The Four Political Tribes that Run Texas
The Texas political scene is influenced by more than just the usual two political parties (Democrats and Republicans). It is influenced by four voting blocs or political tribes: Democrats and three groups of Republicans: Liberal Republicans, Moderate Republicans, and Conservative Republicans. Dr. Mark Jones, a well-respected political scientist at Rice University, recognized this political divide in his 2017 analysis of the Texas House: “The 94 members of the GOP House delegation cover a wide range of positions along the liberal-conservative ideological spectrum… The ideological diversity of the House GOP caucus is reflected in the substantial differences observed among its members. Sixteen of the 94 Republican House members are significantly less conservative … while 19 are significantly more conservative than … their fellow Republicans.” In other words, Dr. Jones’ analysis confirmed that in addition to Democrats, there are indeed three rather distinct voting blocs among Republicans.
Here’s a description of these four tribes and some representative members of each:
Obviously the most liberal of the four tribes, Texas Democrats tend to vote as a cohesive unit. Though they hold no state-wide elected offices and have long been in the minority in the Texas House and Senate, they still hold considerable power. Most often Texas Democrats wield their power by joining forces with liberal Republicans to advance a liberal cause or to thwart a more conservative agenda. Key members of this tribe:
- State Representative Rafael Anchia, H.D. 103 (Dallas area). In the last cycle, some of State Rep. Anchia’s most prominent donors included the Texas Association of Realtors with a $10,000 gift, Charles Butt, CEO of HEB grocery stores with a $7,500 donation, and Border Health PAC with $5000. State Rep. Anchia currently serves as the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. In the last session, he was tapped by House Speaker Joe Straus to chair the Committee on International Trade and Intergovernmental Affairs.
- State Representative Senfronia Thompson, H.D. 141 (Houston area). State Rep. Thompson, a.k.a. “Ms. T.” of the Texas House, has served twenty terms in office, which is longer than any other woman in Texas history. Her donor list includes the Texas Association of Realtors ($20,093), the powerful Hillco PAC ($13,093), and the Beer Alliance of Texas PAC ($15,000). Speaker Straus gave State Rep. Thompson considerable sway as he appointed her to chair the powerful Local and Consent Calendars Committee. She has used the position to her advantage — over the past two legislative sessions she has passed more bills out of the House than any other member.
- State Representative Terry Canales, H. D. 40 (encompassing Edinburgh and part of McAllen). State Rep. Canales is a relative newcomer to the Texas House, serving only since 2013. He hails from a political family, however. His father and sister served in the legislature, and he is the sixth member of his extended family to be elected to the House. Some notable donors include the Border Health PAC ($20,000), the Texas Trial Lawyers Association ($6,500), and the Texas Bail PAC ($3,250). State Rep. Canales is a criminal defense attorney who admits to taking firearms as payment for legal services and brags that he owns more guns than any other legislator, nearly 600. He serves on the Criminal Jurisprudence and Energy Resources Committees.
This political tribe is the most powerful faction in the Texas House as it boasts the Speaker of the House and important members of House leadership. This tribe wields its considerable power by fast-tracking favored legislation and running out the clock on disfavored bills. This tribe is able to expand its already formidable power by coercing cooperation from moderate Republicans and by making alliances with Democrats. Key members of this tribe:
- State Representative Four Price, H.D. 87 (encompassing four counties in the Panhandle). State Rep. Price chairs the powerful Public Health Committee and co-chairs the Health & Human Services Transition and Oversight Committee. Some notable donors to State Rep. Price have come from the Border Health PAC ($10,000), the Texas Medical Association ($10,061), the Texas Association of Realtors ($10,000), and Texans for Lawsuit Reform ($10,000). Key allies of Speaker Straus declared in State Rep. Price’s local paper, The Amarillo Globe News, that he would be their choice to succeed Speaker Straus when the sitting Speaker eventually retires.
- State Representative Jason Villalba, H.D.114 (large areas of north Dallas). State Rep. Villalba serves on the Business & Industry and Economic and Small Business Development Committees. He is known to be proudly loyal to Speaker Straus. He has frequently sided with Democrats on votes, particularly on social issues relating to religious liberty. Notable donors to State Rep. Villalba include the Associated Republicans of Texas ($93,080), the Texas Association of Realtors ($55,693), and the Texas Medical Association ($20,580).
- State Representative Todd Hunter, H.D. 32 (Corpus Christie area). State Rep. Hunter’s donor list includes Hillco PAC ($28,945), Texans for Lawsuit Reform ($22,500), and the Texas Association of Realtors ($20,000). Speaker Straus has appointed State Rep. Hunter chair of the all-powerful Calendars Committee, thus vesting him with the power to determine which bills will receive a floor vote and which will die on the proverbial vine. He also serves as vice-chair of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. From 1989 – 1997, State Rep. Hunter served in the Texas House as a Democrat. After a twelve-year hiatus, in 2009, he returned to the House, this time as a Republican, and was immediately given a committee chairmanship by newly-elected Speaker Straus.
