State Republican Party chairman James Dickey on Tuesday mocked an inquiry into a party pledge for House speaker.
An anonymous legislator asked the state Ethics Commission to determine if it’s “illegal bribery for the Republican Party of Texas to ask GOP lawmakers to pledge to vote a certain way for the lower chamber’s presiding officer in exchange for monetary support,” according to a Quorum Report article posted Monday.
Dickey fired back in a statement to The Texas Monitor:
“The idea that it is somehow bribery to ask Republican legislators to commit to do what Republican voters want them to do is laughable. By that standard no one should ever question elected officials whether they’ll stand up for what the voters ask.
“That may be how Democrats work, but it’s not what Texans expect from Republicans,” the chairman asserted.
The speaker pledge came to light last week when The Texas Monitor quoted Dickey as saying Republican House members need to support their party’s caucus in selecting a successor to retiring Speaker Joe Straus.
“When House candidates file for office, we will ask them whether they will commit or not commit to supporting the [speaker] choice of caucus,” Dickey revealed. The “pledge” is posted on TexasGOP.org.
The unidentified legislator argues in a letter to the Ethics Commission that even though the Republican Party “does expressly disclaim that their commitment form is not intended to aid or defeat a speaker candidate, that statement doesn’t matter because the law regarding legislative bribery applies much more broadly, stating that ‘a person commits an offense if, with the intent to influence a member of or candidate for the House of Representatives in casting a vote for speaker … the person’ attempts to have votes given or withheld for speaker.”
Dickey said, like many campaign pledges signed by candidates, the State Republican Executive Committee created the Republican Caucus Speaker Selection Commitment Form “so voters know candidates’ preference on an important issue.”
Historically, House Democrats have voted as a bloc for Speaker Straus — and Democrats say they plan to do so again when the next speaker vote is taken in 2019. Unanimity hasn’t always been the case with Republicans.
Dickey said the ethics query is based on a false foundation. “The anonymous requester fails to recognize the form is voluntary, has no legal ramifications, comes with no conditions, and is strictly for information purposes for the public,” he said.
“The party is confident that the Ethics Commission will use common sense to reaffirm our right to distribute the form.”
The chairman said his party “stands ready to challenge any unconstitutional power grab that deprives voters of important information about candidates’ positions. And we are happy to empower and encourage our representatives’ efforts to stand united and be open and transparent with the voters.”
Under Texas law, the Ethics Commission does not disclose the names of persons requesting opinions. The commission is required to issue an opinion within four months of receiving a request.