Appointments show Republicans’ strength in House

April Castro

The leadership team of the Texas House has been restructured to reflect its new GOP supermajority, with House Speaker Joe Straus releasing committee assignments Wednesday that show a significant reshuffling.

The number of Democratic chairmen was reduced from 16 to 11, and one prominent Democrat — Rep. Rene Oliveira — lost charge of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. He was replaced by Rep. Harvey Hildebran, R-Kerrville, as head of the tax-writing committee.
Straus called the assignments one of the most important functions of his job and said he tried to “make sure geographic and demographic diversity of Texas is fairly represented.”

Straus overcame a speaker’s challenge last month waged by conservative Republicans who complained that he named too many Democrats as leaders in his first term.

Republicans make up 27 of the new committee leaders, reflecting the chamber’s 101-49 GOP majority.

“I am eager for the committees to begin work on important legislation and for you to collaborate on the issues that matter most to our state,” Straus told the chamber, shortly before releasing the assignments. “Today, I am referring hundreds of bills to the committees, so the House can immediately begin working on these critical issues.”

Republican leaders of some powerful committees retained their positions, including Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts and Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler. Pitts wasted no time, scheduling the first budget meetings for Wednesday afternoon and early Thursday morning.

Former House Speaker Tom Craddick, who was ousted by Straus two years ago, was named dean of the House.

Rep. Beverly Woolley, R-Houston, who supported Straus’ re-election bid, was named speaker pro-tempore, a mostly honorary position.

All representatives in the 150-member House are assigned to committees where much of the work of the Legislature is done. It’s where bills get their start and are crafted. Committee chairmen have the discretion to let bills linger and die there, too.

Rep. Todd Hunter, a Corpus Christi Republican, was named chairman of the House Calendars Committee, which sets the House schedules and determines what legislation makes it to the floor for consideration.

Most lawmakers have ambitions of serving as a committee leader. Chairmanships come with a bigger staff, more office space and clout. But only about one in four members gets such a post.

Of the 16 Democrats who were chairs last session, only 10 have returned — four lost their re-election bids and two have since switched parties.

Each lawmaker submitted a preference card to Straus’ office, naming their top committee preferences and order of seniority. The membership of the committees is partly determined based on seniority.