Craddick’s in 07. All of Craddick’s major committees have solid R majorities. Under Laney, two major committees in 01 had Republican majorities–State Affairs and Ways & Means. Three Appropriations subcommittees were chaired by Republicans (Pitts, Heflin, Delisi). The Democrats Craddick gave plum assignments to were, for the most part, back-benchers. Laney empowered the most effective Republicans. State Affairs included Brimer, Craddick, Marchant, and McCall. Ways & Means included McCall, Bonnen, Craddick (note how good Craddick’s committee assignments were), Heflin, Keffer, and Hartnett. Brimer, McCall, and Gary Walker were on Calendars. Delisi and Wohlgemuth were on Public Health. Chisum, Bonnen, and Geren were on Environmental Affairs. Public Education was stacked in favor of the Ds, no question about that, and so was Civil Practices (to block tort reform) but in other major committees, Republicans had ample opportunity to affect major legislation–and did. As for Bullock, he made Bill Ratliff chairman of Education, and Ratliff rewrote the education code. David Sibley was in charge of tort reform as chairman of Economic Development. Buster Brown had Natural Resources. The Rs were the major players in the Senate. END OF ADDITION]

Now let’s look at how individuals were treated. First, the penalty box:
* Jim Pitts. The losing speaker candidate issued a statement accusing Craddick of engaging in retaliation, because the speaker did not give him his preferences (Appropriations as chairman, subcommittee chairman, or member; or chairman of Government Reform) and tried to get Pitts to forfeit his seniority on Ways & Means. (Craddick’s spokesperson Alexis DeLee says that Pitts was offered a seat on Appropriations.) I’m sorry, but Pitts does not deserve any sympathy. First, he tried to kill the king, and if you try to kill the king and fail, the king is going to kill you. The member Craddick had the most right to retaliate against was Pitts. Second, his preferences were far too grandiose. Chairman of Appropriations, or of a subcommittee? Pitts surely knew that these were impossible. To request a major position was to set Craddick up for criticism.
* Brian McCall. The original challenger to Craddick lost his seat on Calendars. He’s on Financial Institutions and Higher Ed.
* Charlie Geren. A leading strategist for the McCall/Pitts challenge, he lost his seat on Natural Resources and was demoted to Land and Resource Management. He remained on Licensing and Administrative Procedures. Not a large price to pay.
* Senfronia Thompson. The first member to announce for speaker against Craddick, she remained on Insurance and moved from one secondary committee to another.
* Tommy Merritt. The only Republican who never pledged to Craddick, he was banished to Border & International Affairs and Defense & State-Federal Relations. Oh, wait. He had already been banished to those committees last session.
* Armando Martinez. He publicly withdrew his support from Craddick over the speaker’s failed power play for a random roll call vote for speaker. It cost him the seat on Appropriations that Craddick had given him as a freshman in 2005.
* Mike Villareal. Another defector from the Craddick pledge list, he lost his seat on Ways & Means.
* Craig Eiland. He lost his chairmanship of Pensions & Investments. And he didn’t complain about it.
* Robert Talton. A defector to Brian McCall, he lost his chairmanship of Urban Affairs.

I don’t see that there was a lot of retaliation here. The two questions to ask about retaliation are (1) Is it warranted? and (2) Is it excessive? In all of these cases, it was warranted, and in none does it seem excessive. Pitts had already given up hope of retaining his chairmanship before entering the speaker’s race. He was an excellent chairman, but he wanted more latitude in making decisions than Craddick was willing to give him. I think Craddick will regret taking Eiland off of Pensions & Investments entirely; Vicki Truitt is a rookie chairman in a very complicated area and could use the help.

In some cases where retaliation might have been warranted, members avoided the penalty box:
* Chuck Hopson. Like Armando Martinez, he withdrew his pledge from Craddick over the proposed (but never implemented) roll call vote for speaker. Unlike Martinez, he kept his seat on Appropriations.
* Rick Noriega. An outspoken critic of Craddick in past sessions, he was given a seat on Appropriations.
* Debbie Riddle. She defected from Craddick to McCall, and then defected back to Craddick. She got a seat on Appropriations.
* Lon Burnam. One of only four members to vote against Craddick’s election as speaker in 2005, the Fort Worth Democrat was exiled to the Agriculture & Livestock committee. This year he is on Elections and Pensions & Investments.

To sum up, Craddick was unfair, bordering on ruthless, in his exclusion of Democrats from major committees. But he did not engage in wholesale retaliation, and when he did retaliate, he was justified.

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