The last time the House got committees, Texas had a different speaker who was in his fifth term in office, running a chamber where his party had been in control for over 100 years. Turnover in the membership was slight, and the changes in committee assignments were slim.
The change could hardly be more jolting. Speaker Tom Craddick, the first Republican in charge since the 12th legislative session (this is the 78th session, and they only occur every two years), is also working with a seating chart that changed considerably as a result of elections and retirements. Almost half of the lawmakers named to chair committees two years ago didn't come back for this session; those who did were put there by Speaker Pete Laney, and many of them lost their positions when Laney lost his. Only two members—John Smithee, R-Amarillo, and Al Edwards, D-Houston, will return to chair the same committees they chaired last session.
Start at the top of the chart, where the money is. The new members of the Legislative Budget Board from the House side are Talmadge Heflin, R-Houston; Ron Wilson, D-Houston; Fred Hill, R-Dallas; and Vilma Luna, D-Corpus Christi. Heflin and Wilson are there because they chair Appropriations and Ways & Means, respectively. Craddick, who is vice chair of the LBB, appointed Luna and Hill to fill out the House side of that panel.
The LBB is chaired by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and the senators on the panel are Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, chairman of Finance; and Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, chairman of State Affairs. Dewhurst hasn't named his two appointees, and until he does, Sens. John Whitmire, D-Houston; and Chris Harris, R-Arlington—who were put in place before Dewhurst took over—will remain on the panel.
Craddick named that and other committees in a short session at the end of the week, announcing the lists and banging the gavel so everyone could consider the new lineup on their own and calm down a little bit before coming back next week to gripe about it. That said, he got generally high marks from members, who said the assignments were hard on some and a boon to others, more or less in accordance with each member's position on Craddick's charts of political friends and foes.
Democrats who stuck closely to Laney were busted, along with Laney himself. Those who jumped to Craddick at important times in his bid for the job were rewarded, particularly if they were Democrats. And the freshman class did better than any in memory. After all, the Republicans who make up the vast majority of the 36 new members of the House disproportionately bonded with Craddick; he wouldn't be speaker without a Republican majority in the House and, more specifically, without the large Craddick-supporting freshman class.
Within hours of the committee assignments, the Legislature started looking like it's in session. Budget hearings—testy ones—began in the Senate this week. Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, is pushing hard on legislation that would put a 2005 expiration date on the state's school finance laws. He'll start hearings next week as part of an effort to force lawmakers to fix the system sometime in the next two years. Taxpayers don't like it, and the policy wonks say the system—a statewide school system based largely on local taxes—will collapse in a couple of years under its own weight.
Blowing up Robin Hood would likely force lawmakers to rework state taxes, and that has been the bug in the soup all along: To date, legislators haven't hated the school finance scheme as much as they have hated the idea of voting on big changes to state taxes. Grusendorf—who is backed by the new management of the House—is going to try to force some action. But first:
• Agriculture & Livestock: Rick Hardcastle, R-Vernon, chair; Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, vice chair; Betty Brown, R-Terrell, CBO; David Swinford, R-Dumas; Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth; Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock; J.E. "Pete" Laney, D-Hale Center. Note: Burnam isn't exactly from a rural district, and doesn't even eat red meat. He was the lone vote against Craddick.
• Appropriations: Talmadge Heflin, R-Houston, chair; Vilma Luna, D-Corpus Christi, vice chair; Leo Berman, R-Tyler; Dan Branch, R-Dallas; Fred Brown, R-College Station; B. Brown; Myra Crownover, R-Denton; John Davis, R-Houston; Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont; Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin; Craig Eiland, D-Galveston; Dan Ellis, D-Livingston; Robert Gutierrez, D-McAllen; Peggy Hamric, R-Houston; Ruben Hope, R-Conroe; Suzanna Gratia Hupp, R-Lampasas; Carl Isett, R-Lubbock; Elizabeth Ames Jones, R-San Antonio; Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham; Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio; Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio; Joe Pickett, D-El Paso; Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie; Richard Raymond, D-Laredo; Jim Solis, D-Harlingen; Jack Stick, R-Austin; Vicki Truitt, R-Grapevine; Sylvester Turner, D-Houston; Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson.
Craddick upset some of the outgoing leadership by killing off the seniority appointments to this most powerful of House panels, then broke with tradition by naming two freshmen (Branch and Stick) to it over more tenured folk. We'll save you the count: There are 17 Republicans and 12 Democrats.
Heflin started his tenure by saying his Appropriations Committee would hold a week of hearings on the overall budget picture, then break into subcommittees to work on different areas of the spending plan. He said he expects to have a budget ready for the full House by early- to mid-April—about ten weeks from now.