By far the largest faction of Republicans, this group consists of the middle-of-the-road, go-along-to-get-along types. This tribe has more conservative instincts that the liberal leadership tribe, but often votes with the liberals to avoid being shut out of committee chairmanships and to avoid having their legislation ignored. This group typically boasts of strong conservative principles on the campaign trail, but allows themselves to get bullied by leadership into more liberal votes. It is because of this group that we have taken a close look at certain “character” votes – votes where House members were backed into a legislative corner and forced to take a stand – with the liberal faction or with the conservative faction. Key members of this tribe:
- State Representative Ron Simmons, H.D. 65 (Carrollton). Notable contributors to State Rep. Simmons campaign include the Texans for Lawsuit Reform ($20,004), the Texas Association of Realtors ($20,000), and the Texas House Leadership Fund ($12,900). Although State Rep. Simmons ran as a conservative, he immediately spearheaded “Purple Tie Thursdays,” a project to encourage bipartisanship in the House. Since his first term in the House in 2013, he has tacked left, often siding with the liberal House leadership.
- State Representative Craig Goldman, H.D. 97 (southwest Tarrant County). State Rep. Goldman ran unopposed in the Republican primary during the last election cycle, but contributors to his campaign included The Republican Party of Texas ($6254), the Texas Association of Realtors ($5000), and Texans for Lawsuit Reform ($3500). This session, State Rep. Goldman sponsored HB 3287 which sided with big beer distributors over small craft breweries.
- State Representative Jason Isaac, H.D. 45, (Dripping Springs, Wimberley, and San Marcos). State Rep. Isaac has been a member of the Texas House since 2010. He ran unopposed in the last election cycle. State Rep. Isaac’s PAC donors include Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the Texas Association of Realtors, and Walmart PACs, each donating $5000. Despite serving four terms in the Texas House and increasingly cozying up to House leadership, State Rep. Isaac has been awarded no committee chairmanships. Some allege he is being punished for siding with his constituents and opposing key supporters of Speaker Straus regarding special water districts.
This group, self-described as the Texas Freedom Caucus, inhabits the opposite end of the political spectrum from Democrats and frequently opposes the liberal Republican House leadership as well. While fewer in number than the other political tribes, this faction is often able to exhibit out-sized influence by its sheer willingness to fight and its alliance with grassroots voters. Key members of this tribe:
- State Representative Matt Rinaldi, H.D. 115 (Irving). According to legislative rankings by Rice University, State Rep. Rinaldi is the most conservative member of the Texas House. Notable contributors to his campaign include Empower Texans ($165,000), the Texans for Education Reform PAC ($61,465), and Texans for Lawsuit Reform ($15,004). He recently found himself in a skirmish with several Democrat representatives on the House floor after calling ICE agents because protesters in the House gallery were holding signs which allegedly read, “Undocumented and here to stay.”
- State Representative Valoree Swanson, H.D. 150, (Spring). Her donor list includes Empower Texans ($62,625), the Constituents Focus PAC ($31,127), and the Texas Right to Life PAC ($11,625). State Rep. Swanson has only served one term in the House, after winning a hard-fought primary race to unseat the more moderate State Representative Debbie Riddle. State Rep. Swanson hit the ground running, filing over 50 bills, including one to abolish property taxes.
- State Representative Matt Schaefer, H.D. 6 (Tyler). Rep. Schaefer is the chairman of the Texas Freedom Caucus and ran unopposed in the last election. Some interesting PAC donations to Rep. Schaefer include Texans for Lawsuit Reform ($3500), Empower Texans ($2000), and the Chickasaw Nation ($1500). State Rep. Schaefer is credited with leading the Freedom Caucus to numerous victories during the latter part of the 2017 legislative session, including forcing a special session on various conservative priorities that failed to pass during the regular session.
The Bottom Line:
The Texas political scene is not as simple as Democrats vs. Republicans. Although Republicans hold strong majorities in both houses as well as the governorship and every other statewide office, there are serious ideological divides within the Republican Party. Political power in Texas is generally divided among four tribes – Democrats, Liberal Republicans, Moderate Republicans, and Conservative Republicans. Understanding these divisions of power, the key players on each team, and the money that supports them, is crucial to following Texas politics and discerning who is really on your side.
PACs Have Political Tribes Too: We go beyond political rhetoric to examine some prominent PACs from each political tribe.
An Easy Guide to the Big Money PACs in Texas Politics – In this Series:
- How the PACs Fall Into Political Tribes: An Introduction
- Exposing Political Alliances of the Texas PACs: How We Did It: We explain our methodology. How did we group the politicians? How did we link the PACs?
- Political Tribes Revealed: Character-Defining Votes: A quick look at two examples of the types of votes that reveal true allegiances
- 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.
- PACs Have Political Tribes Too: We go beyond political rhetoric to examine some prominent PACs from each political tribe.
- Texas Trial Lawyers Association PAC and Border Health PAC: Democrat Tribe
- Texas Medical Association PAC and Texas Association of Realtors PACs: Liberal Republican Tribe
- Associated Republicans of Texas PAC and Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC: Moderate Republic Tribe
- Empower Texans PAC and Texas Right to Life PAC: Conservative Republican Tribe