The Texas GOP has abandoned an effort to issue an official statement on the 84th legislative session, divided over a proposed resolution that initially would have accused individual lawmakers of standing in the way of gun rights legislation.
The resolution that named legislators never made it out of a committee of the State Republican Executive Committee (SREC), and the full body never voted on a version of it with softer language. But the very prospect of it riled some party leaders, sparking heated debate about the committee's role in the Capitol and seriously complicating party fundraising in at least one instance.
As proposed at the committee level, the resolution would have rebuked four Republican lawmakers for "their refusal to allow Constitutional Carry legislation or amendments to be heard in any form or otherwise debated on the merits of the issue at any time during the 84th session of the Texas Legislature." "Constitutional carry" is the unlicensed carrying of firearms. The legislators named included House Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio, Rep. Dennis Bonnen of Angleton, Rep. Larry Phillips of Sherman and Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston.
During discussion of the resolution at the SREC's June 6 meeting, chairman Tom Mechler confirmed that a vendor whose fundraising work the party was soliciting had pulled out the day before after catching wind of the resolution.
"One of the most critical ones walked away because of the potential [of] the party taking a controversial position with respect to the way the legislative session went and [because the vendor] was concerned that that was going to create huge issues for that individual’s firm," Mechler said. "Could be as much as a million-dollar impact to the party."
Mechler later characterized the vendor's reasoning as: "I cannot raise money for the party because it's basically going to be used as a tool to attack incumbents."
The party's fundraising operation is at a critical point. Mechler is looking to recruit a fundraiser who can position the party well for the 2016 presidential race, mainly with the help of high-dollar donors. Some of those deep-pocketed Texans, Mechler reminded SREC members, are "already very skittish because of some things that have happened by the party in the past, attacking leadership, and so they're very, very cautious."
The version of the resolution that identified the four lawmakers did not make it out of an SREC committee. And after hours of debate by the full body on June 6, attempts to make it less pointed led to the SREC scuttling an official statement on the session altogether. The SREC ultimately voted 31-28 not to take a position on the session.
Referring to the original resolution, Texas GOP spokesman Aaron Whitehead said Saturday it was clear many members were uncomfortable with the "SREC being used as a device for someone else's agenda, essentially."
“It was an idea that was proposed, but ultimately the full body of the SREC decided that it wasn’t a good idea and that it was clear to the body as a whole, through the vote, that that wasn’t the proper function of the SREC," Whitehead said.
Jeremy Blosser, the SREC member from Senate District 10 who authored the original resolution, was unapologetic at the June 6 meeting. Before the SREC voted not to weigh in on the session, he told members he still would have opposed an altered version of the resolution that offered a largely positive assessment of the session.
"At this point, adopting a resolution that only commends the Legislature for what they did — they did some good things, sure, but only referencing those things is insult to injury," Blosser said. "It is the exact opposite of listening to what that base is asking for."
Earlier in the meeting, the debate over the resolution gave way to a broader discussion of how the party should work its will at the Capitol. Some members sounded concerned that the resolution ran counter to its efforts to support GOP legislators.
"We are here to build the party, we are here to represent our districts in that manner, and I do not think that we should be — no matter how strongly you feel about it — taking sides on legislation publicly," said Janet Jackson, an SREC member from Senate District 22. "There is a means of doing that which is called the next election."
Other SREC members argued the resolution represented an appropriate expression of the GOP base that the SREC is tasked with representing.
Lawmakers "need to know they cannot do this and there is no consequence," said Bonnie Lugo, an SREC member from Senate District 13.
The SREC debate played out a week before Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law open carry and campus carry legislation that some gun-rights activists say does not go far enough. Some lawmakers, most prominently Rep. Jonathan Stickland of Bedford, have promised to return next session with a renewed push for constitutional carry.