A note: CBOs are committee budget officers, who automatically get seats on the Appropriations Committee. Like those of the chair and vice chair of a committee, the CBO's appointment isn't subject to seniority; the top three spots on most committees are completely in the speaker's hands.
• Border & International Affairs: Norma Chavez, D-El Paso, chair; Bob Griggs, R-North Richland Hills, vice chair; Debbie Riddle, R-Houston; Gabi Canales, D-Alice; Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio; Tommy Merritt, R-Longview; Irma Rangel, D-Kingsville. The Border gets some attention with this new panel, but with no CBO, no voice on Appropriations. No member of this group is in that group. Griggs is one of several tenderfeet named to leadership spots.
• Business & Industry: Helen Giddings, D-Dallas, chair; Gary Elkins, R-Houston, vice chair; Kolkhorst, CBO; Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio; Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton; Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston; Joe Moreno, D-Houston; Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville; Bill Zedler, R-Arlington.
• Calendars: Beverly Woolley, R-Houston, chair; Wohlgemuth, vice chair; Wayne Christian, R-Center; Hupp; Luna; Jerry Madden, R-Richardson; Menendez; Gene Seaman, R-Corpus Christi; Barry Telford, D-DeKalb; Truitt; Turner. A demotion for Telford, formerly the chair. This committee is historically a practical extension of the speaker's office: The count here is 7 Republicans, 4 Democrats.
• Civil Practices: Joe Nixon, R-Houston, chair; Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown, vice chair; Woolley; Jaime Capelo, D-Corpus Christi; Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas; Will Hartnett, R-Dallas; Phil King, R-Weatherford; Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock; Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs. Nixon, a Republican trial lawyer, heads a panel weighted strongly to tort reformers. Gattis, the vice chair, is a freshman.
• Corrections: Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie, chair; Chuck Hopson, D-Jacksonville, vice chair; Stick, CBO; Jessica Farrar, D-Houston; Pat Haggerty, R-El Paso; Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas; John Mabry, D-Waco. Haggerty and Farrar were chair and vice chair last session under the old management. Prisons make up a big part of the state budget; Stick, the committee's liaison to Appropriations, is a freshman.
• County Affairs: Glenn Lewis, D-Fort Worth, chair; Wayne Smith, R-Baytown; Carter Casteel, R-New Braunfels; David Farabee, D-Wichita Falls; Warren Chisum, R-Pampa; Farrar; Dan Flynn, R-Canton; Dora Olivo, D-Rosenberg; Chente Quintanilla, D-El Paso. Lewis, one of the first Democrats to join Craddick's campaign for speaker, was vice chair last session. Smith is new this session.
And More House Committees
• Criminal Jurisprudence: Terry Keel, R-Austin, chair; Riddle, vice chair; Ellis, CBO; Jim Dunnam, D-Waco; Terri Hodge, D-Dallas; Mary Denny, R-Aubrey; Paul Moreno, D-El Paso; Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg; Robert Talton, R-Pasadena. Riddle was elected in a special election after last session, but is effectively a freshman and is part of the incoming class of representatives who put Craddick in front. Dunnam, the vice chair last session, got busted but used seniority to stay on the panel.
• Defense Affairs & State-Federal Relations: Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, chair; Scott Campbell, R-San Angelo, vice-chair; Berman, CBO; Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple; Seaman; Mabry; Merritt; P. Moreno; Rick Noriega, D-Houston. Campbell is another of the freshmen in the second seat.
• Economic Development: Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, chair; Mark Homer, D-Paris, vice chair; Isett, CBO; Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin; Bryan Hughes, R-Marshall; Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston; Martha Wong, R-Houston. Keffer was vice chair under Laney.
• Elections: Denny, chair; Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, vice chair; Deshotel, CBO; Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio; Bohac; Garnet Coleman, D-Houston; Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving. This is a complete flip from last session, when Democrats held the reins here.
• Energy Resources: G.E. "Buddy" West, R-Odessa, chair; Farabee, vice chair; E. Jones, CBO; Joe Crabb, R-Humble; Canales; Delisi; Bill Keffer, R-Dallas.
• Environmental Regulation: Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, chair; Edmund Kuempel, R-Seguin, vice chair; Crownover, CBO; Chisum; Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Mission; W. Smith; West. Kuempel, like all of the Republicans who made unsuccessful runs for speaker, is now a vice chair. Chisum was chairman last session, and Bonnen was in the second chair.
• Financial Institutions: Solomons, chair; Christian, vice chair; Gutierrez, CBO; Hopson; Flynn; Ken Paxton, R-McKinney; Miguel "Mike" Wise, D-Weslaco. Solomons moves up from vice chair.
