Kent Grusendorf

Author of Saving Public Education and Who Rules the Texas House

white painted concrete building near body of water during daytime

Contents


Chapter 1: Representative Democracy in Texas

Chapter 2: Speaker Tenure in Texas

     Texas House Speakers and Their Tenures

Chapter 3: Team Privileges

Chapter 4: Who Wins?

Chapter 5: 2023 – 2025 Speaker Dynamics in Texas

Chapter 6: Revolt on the Horizon?

Conclusion: What If the House Were to Operate Under Original Rules?

Appendices

Appendix A: House Rules, First Session 1846

Appendix B: House Rules, Fifteenth Session 1876

Appendix C: Evolution of Texas House Rules Transferring Power to the Speaker

     Acknowledgements

     Bio

[The house should function]
“by reasoning together rather than being steamrolled by the use of raw power”

—Speaker Price Daniel, Jr. 1972

Chapter 1

Representative Democracy in Texas

 

In 1846, the first session of the Texas Legislature, the parliamentary rules for the Texas House of Representatives were only ten pages long. Thirty years later in 1876, the year the current Texas Constitution was adopted, the rules for the Texas House of Representatives consisted of only 14 pages. 

In 2023 the rules for the Texas House of Representatives House Rules of Procedure were over 400 pages long (including introductory pages and precedents). So, what effect do all these additional pages have on representative government? That is the question which will be addressed in this book.

On the first day of every legislative session every member of the House of Representatives has exactly the same power. Members come to the chamber of the house with the power loaned to them by their respective constituencies. No member of the house is unequal in power. Under modern rules that is true only on the first day of each session. As equals, house members collectively select a presiding officer from among their ranks. However, no power, other than the gavel, is transferred to the speaker by that speaker election alone. The adoption of the rules is the method by which the actual transfer of power occurs. Only after the adoption of house rules of procedure are house members, and therefore their constituencies, rendered significantly unequal in power 

There is a difference between perceived power and real power. At our first caucus retreat after winning our house majority in the 2002 election cycle, I gave Tom Craddick a bronze plaque. It was engraved with a sketch of a man, fishing from a boat in the middle of a lake, with fish jumping out of the water around the boat. The caption at the bottom of the plaque read, “Once you had 76, they started jumping in the boat.”

From Speaker Clayton forward, once a member of the house announces that he has 76 votes for speaker, the speaker race, for all practical purposes, is over. That is because members want to be on the speaker’s team. House members do not want to be viewed as opposing the guy who will become speaker. The perception is one of great power. However, no power is actually transferred to the speaker until a majority of house members vote to approve rules which grant him such power.

“A thousand flatterers sit within thy crown.” (the deathbed wisdom of John of Gaunt in Shakespeare’s Richard II.) Once house members believe they know who will be making future committee appointments and determining the flow of legislation, they all want to please him.

For over a century of Texas legislative history no one had such power of intimidation. Speakers did not have such power. Since they had little power, there was little incentive to hold onto power, so they would usually serve one term, or even less. Speakers directed the traffic during debate rather than exercising power over debate.

Recently there has been much criticism of the current Texas House Speaker. Whether that criticism is justifiable or not, the real problem is not the speaker, but the transfer of power over the decades which enables such a problem to exist. House members have yielded, through the rules, most of the power loaned to them by their respective constituencies. By abandoning their constituents’ power through the rules, they have effectively undermined representative democracy. Blame cannot be attributed to house members now in office as the change occurred incrementally over time –primarily over the latter half of the 20th century, especially the 1970s and 1980s. See Appendix C for more information as to how power was transferred over time. Also, see the Speaker Tenure Chart in Chapter Two see how speaker’s tenures increased as the house rules granted greater power to the chair. 

Democracy is messy and difficult. In an attempt to achieve efficiency, many pages of rules have been adopted over time. But, the question which must be answered is whether efficiency of operation is more important than democratic action in a parliamentary body. In the early years, virtually all decisions were made collectively by the membership. That requires more time for debate and discussion. Giving everyone a say takes more time. Let’s explore one simple example.

In accordance with the Texas Constitution, bills are required to be read three times before the full house. First reading today is an administrative process totally controlled by the speaker. The norm today is for the house to adjourn “subject to 1st reading and referral of bills”. In today’s house, members are not usually on the floor during first reading. 

In the early years, first reading was actually performed before the complete house while the house was in session. House members would present their bills to the house on first reading and the house would determine the next action. When a majority of house members were positively predisposed to the bill they would vote to send it to a committee of choice for action, or they could send it directly to second reading. However, if the majority of house members were not impressed with the idea, they would send it to another committee which they felt would be more critical of the bill. If a majority of members objected, a proposed bill could be rejected on first reading. Unlike under today’s current rules of procedure, past house members were in total control.

Today, all house debate is avoided on first reading. The speaker makes the determination of which committee to send each piece of proposed legislation. If the speaker likes the idea, he can send it to a committee he thinks will act on the bill favorably. However, if the speaker does not like the bill, or if he wishes to punish the bill’s author, he can unilaterally send the bill to a committee that will not be favorably predisposed to the legislation. The speaker can greatly influence the life cycle of any legislation before it is ever reviewed by any other member of the house.