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Guest Column: The 2013 Texas House, From Right to Left

What happens when you examine every single nonlopsided vote by the Texas House during the regular and special sessions earlier this year? You have a way to rank them from most conservative to most liberal.

By Mark P. Jones
Mark P. Jones

Editor's note: Mark P. Jones, chairman of Rice University's political science department, has updated his rankings of Texas state representatives based on their votes during this year’s regular and special sessions. Some things you might already suspect, like the fact that Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, was statistically the most conservative voter in the House this year and that Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, was the most liberal voter. Who was on the border line? Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City was the most conservative Democratic voter, and Sarah Davis of West University Place was the most liberal Republican voter. A copy of the full rankings and charts is attached.

Liberals and Conservatives in the Texas House: The 2013 Ranking

Political scientists have long used roll call votes cast by members of Congress to plot their records on the Liberal-Conservative dimension along which most legislative politics now takes place. This ranking of the Texas House draws on the 836 nonlopsided roll call votes taken during the 2013 regular session and the first, second and third special sessions. As with previous rankings, this one uses a Bayesian estimation procedure developed by Stanford University professor Simon Jackman.


In the figures included here (one containing all representatives and two containing only Republicans or Democrats), Republicans are indicated by red dots and Democrats by blue ones. The charts are based on the roll call vote analysis and for each legislator provide a mean ideal point, referred to below as the Lib-Con Score, along with the 95 percent credible interval (CI) for this point estimate. If two legislators’ CIs overlap, their positions on the ideological spectrum might be statistically equivalent, even if their Lib-Con Scores are different.

In addition, a table contains each representative’s Lib-Con Score and rank-ordered position on the Liberal-Conservative dimension, ranging from 1 (most liberal) to 149 (most conservative). House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, who doesn’t ordinarily vote, is not included here. The table also details the ideological location of the representative vis-à-vis his/her copartisans. Within each party, every representative’s ideological location was compared with that of his/her colleagues within the party, and then placed into one of seven mutually exclusive, albeit arbitrary, ordinal ideological categories going from left to right:

1. More Liberal/Less Conservative than 2/3

2. More Liberal/Less Conservative than 1/2

3. More Liberal/Less Conservative than 1/3

4. Center

5. More Conservative than 1/3

6. More Conservative than 1/2

7. More Conservative than 2/3

For example, representatives in the More Conservative than 1/2 category possess a Lib-Con Score and 95 percent CI that locates them at a position noticeably more conservative than 1/2 of their co-partisans. Similarly, representatives in the Center category are neither significantly more liberal/less conservative than 1/3 of their co-partisans nor significantly more conservative than 1/3.

It is crucial to keep in mind that conservatives can register Lib-Con Scores that are noticeably lower than those of most of their fellow Republicans while remaining conservative. It merely signifies that they have voting records that are less conservative than that of most of their fellow Republicans.

For example, Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, has a Lib-Con Score that is more conservative than that of every Democrat and significantly more conservative than that of 53 of the 55 Democrats. Unlike almost all of her GOP colleagues, for whom the November 2014 election is mostly an afterthought, Davis represents one of the state’s small number of swing districts, a seat a Republican with a more conservative voting record would quite likely lose to a liberal Democrat. Of course, in spite of the data presented here, if the 2012 campaign is any guide, it should come as no great surprise if Davis’ 2014 Democratic challenger nevertheless accuses her of being an "extreme conservative."


The 94 members of the Republican House caucus vary considerably in their locations across the conservative side of the ideological spectrum. The delegation ranges from Jonathan Stickland of Bedford, Matt Schaefer of Tyler and Matt Krause of Fort Worth at one end, to John Zerwas of Richmond, J.D. Sheffield of Gatesville and Davis at the other.

Five Republican representatives currently are running for higher office. Perhaps reflective of the reality of Republican Party primary dynamics today, each of the five has a 2013 Lib-Con Score to the right of the Republican median.

The least conservative of this very conservative bunch, attorney general candidate Dan Branch of Dallas, is located in the Republican Center, with a Lib-Con Score higher (more conservative) than that of 47 of his 93 Republican colleagues. To his right are, adjacent in the ranking, Railroad Commission candidate Stefani Carter of Dallas and comptroller candidate Harvey Hilderbran of Kerrville. Both Carter and Hilderbran have Lib-Con Scores significantly more conservative than those of 1/3 of their fellow Republicans and are in the second-most-conservative quintile of Republican representatives.

Brandon Creighton of Conroe, who presently is running for agriculture commissioner but could switch to the recently opened Senate District 4 (running from Conroe in Montgomery County to Port Arthur in Jefferson County), is among the two dozen most conservative representatives in the 2013 House. Creighton has a Lib-Con Score significantly to the right of more than half of the GOP caucus he chairs. State Senate candidate Van Taylor of Plano ranks among the dozen most conservative members of the House. For Republican primary voters in Senate District 8 (covering portions of Collin and Dallas counties) who want their next senator to be cast from the same very conservative mold as outgoing Senator Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, Taylor would appear to be a close match.


The Democratic Party delegation ranges from a very liberal bloc represented by Nicole Collier of Fort Worth, Justin Rodriguez of San Antonio and Mary González of Clint to a more centrist bloc consisting of Tracy King of Batesville, Joe Pickett of El Paso and Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City. Overall, the 55-member Democratic Party House delegation is notably more ideologically homogenous than its GOP counterpart.

More than half (32) of the House Democrats are located in the Democratic Center, meaning their Lib-Con Score is neither significantly more liberal than one-third, nor more conservative than one-third, of their co-partisans. In contrast with the GOP delegation, where exactly half of the members are significantly more or less conservative than at least one-half of their colleagues, a scant four Democrats are significantly more liberal than one-half or more of their fellow Democrats and a mere six significantly more conservative than one-half.

Tarrant County

Among the most populous Texas counties, the 11-member (eight Republicans and three Democrats) Tarrant County delegation stands out as the most polarized county delegation. Of the six most conservative representatives in 2013, four are from Tarrant County: Stickland, Krause, Giovanni Capriglione of Southlake and Bill Zedler of Arlington. Ideologically proximate to this ultra-conservative quartet are Craig Goldman of Fort Worth (13th most conservative) and Stephanie Klick of Fort Worth (17th most conservative).

On the other side of the aisle, the Tarrant Democrats are without exception quite liberal. They include the House’s most liberal member, Collier, its 11th-most-liberal member, Lon Burnam of Fort Worth (who had the House’s most liberal voting record in 2011) and its 14th-most-liberal member, Chris Turner of Grand Prairie.

Only Republicans Charlie Geren of Fort Worth and Diane Patrick of Arlington, who are located in the least-conservative quintile of the GOP caucus, would appear to be unaffected by the current polarizing properties of Tarrant County.

Mark P. Jones is the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy’s Fellow in Political Science, the Joseph D. Jamail Chair in Latin American Studies and the chairman of the Department of Political Science at Rice University.

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