• General Investigating: Kevin Bailey, D-Houston, chair; Paxton, vice chair; Harold Dutton, D-Houston; Flynn; Keel. Paxton is new this year. Bailey is one of only two Anglo Democrats chairing committees under Craddick, who used the committee assignments, where he could, to reward minority Democrats who helped him get elected.
• Government Reform: Swinford, chair; Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, vice chair; Allen; Bill Callegari, R-Katy; Casteel; Robby Cook, D-Eagle Lake; Todd Smith, R-Euless. A bust for Gallego, who was a chairman and a key part of Laney's leadership team. This is a new committee and is supposed to run more or less in parallel with a similar new creation on the Senate side.
• Higher Education: Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, chair; Rangel, vice chair; F. Brown, CBO; Jesse Jones, D-Dallas; Nixon; Chavez; Giddings; Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio; John Smithee, R-Amarillo. Rangel was chair in the last administration; Brown was vice chair.
• House Administration: Hamric, chair; Lewis, vice chair; Berman; Glenda Dawson, R-Pearland; Denny; Elkins; Giddings; Mercer; Robert Puente, D-San Antonio; Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood; West. Another committee that runs as an extension of the speaker's office: If you control office space and budgets and parking spaces, you have the attention of the members.
• Human Services: Uresti, chair; Elliott Naishtat, vice chair; Wohlgemuth, CBO; Villarreal; Christian; Brian McCall, R-Plano; Miller; Olivo; Elvira Reyna, R-Mesquite. This committee's purview includes a big chunk of the budget and an area that's likely to see some cuts. Democrats are in charge, but Wohlgemuth, the CBO, is arguably in the power position here.
• Insurance: Smithee, chair; Seaman, vice chair; Eiland, CBO; Gallego; Thompson; Bonnen; B. Keffer; Taylor; Corbin Van Arsdale, R-Houston. Smithee, who has made a specialty of arcane insurance regulation, is one of only two holdover chairmen from last session to this one.
• Judicial Affairs: Hartnett; chair; T. Smith, vice chair; Solis, CBO; Alonzo; Corte; Hughes; Rodriguez; Telford; Ron Wilson, D-Houston. Harnett was vice chair two years ago.
Still More House Committees
• Juvenile Justice & Family Issues: Dutton, chair; Toby Goodman, R-Arlington, vice chair; Reyna; Todd Baxter, R-Austin; Castro; Dunnam; Hodge; J. Moreno; Morrison. This is a demotion for Goodman, who was chairman last year. He was one of a handful of Republicans frequently mentioned in the speaker's race against Craddick last year.
• Land & Resource Management: Anna Mowery, R-Fort Worth, chair; J. Jones, vice chair; Pickett, CBO; Tony Goolsby, R-Dallas; Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City; Haggerty; Scott Hochberg, D-Houston; Howard; Noriega.
• Law Enforcement: Joe Driver, R-Garland, chair; Timoteo Garza, D-Del Rio, vice chair; Hupp, CBO; Burnam; Y. Davis; Glenn Hegar Jr., R-Katy; Keel. A freshman vice chair.
• Licensing & Administrative Procedures: Flores, chair; Mike "Tuffy" Hamilton, R-Mauriceville, vice chair; Raymond, CBO; Goolsby; D. Jones; Wise; Driver; Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands; Homer. Another newbie in the copilot position. Look how Laredo came out: Raymond is on Appropriations here, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini is vice chair of Senate Finance.
• Local & Consent Calendars: Reyna, chair; Deshotel, vice chair; Baxter; Callegari; R. Cook; Hope; Howard; E. Jones; Kolkhorst; Rose; Solis.
• Local Government Ways & Means: Fred Hill, R-Richardson, chair; Hegar, vice chair; Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker; Jim McReynolds, D-San Augustine; Mowery; Puente; Quintanilla. Hegar is another of the high-ranking freshmen and part of a weird footnote: He's listed on this committee as one of the speaker's seniority appointments, though he's been in office less than a month. The other one? Laubenberg, another tenderfoot.
• Natural Resources: Puente, chair; Callegari, vice chair; Hope, CBO; R. Cook; Hardcastle; Campbell; Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth; Hamilton; Steve Wolens, D-Dallas. A major reward for Puente, among the Democrats who risked the wrath of their colleagues by supporting Craddick.
• Pensions & Investments: Allan Ritter, D-Nederland, chair; Telford; McClendon, CBO; Grusendorf; Martinez Fischer; Peña; Rose. Look at the headcount: Six Democrats, one Republican.
