Moderate/conservative Texas Democrats are an endangered species in the corridors of power in Austin and Washington D.C. Within this context of conservative Democrat decline, Nick Lampson’s candidacy in CD-14 is noteworthy. In one of the state’s two competitive U.S. House races, Lampson has been endorsed by the three principal newspapers in the district, endorsements which in part are based on the respective editorial boards’ opinion that Lampson is a moderate, a sentiment echoed in Lampson’s campaign ads.
His opponent, state Rep. Randy Weber of Pearland, is one of the most conservative members of the Texas House, giving voters in the district a choice next Tuesday between one of the most conservative Democrats on the congressional ballot and a Republican who, based on his state voting record, would probably rank with some of the more conservative Republicans in Congress.
Lampson’s voting record during his five terms in the U.S. House reveals a Democrat who became increasingly conservative as his tenure progressed, according to a statistical analysis of his congressional roll call votes. If he is victorious on November 6, the data suggest Lampson would be one of the most conservative Democrats in the 113th (2013-2015) U.S. House. He would nevertheless almost certainly still be more liberal than even the least conservative Republican representative.
Lampson served five terms in Congress, first from 1997 to 2005, and then from 2007 to 2009. His DW-NOMINATE score, which locates him on the liberal-conservative dimension (with-1.0 being the liberal extreme and 1.0 the conservative extreme) along which most voting in the U.S. Congress takes place, registered a more conservative value each term he held office. Meanwhile, the number of fellow Democrats who occupied more conservative positions than Lampson simultaneously declined during each successive period. These two dynamics eventually converged to leave Lampson as one of the House’s most conservative Democrats at the time of his departure in 2009.
- In the 105th Congress (1997-1999), he had a DW-NOMINATE score of -0.33 and was the 82nd most conservative Democrat out of a total of 211 Democrats.
- In the 106th Congress (1999-2001), he had a DW-NOMINATE score of -0.25 and was the 38th most conservative Democrat out of a total of 214 Democrats.
- In the 107th Congress (2001-2003), he had a DW-NOMINATE score of -0.17 and was the 15th most conservative Democrat out of a total of 212 Democrats.
- In the 108th Congress (2003-2005), he had a DW-NOMINATE score of -0.09 and was the 5th most conservative Democrat out of a total of 208 Democrats.
- In the 110th Congress (2007-2009), he had a DW-NOMINATE score of -0.01 and was the 3rd most conservative Democrat out of a total of 241 Democrats.
- In the 110th Congress, among Democrats who served a full term, Lampson was in fact the most conservative. The only House Democrats located to his right were Don Cazayoux of Louisiana and Travis Childers of Mississippi, each of whom arrived via special elections held in May 2008.
In the 110th Congress, Lampson’s DW-NOMINATE score was more conservative at the time than those of the six Democratic House members who had the most conservative DW-NOMINATE scores during the first half of the 112th (2011-2013) Congress: Heath Shuler of North Carolina, Dan Boren of Oklahoma, John Barrow of Georgia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania, and Jim Matheson of Utah.
A review of Lampson’s DW-NOMINATE score and those of the members of the 112th (2011-2013) Congress suggests that were Lampson in the U.S. House today, he would be one of the most conservative Democrats, albeit still less conservative than even the most liberal Republican. In the event Lampson were to be elected this year, he would likely be one of the very most conservative Democrats in the next House. This is particularly the case considering four of the six above-mentioned conservative Democrats are not seeking re-election this fall, with the two who are, Barrow and Matheson, in very competitive contests.
Weber, Lampson’s Republican opponent in CD-14, has not served in the U.S. House, preventing a direct comparison of the two candidates’ respective locations on the liberal-conservative dimension. Weber does have a Texas House voting record, however, one which few would describe as moderate. During his two terms in office, Weber has ranked as the most conservative representative in 2009 (out of 75 Republicans) and the ninth most conservative in 2011 (out of 100 Republicans).
The Texas House data alone do not allow for a projection of Weber’s expected ideological location in the U.S. House. However, two sitting GOP congressmen, John Culberson of Houston and Kenny Marchant of Coppell, also served in the Texas House within the past dozen years. Furthermore, an application of the DW-NOMINATE model in Texas allows for an accurate comparison of Texas House members who served at different points in time using the same liberal-conservative scale. This analysis indicates that in their final terms in the Texas House, Culberson (1999-2001) had a DW-NOMINATE score of 0.77, while Marchant (2003-2005) had a score of 0.66. Weber’s (2011-2013) DW-NOMINATE score in this analysis was 0.91, notably higher (more conservative) than his two fellow Republicans.
While it is not possible to make any precise predictions with the data at hand, they do suggest Weber is more conservative than both Culberson and Marchant. Furthermore, in the current 112th U.S. House, Culberson and Marchant have DW-NOMINATE scores which respectively place them at a more conservative position than 156 and 189 of their 241 Republican colleagues. Clearly, neither even remotely approaches the moderate end of the House GOP ideological spectrum.
It is therefore relatively safe to assume that were Weber to be victorious in November, he would at the minimum occupy a position somewhere in the more conservative half of the House Republican caucus. This position, while not distant from the Republican leadership (Speaker John Boehner and his team), is nonetheless far removed from the dividing line which separates the moderate/conservative Democrats, such as Lampson, from the moderate/liberal Republicans in today’s increasingly polarized Congress.
It would be exceedingly difficult this fall to find a viable Democratic U.S. House candidate who is notably more conservative than Nick Lampson. However, if elected, Lampson would bring the Democratic Party one seat closer to majority status in the House, and with it, near absolute control over the House legislative agenda. Thus while Lampson is in many ways the epitome of the modern-day moderate/conservative Democrat, the U.S. House leadership he would help put into power (i.e., Nancy Pelosi and her team) holds positions on a wide array of public policies which are notably to the left of his own.
Mark P. Jones is the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy’s Fellow in Political Science and the chairman of the Department of Political Science at Rice University.