How the Tea Party Took Over the GOP in Texas

I attended the Texas Republican Convention held in Ft. Worth, Texas from June 5-7 2014 as a delegate and the big takeaway was that the Tea Party has effectively taken over the Republican Party in Texas. 

But before I describe why I believe that the Tea Party has taken over, let me give you some background information and a little history of the Republican Party in Texas.  After the Democrats won control of the Texas legislature in 1872 from the post-Civil War Reconstruction Republicans, Democrats dominated Texas politics for more than a century, while Republicans remained largely marginalized. It was commonly said during this period in Texas that “I would vote for a yellow dog before I would vote for a Republican.”  These died-in-the-wool Democrats are known as “yellow dog” Democrats even today.  In fact Republicans would not win back any part of the Texas Legislature until 1996 when Republicans won a slender majority in the Texas Senate.  But it was not until 2002 that Republicans won control of the Texas House, ending a drought spanning 130 years.

Even though Republicans had a small majority in the Texas House in 2002, the House was still being run by Democrats who had switched party affiliation when the winds-of-change made it expedient to change parties in order to stay in elected office.  Many Democrats in office were not voted out but just changed party affiliation and continued to legislate with their former fellow Democrat legislators, even though they were now on opposite sides of the imaginary political aisle. 

To give you an example of this, the Texas Speaker of the House is the former Democrat and liberal Republican Joe Straus.  The Speaker is arguably the second most powerful politician in Texas behind only the Lt. Governor (the Governor being a distant third), because the Speaker effectively controls what legislation makes it to the floor for vote.  Former Liberal Democrat Joe Straus became the ‘Republican’ Speaker in 2009 after a “bloodless coup” when 11 RINO Republicans joined forces with 65 Democrats to make him Speaker.  This was seen as a way for Democrats to hold on to power even though they no longer had a majority in the Texas House, with Republicans holding 76 seats to their 74.   

In the 2010 election, Tea Party activism led to many more Republicans winning seats in the Texas House and the 76-74 majority became a 101-49 majority for Republicans.  But in spite of the Tea Party-led Republican majority, Joe Straus retained his Speakership even though he was seen as the most liberal Republican in the Texas House.  According to Hal Hawkins, who runs the analysis website

"51% of the laws sent to the governor’s desk from the House were Democrat-written or co-written. This means the MINORITY party in the House, outnumbered by nearly 2-1, was the MAJORITY when it came to laws passed. How can this be? There is one probable answer: Speaker of the House Joe Straus."

Joe Straus and his Democrat and RINO allies used every lever of power available to them in order to retain control, including withholding funding, denial of positions on committees, and even redistricting conservative Republican House members out of office.

But in the 2014 election cycle Texas saw many more Tea Party affiliated and endorsed candidates win in the Republican Primary against “establishment” moderate/RINO Republicans.  Tea Party favorite Dan Patrick won the powerful Lt. Governor runoff against the establishment incumbent David Dewhurst; Tea Party-backed State Sen. Ken Paxton won the Texas Attorney general runoff against the establishment State Rep. Dan Branch; and Tea Party-backed Sid Miller beat the moderate Tommy Merritt for agriculture commissioner.   

Tea Party candidates have won nearly every major race in the Texas primary, showing the strength of the Tea party movement in Texas, and all are heavily favored to win against their Democrat counterparts in the General Election.  But the telling blow to establishment Republican forces in Texas came not from a loss in a statewide primary race, but rather from a little noticed fight on the convention floor at the republican Convention Saturday.

Included as a plank in the Texas Republican platform, a plan to address the illegal immigration issue called “The Texas Solution” (here) which advocated for a guest worker program was replaced with an amendment submitted by delegate Peter Batura, SD 17 which deletes the guest worker program from the platform and states in part “with 92 million Americans not working, the labor force at 36-year low and a lethargic economy, the United States of America can ill-afford a guest worker program designed to depress wages.” 

The debate for and against “The Texas Solution” was heated and occupied 90% of the time used to debate the Republican platform, with establishment Republicans advocating for the Texas Solution plank and Tea Party Republicans advocating for a more conservative minority report (here).  The Immigration plank was first amended with a “trigger” to prevent the guest worker program from implementation until after the states declare that the border is secure, and the Tea Party-backed minority report failed to pass.   Then another amendment was considered which cut out the guest worker portion of the immigration plank of the Texas Solution, but that amendment also failed to pass. 

At this point I was resigned to have the “Texas Solution” as part of the Republican platform and hoped it would not lead to amnesty -- though I believed that eventually it would lead to preferential treatment of illegal aliens in Texas which is an amnesty of sorts. But then the amendment by Peter Batura, which took the first three paragraphs of The Texas Solution and replaced the guest worker portion at the end with a beefed up version of the Minority Report, was submitted for debate.

Clearly the establishment wanted the Texas Solution (as well as Democrats) but when the Batura amendment was finally given a chance to be voted on, after hours of debate and motions to prevent it, the voice vote was too close to call.  Then the Chairman called for a vote count by having the delegates stand, and it also was too close to call.  Then the chairman asked for a by delegate written vote, and after about 30 minutes of counting the Batura amendment amazingly passed by about a thousand votes.

Combining this platform win with the win by Ted Cruz and other Tea Party-backed candidates in Texas, I can announce with confidence that the Tea Party has effectively taken over the Republican Party from within in Texas.  You can be sure that Speaker Joe Straus will soon be replaced and the Texas legislature will finally be able to pass the conservative laws that have been held up in committee by Democrats and RINOs for years.

If other states want to copy the Texas Tea Party success story just do what we did.  Become involved with your local Tea Party and make connections.  Go to your local county GOP meetings and take on leadership positions.  Become election judges and delegates to your convention.  Run for office and help other Tea Party candidates run and in time the establishment/RINO/moderate/progressive Republicans in your state will be replaced by your version of Ted Cruz and your laws will follow suite.  If you think Texas is conservative now, just wait a couple of years.

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