• Public Education: Grusendorf, chair; Oliveira, vice chair; Branch, CBO; Dutton; Dawson; Eissler; Griggs; Hochberg; Madden. The first mild surprise is that Hochberg, probably the Democrat with the best grasp of education policy, didn't get forced out. Republicans argued internally about it and decided to keep his expertise and risk his opposition. The second surprise is that the CBO for the committee that will talk about blowing up the school finance system is a freshman and is from Highland Park, a wealthy school district that has sued the state over school funding.
• Public Health: Capelo, chair; Laubenberg, vice chair; Truitt, CBO; Coleman; McReynolds; Dawson; Naishtat; Taylor; Zedler. A freshman in the second chair, and a Republican CBO on a committee that will be looking at big-dollar programs for possible budget cuts.
• Redistricting: Crabb, chair; Villarreal, vice chair; Flores; Grusendorf; Isett; King; Krusee; Luna; Marchant; McClendon; Morrison; Pitts; Raymond; Talton; Wilson. This committee is solidly stacked for the Republicans, who have nine members to six, and several Craddick backers among the Democrats. National Republicans want to see a new congressional redistricting plan—it could pass this panel.
• Regulated Industries: King, chair; Hunter, vice chair; Turner, CBO; Wolens; Baxter; Crabb; Guillen. Wolens and, to a lesser extent, Turner, have been the House's leaders on utility issues during the last few sessions, and this committee is where that stuff will go.
• Rules & Resolutions: Al Edwards, D-Houston, chair; Wong, vice chair; Bohac; Canales; Casteel; Byron Cook, R-Corsicana; Eissler; Hughes; B. Keffer; Quintanilla; Zedler. Edwards is the other chairman to keep his seat from the last administration; Wong is a freshman.
And Finally, House Committees
• State Affairs: Marchant, chair; Madden, vice chair; J. Davis, CBO; Elkins; Goodman; B. Cook; Gattis; Lewis; Villarreal. Among the most powerful House panels, with a 7-2 GOP advantage.
• State Cultural & Recreational Resources: Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, chair; Geren, vice chair; Dukes, CBO; Larry Phillips, R-Sherman; Bailey; B. Cook; Kuempel.
• Transportation: Krusee, chair; Phillips, vice chair; Hamric, CBO; Hill; Laney; Edwards; Garza; Harper-Brown; Mercer. Laney was a seniority appointment to this panel, which is solidly Republican.
• Urban Affairs: Talton, chair; Van Arsdale, vice chair; Menendez, CBO; Bailey; Edwards; Hunter; Wong. Your scorecard should say Houston, five; Texas, two.
• Ways & Means: Wilson, chair; McCall, vice chair; Pitts, CBO; Hilderbran; J. Keffer; Luna; Paxton; Ritter; Woolley. Wilson, an early Craddick convert, gets one of the biggest committees. McCall, a speaker candidate months ago, is a vice chair. This is where the big tax bills go.
Craddick created two select committees and named the appointees:
• State Health Care Expenditures: Delisi, chair; Gutierrez, vice chair; Wohlgemuth; Crownover; Miller; Berman; Harper-Brown; Deshotel; Capelo; Uresti; Truitt. This panel includes the chairs and CBOs from the Public Health and Human Services committees.
• Ethics: Wolens, chair; Dukes, vice chair; Gallego; Denny; Hope; Kolkhorst; Isett. Wolens and Gallego split the sheets over ethics legislation last session. Craddick has told reporters he has a list of proposals for this committee to look at.
Dewhurst Folds, Competing Reforms, Etc.
After telling Sens. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, that all insurance legislation would be going to Ratliff's State Affairs panel instead of Fraser's Business & Commerce, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst changed his mind. Fraser has been working on those issues during the interim and already had his name on some of the major insurance reform proposals. He'd been expecting to handle that legislation in the committee he chairs. And he began kicking as soon as Dewhurst made his intentions clear. Long story short: After several days of intense lobbying by Fraser, Dewhurst relented and decided to send property and casualty bills—those are the ones that involve home and auto insurance—to Fraser's committee instead of State Affairs. Other kinds of insurance legislation will apparently be sent to Ratliff, along with medical malpractice liability and other tort reform bills. Now, the spin is that the load would be too heavy for one committee, that the original plan was only a proposal, and that everyone is now singing Kumbaya.
