More than 60 percent of Republican state House candidates — including three board members of Speaker Joe Straus’ Leadership Fund — have pledged to support whomever the GOP Caucus nominates to replace the retiring House leader.
Reps. Four Price of Amarillo, Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi, and Jim Murphy of Houston are among the 115 Republican candidates to sign the pledge so far. Price, Hunter and Murphy sit on the board of the House Leadership Fund, a political action committee headed by Straus.
The Texas Monitor reported that 91 House GOP candidates — exactly half the field — had signed the Caucus commitment form as of Dec. 21. The pledge effectively empowers the Caucus to select the next speaker without input from minority Democrats.
The number of pledge endorsers has climbed steadily, and could go higher, as the March 6 primary elections draws closer.
Five more incumbents, including Price, signed on between Jan. 4 and Jan. 8. The others are DeWayne Burns of Cleburne, Phil Stephenson of Wharton, Giovanni Capriglione of Southlake and Dan Huberty of Katy.
Price and Huberty are key Straus allies. Huberty chairs the House Education Committee that has bottled up school-choice legislation promoted by Gov. Greg Abbott and passed by the Senate.
Straus has used his House Leadership Fund to reward his friends and punish opponents. The Alamo Heights lawmaker has more than $10 million to spend this election cycle before he steps down at year end.
Last year, a group of Texas conservatives frustrated by the Speaker’s moderate agenda and dilatory legislative tactics founded the New Leadership PAC to target Straus allies in the Republican primary.
“The pledge is our No. 1 litmus test,” said NLP Treasurer Don Dyer. “People are getting a lot of heat (to sign). We are very encouraged.”
Citing Rep. Huberty’s pledge signature, Dyer said, “He saw the light and he’s scared. He knew we were interested in his race.”
Huberty did not respond to The Texas Monitor’s request for comment.
Dyer said he was not surprised to see Rep. Hunter, another Straus ally, among the signatories. Hunter served on the committee that wrote the new speaker selection rules.
One high-profile primary involves Straus lieutenant Charlie Geren of Fort Worth. Geren has not signed the pledge, and Dyer said NLP is “openly involved” in efforts to defeat the veteran lawmaker. Geren is opposed by Bo French, who signed on.
Dyer said final decisions on NLP candidate funding will be made in the next few days.
“We’re evaluating a dozen races,” he noted. “It really comes down to whether a candidate represents constituents or the big-money lobby.”
According to campaign-finance research by The Texas Monitor, pledge deniers received two-thirds of their total contributions via PACs and related organizations.
The speaker pledge, a voluntary form devised and circulated by the Republican Party of Texas, is an effort to restore accountability to House leadership. Straus has relied on unanimous backing from minority Democrats and splintered GOP support to retain power.
Heading into the 2018 elections, Republicans hold 95 of the House’s 150 seats. Conservatives argue that the majority party caucus should determine who leads the chamber, as is done in a majority of states.
Kenric Ward can be reached at [email protected]