As deadline approaches, Republican Caucus pledge short on signatures

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Texas State Capitol: North side by night
Photo by Kumar Appaiah (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Fewer than half the Republicans running for House seats in 2018 have signed a party pledge form that would commit them to supporting the House Caucus’s choice for the next speaker.

Forty-eight of 111 filed candidates have signed commitment forms so far, according to a Republican Party of Texas list released Wednesday.

The tallies are bound to change as additional candidates file for office and more forms are submitted.

The speaker selection pledge is seen as a litmus test separating the status-quo allies of retiring Speaker Joe Straus and conservatives seeking a more transparent, party-driven approach to House leadership.

Among those not signing were Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, a Straus lieutenant and an announced candidate to succeed the San Antonio lawmaker.

Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, the first lawmaker to enter the speaker’s race, signed the form.

Other non-signers include Reps. Dennis Bonnen of Angleton and Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches. Both typically align with Straus.

Rep. Bonnen’s office confirmed to The Texas Monitor that he would not sign the pledge, but did not offer a reason.

Two conservative lawmakers — Reps. Matt Schaefer of Tyler and Dade Phelan of Beaumont — have yet to sign on, according to party records.

Lawmakers did not respond to The Texas Monitor’s requests for comment by deadline.

Neither announced GOP candidate in Straus’s House District 121 — Adrian Spears and Steve Allison — completed a commitment form.

Other districts may have a distinct choice on primary election day. In HD 102, Scott Kilgore signed while challenger Linda Koop has not.

There’s still time for the numbers to change, as candidate filing closes Monday. The party has not set a deadline for submitting commitment forms.

RPT spokesman Jamie Bennett told The Texas Monitor some county party offices inadvertently did not print the speaker selection forms, and other forms could still be in process. Forms can be viewed at TexasGop.org.

Noting that the speaker form is voluntary and was developed only one month ago, Bennett said party officials were “excited to see the response.”

Mark Jones, political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Center, said, “At present, I wouldn’t read too much into a candidate not having signed. Many have most likely simply not gotten around to it, others may not be fully aware of it, and still others may not be aware that it’s so readily available online.”

“Come the new year,” he added, “I think a lack of a commitment could be interpreted as a political message. But not today.”

On Friday, the House Republican Caucus approved new bylaws for the Caucus to select its first new speaker in five legislative sessions. Under the voting rule, the Republican candidate for speaker would no longer be dependent on Democrat support on the floor, as long as Republicans hold the majority in the chamber.

The initial round of caucus voting sets a two-thirds majority threshold for nomination. If that is not attained, subsequent balloting drops to a three-fifths standard for approval.

“These new bylaws are a significant step forward in the direction of unity for our party and help pave the way for our Republican House members to form a consensus on the race for speaker,” RPT Chairman James Dickey said in a statement.

He added, “Unity does not mean uniformity. The result is hopefully one which builds more bridges on issues where we do agree and burns fewer bridges on issues where we can’t agree. This is positive news for Republicans across Texas.”

Dickey thanked Caucus Chairman Tan Parker, who completed a speaker selection form, as well as other candidates who signed on. “Their commitments to transparency and unity are greatly appreciated,” Dickey said.

The State Republican Executive Committee on Saturday approved a proposition to appear on the March 6 GOP primary ballot. Listed as Proposition 3, it reads:

Republicans in the Texas House should select their Speaker nominee by secret ballot in a binding caucus without Democrat influence. Yes/No”

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