• Fraser will be out of the chute quickly with legislation requiring insurers to show regulators the data they use to set rates. Those insurers are stingy with that data, and regulators want to know if the rates they're charging are really and truly justified. That's the first bill Fraser's committee will look at before considering proposals that would change the way the state governs insurance rates. On the House side, Rep. Steve Wolens, D-Dallas, filed insurance legislation that would put the state back in full control of the premiums charged for home insurance. If his bills carry the day, insurance companies won't be able to charge higher rates until state regulators say so. One leading alternative to that idea—an alternative less likely to trouble the sleep of insurance execs—is called "file and use." It allows companies to inform the state when they want to change rates and then to put those rates into effect if the state hasn't objected within 60 days.
• State budgeteers plan to start putting numbers into the budget in two weeks and have asked state agencies not only to save money for this year, but also to redo their budget requests for the 2004-05 budget. There are, to be brief, three things in play. First, they need to find money—probably by "borrowing" money from the next budget—to cover cash flow problems expected in August. Second, they're looking at an emergency appropriation bill to cover higher-than-expected costs in the current budget; that bill's total would be added to the current expected year-end deficit of $1.8 billion. And thirdly, they've got state agencies ranking their needs for this year, and then for the next two years.
Political People and Their Moves
We didn't forget: Speaker Tom Craddick crossed the aisle to name Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, speaker pro tempore... One of the state's migrant political workers is migrating a long way this time: Democrat James Gaston is going to work for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, an outfit that will station him in Romania for the next 12 months (and maybe longer) to coach the locals on politics... Former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby has joined the board of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a research outfit focused on issues affecting low-income Texans... The state's two U.S. senators recommended four Texans to President George W. Bush for nomination to open spots in federal courts: Lee Yeakel, a judge on the 3rd Court of Appeals, is their choice for Judge James Nowlin's job; Nowlin will take senior status later this year. They recommended state district judges Kathleen Cardone of El Paso and Frank Montalvo of San Antonio for newly created federal judgeships in El Paso. And for a new spot on the bench in Beaumont, they've tapped Marcia Crone, a magistrate judge in Houston. If Bush concurs, he'll appoint the four and send their names to the U.S. Senate for confirmation... Newsletter news: Mike Hailey, who was a newspaper reporter before a stretch of working for the late Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock and then for the Texas Democratic Party, is back in the reporting business. He's starting an online newsletter called Capitol Inside, and you can peek at it at www.capitolinside.com... Meanwhile, the Lone Star Report is losing one of its writers, at least for a while. James Cooley is taking a leave from that outfit to work as an aide to the new House panel on state health care, chaired by Rep. Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple. Cooley plans to rejoin the newsletter after working in the Legislature, which the newsletter covers... Deaths: Maury Maverick Jr., 82, a San Antonio legend who served in the Texas House, wrote a newspaper column and worked as an attorney and activist for liberal causes.
Quotes of the Week
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, blasting state revenue estimators for a forecast that missed the mark and left the state with a $1.8 billion deficit: "If they give an award for accuracy this year, you all had better hope they grade on the curve."
Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, scolding the same folks for not telling lawmakers earlier that projections of a shortfall in the next budget had doubled to about $10 billion: "We don't need any smoke and mirrors or hiding the balls."
Gov. Rick Perry, speaking to a group of editorial writers, quoted in the San Antonio Express-News, on businesses organized so that they don't have to pay franchise taxes: "The burden to fund our schools and hospitals and infrastructure should not be shouldered by some and shirked by others. The way I look at it, it's not a new tax if you should have been paying it all along."
Speaker Tom Craddick, talking to the Texas Association of Business about school finance reform: "If we don't do it during the regular session, I think the groundswell across the state is going to be so heavy that there is going to be a special session before the next election."
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, on the choice between a tax bill and using the state's Rainy Day fund: "If it's not raining right now financially, I don't know when it's ever going to rain."
Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, explaining legislation that would prevent lawmakers from lobbying state agencies for pay, as he himself has done: "Constituents in my district are concerned if members of the Legislature were working for them or for private clients."
Rep. Steve Wolens, D-Dallas, quoted in the Austin American-Statesman on his bill requiring insurers to get state approval to change their rates: "Since the industry became unregulated, insurance has become a mystery. It is a secret society, shrouded in secrecy with secret guidelines. I want to go back to the old days, when we did not have the highest rates in the country."
Dr. Mark McClellan, head of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, talking to an audience about how his mother, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, recently lost about 100 pounds: "Texas not only has less of a revenue projection—it has less of a comptroller."
Texas Weekly: Volume 19, Issue 30, 3 February 2003. Ross Ramsey, Editor. George Phenix, Publisher. Copyright 2003 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. One-year online subscription: $250. For information about your subscription, call (800) 611-4980 or email biz@ texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@ texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.