Note to Straus: Read the Fine Print

A new GOP litmus test within the latest Republican platform could spell trouble for party's moderate wing


I do not, as a general rule, read the “Terms of Agreement” before I click okay. ITunes, Amazon, free wireless—goodness only knows what kind of trouble I’ve been getting myself into. But in an attempt to avoid doing housework last night, I did happen to read the full Republican platform, and now I’m rethinking my own old habits. Amidst the stuff that got attention—immigration, term limits, etc—there’s one, seemingly technical, change that should have every semi-moderate Republican quivering.

You see, the Republicans have instituted a litmus test.

The platform doesn’t call it that. Instead, above its list of “Legislative Priorities” a short paragraph, in notably smaller font, simply says “The SREC, Chairmen of Republican Party and Chair of most recent Platform Committee shall report the voting record of each state and federal elected official relative to these Legislative Priorities.” The reports will be published 120 days before primary elections. The chair of the most recent Platform Committee, who not only crafted the document but now will help report voting records, is none other than Rep. Wayne Christian, a socially conservative member who’s also President of the Texas Conservative Coalition.

While the new test gives the hard-right faction of the GOP more power, it will be tough on an awful lot of GOP incumbents. These aren’t exactly the easy, non-controversial policies; they include enacting Voter ID, building more prisons to avoid shortening sentences, opposing any expansion of gambling, and—whoa—creating a state offense for an illegal immigrant to “intentionally or knowingly be within the State of Texas.” (The entire list is at the bottom of this post.) Two of the more independent Rs—Tommy Merritt and Delwin Jones—already lost primaries to Tea Party conservatives this year. Depending on the 2012 political climate, these new voting reports may make re-election even harder for Republicans like Jerry Madden, who has worked with Ds to enact prison reforms, or Ed Kuempel, who’s aided the efforts for casinos in the state. Groups like Empower Texans have already found success waging aggressive campaigns against Republican officeholders deemed “too moderate”—the recent election of Brian Birdwell to Senate District 22 was a major win. (Empower Texans’ current “elective dysfunction” campaign, supposedly caused by “republicans moderitis” is admittedly hilarious.) The party’s purging of moderates seems to be getting underway.

Someone give Joe Straus a hug. As Speaker of the House, he’s been an advocate of a clean and fair process, letting his colleagues fight for their agendas on their own, and it hasn’t exactly endeared him to the hard-right base. Social conservatives like Christian and his coalition may now see their opportunity.

Straus faces a challenge to his Speaker-ship from Rep. Leo Berman, a vehemently conservative rep from Tyler with a penchant for punishing illegal immigrants, and just happens to serve on the Board of Directors for Christian’s Conservative Coalition.

The litmus test offers another place to highlight how Straus has apparently failed to meet social conservative goals. At the GOP convention two weeks ago, the back of the room erupted into boos and hisses as Rep. Dan Branch tried to introduce the Speaker. While the noises ended before the Straus’ (rather dull) speech, two teenagers spent most of the convention holding anti-Straus xeroxes, and later, the Prosper County Tea Party passed around a platform amendment to replace the Speaker. While the effort died for technical reasons, it hardly erases the deafening cheers when someone introduced the measure to dump Straus.

We’ll have to wait to see if those cheers get louder.



(Copied from pages 23-25 of the final platform.)

