Political Tribes Revealed: Character-Defining Votes

With more than 6,000 bills filed each session in the House, citizens have ample evidence to determine a legislator’s political stripes. But keeping up with the legislative process can be time consuming and overwhelming. That’s why voters often rely on scorecards to grade legislators on a particular issue set. Additionally, Dr. Mark Jones’ non-partisan study is widely viewed as one of the best tools for showing the ideological makeup of the legislature from left to right.

And while scorecards and indexes are helpful, voters can get an even clearer picture of which tribe legislators fall into by looking at character-defining votes. These are votes where legislators were forced to choose a side and reveal which political faction is indeed their tribe.

For the purposes of determining which legislators are members of which political tribe, and thus which PACs belong to which political tribe (since PACs and the key legislators they support belong to the same group), we examined a number of character-defining votes relating to various issues. A few examples include:


House Resolution 4 (Amendment by Tinderholt)

State Representative Tony Tinderholt offered an amendment to HR4 having to do with the rules of the Texas House. His amendment’s purpose was to resolve the issue of “tagging” in the House Calendars Committee. This is the committee that votes to decide whether or not a bill will move onto the floor for all legislators to vote on.

“Tagging” a bill, an informal process found nowhere in House rules, occurs often in the Calendars Committee. The process looks like this: a legislator doesn’t want a bill to go to the House floor for some reason, so they will “tag” the bill and let the chairman of the committee, State Representative Todd Hunter, know they are doing so. This means the bill doesn’t move and is never brought up for a vote by the committee, much less the full House. And most important of all, there’s no paper trail.

State Rep. Tinderholt’s amendment would have required the Calendars Committee to hold a record vote on every bill that isn’t decided unanimously (either to send it to the floor or not). This would essentially remove the ability to “tag” a bill, as all Calendar Committee votes would be known to the public. State Rep. Hunter openly opposed this amendment from the front mic of the House chamber when it was offered by State Rep. Tinderholt.

Leadership of the Texas House clearly wanted to keep the Calendars Committee’s proceedings out of the public view, which is why a majority of House members went along with the effort to kill State Rep. Tinderholt’s amendment. This vote came down to one thing: transparency. A closer look at the vote on this amendment shows which legislators were unwilling to cross House leadership (and thus voted no), and those willing to face political retribution in the name of shedding light on the legislative process (and thus voted yes).


Senate Bill 4 (Amendment by Schaefer)

A second “character vote” worth noting was brought by State Representative Matt Schaefer. Its purpose was to strengthen the language of SB4 (the Sanctuary Cities bill).

The Senate version of SB4 allowed police to ask for immigration status from those who were detained or arrested. The House stripped the “detained” portion out of the bill, thus prohibiting law enforcement from asking about immigration status unless someone had been arrested. State Rep. Schaefer’s amendment sought to add the “detained” provision back into the bill, which would have given law enforcement more bandwidth in gathering information on those who might be in the country illegally.

The liberal leadership in the Texas House did not want this amendment to pass, and the Democrat bloc of House members was unanimously against it. However, fearing reprisal from their primary voters, and knowing this issue would be a focus during campaign season, many of the legislators who don’t often cross House Leadership voted for the amendment, despite being admonished not to do so.

This vote goes to show, when an issue is incredibly important to primary voters – and they make that fact known – politicians are extremely hesitant to cross them. A minority of Liberal Republicans followed House Leadership on this issue and voted against the amendment. On the contrary, a vast majority of Republican House members, many of whom rarely go against the grain, simply couldn’t risk being on the wrong side of their voters on this issue.


The Bottom Line:

Not all votes in the legislature are created equal. Scorecards and indexes highlight votes important to a particular cause or issue set. But for those voters wanting to know, ultimately, which political tribe legislators (and the PACs supporting them) fall into, character-defining votes like the ones listed above are the most telling.


Up Next:

The Four Political Tribes that Run Texas: We tell you the inside story on the four groups vying for political power in the great state of Texas and give you the scoop on some key representatives from each political tribe.


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