The SREC, Chairmen of Republican Party and Chair of most recent Platform Committee shall report the voting record of each state and federal elected official relative to these Legislative Priorities. The chair of the most recent Platform Committee shall present a draft of the report to the SREC no later than 180 days prior to each primary election. The SREC shall publish such report no less than 120 days prior to each primary election.
•    We urge the Texas legislature in its next biennial session to enact legislation requiring a sonogram be performed and offered as part of the consent process to each mother seeking an elective abortion.
•    Enact legislation to require Voter ID.
•    Expand the Public Education Grant (PEG) program. The PEG program should be replaced with a comprehensive, public-school choice program for which all students in Texas are eligible, regardless of the academic performance of their current school.
•    Create a school-choice voucher program for all students who have special educational needs and are exempt from the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test under Education Code Sections 39.027(a)(1)&(2) and 39.027(b).
•    Clearly define the role of the state and the roles and responsibilities of the state and school districts in the public education system.
•    We support having 80% of school district payroll expenses of professional staff of a school district be full-time classroom teachers.
•    Exempt high-performing school districts from certain state mandates to reward the state’s best- performing schools and serve as an incentive for performance improvement.
•    Create flexibility for school districts under the class size limit mandate.
•    Uphold the Constitutional and statutory roles of the State Board of Education.
•    Protect the authority of the State Board of Education to manage the Permanent School Fund and control textbook content; expand the cap on charter schools and
•    Strengthen and adequately fund the State Board of Education. •    Enact legislation to educate our children in accordance with our conservative ideals by
removing our schools from federal control and restoring them to local control.
•    Construct prisons rather than reduce sentences.
•    Require the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to register sex offenders when they leave custody.
•    At minimum, maintain current penalties for drug related crimes.
•    Reject needle exchanges.
•    Repeal the Marijuana Ticket Law. House Bill 2391 (80R) allows police officers to issue citations for certain misdemeanors, including possession of up to four ounces of marijuana.
•    Amend the Health and Safety Code to include synthetic marijuana as a controlled substance.
•    Truth in Sentencing – fully inform juries as to the actual length of the sentence.
•    Judicial Sentencing – empower our judges to assign punishment in felony cases. P-23•    We urge the legislature to expand the protection for private property ownership in Texas to include the exclusive right to buy, sell or use any asset as the owner deems necessary.
•    Law enforcement should make Child and Sex Abuse and Methamphetamine Drug Manufacturing their top priority. Stricter sentencing for Methamphetamine traffickers is needed.
•    Oppose any effort to expand gambling. •    Amend the Texas Constitution with a tighter, more meaningful spending limitation based on
population growth and annual inflation.
•    Ensure    that    exemptions    to    T emporary    Assistance    for    Needy    Families    (T ANF)    work requirements are appropriate so that the state is able to meet federal welfare-to-work targets.
•    Expand retail electric competition to the areas of the state that are currently exempted.
•    Create a free market for water to help meet future demand.
•    Use the relatively light-handed regulation of the oil and gas industry as a model for the state’s water market.
•    Evaluate the performance of Texas’ public sector employees and expand the role of the private sector in delivering government services.
•    Eliminate longevity pay for state employees.
•    Limit the state’s licensing and regulatory role to one that seeks to protect public health; reduce the extent to which the state unnecessarily regulates the private sector economy when public health is not at risk.
•    Support the continued transition to a competitive insurance market by retaining and strengthening reforms enacted since 2003. Property and casualty insurers need only be regulated for solvency, market practice, and fraud.
•    Make the $1 million Gross Margins Tax revenue exemption permanent; constitutionally dedicate revenue from the Gross Margins Tax to the Property Tax Relief Fund.
•    Use surplus revenue and other available general revenue to buy-down state debt. •    Reduce the high levels of local debt by implementing a turnout requirement for bond elections
and adding local government entities to the constitutional debt ceiling.
•    Use dedicated funds for their intended purpose or return them to taxpayers.
•    Surplus revenues should be constitutionally dedicated to reducing the Maintenance & Operations (M&O) portion of the school district property tax.
•    Reject raising or indexing the gas tax.
•    End diversions from the State Highway Fund.
•    Secure the integrity of elections by verifying the citizenship of those registering to vote, requiring a photo ID to vote, and removing non-qualified voters from voter registration lists.
•    Provide the necessary funding and resources so that law enforcement personnel in border areas can combat illegal immigration and its negative effects on local communities.
•    Create a state offense (Class A misdemeanor) for an illegal alien to intentionally or knowingly be within the State of Texas, and require local law enforcement to verify residency status upon arrest for another crime.
•    Codify 37 Texas Administrative Code §15.171 so that state law requires driver’s licenses to reflect the immigration status of the holder.
•    Provide that consular identification documents issued by foreign governments are not acceptable as proof of identification.
•    Require proof of U.S. citizenship or legal residency from those applying to receive taxpayer funded public benefits.
•    Pass legislation that will reduce restrictions on CHL holders.