The Man with the Calendar
In the Texas House of Representatives, while each piece of legislation is referred to an issue specific committee, one committee has veto power over every single measure before it reaches the full House for a vote: the House Committee on Calendars.
Republican State Representative Todd Hunter is currently serving his fourth term (out of ten overall terms) as Chair of the House Committee on Calendars. If a bill is lucky enough to escape its regular committee, for example, the House Committee on Elections, then the bill must also be voted out of the Calendars Committee before it can make it to the floor of the House and be heard and voted on by all representatives. Additionally, the Calendars Committee is not required to take a vote on every bill before them. Many times, bills die simply languishing untouched in the Calendars Committee.
Who’s spending big on calendars:
The biggest donor to State Rep. Hunter’s campaign during the months immediately preceding the legislative session was HillCo PAC, the political giving arm of mega-lobby firm HillCo Partners. Founded by Neal “Buddy” Jones and Bill Miller, HillCo Partners is arguably the most powerful lobbying force in Austin.
In November of 2016, HillCo PAC donated over $25,000 to State Rep. Hunter’s campaign. A look at Mr. Jones and Mr. Miller’s client lists reveals a number of high-profile clients with active issues before the 85th Session of the Texas Legislature.
The power of money:
For example, Mr. Miller lists Uber Technologies, Inc., the popular ride-sharing company, as a lobby client. After Austin’s highly-publicized election which resulted in additional regulations for ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft, those companies ceased doing business in Austin. The result was House Bill 100, legislation preempting local governments from passing such ordinances and allowing Uber and other ride-sharing companies to resume business-as-usual. HB 100 passed State Rep. Hunter’s Calendars Committee in mid-April, well ahead of the May deadlines.
Both Mr. Jones and Mr. Miller consulted for the retirement and pensions funds of Houston and Dallas police and firefighters. Both cities have been embattled over underfunded and over-promised pension systems for first responders, leading them to look to the Texas legislature for solutions. Senate Bill 2190 was aimed at addressing the problem for Houston first responders, while House Bill 3158 was aimed at fixing Dallas’ pension crisis. Both bills were promptly voted out of State Rep. Hunter’s Calendars Committee.
Mr. Miller also consults for Gulf States Toyota, Inc., the well-funded voice opposing Tesla’s attempts to open Texans’ car buying market to direct sales. House Bill 4236, which was crafted to make the auto sales industry in Texas somewhat more free-market, never received a hearing once it was referred to the Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee. Even if the bill had made it out of that committee and progressed on to Calendars, with Mr. Miller having the ear of State Rep. Hunter behind the scenes, it is unlikely the bill would have even been taken up for a vote. The same can be said for legislation dealing with school vouchers, or “school-choice.” Mr. Jones lists Raise Your Hand Texas as a lobbying client, a progressive organization vehemently opposed to education options outside the tax-financed public school system.
The bottom line:
Everyone has a different strategy on how to impact the legislature. Some groups focus on engaging citizens; others work to elect those they believe will vote favorably on a particular issue or issue set; while others seek to influence legislators from within the Capitol. The Calendars Committee is extremely important because it serves as the gatekeeper to all legislation in the Texas House. Whoever chairs the Calendars Committee wields incredible power. HillCo isn’t unique in their approach, heavily supporting State Rep. Hunter in return for his assistance on issues important to their clients, they just happen to be one of the biggest kids on the block utilizing this tactic.
Our Capitol Crowd series outlines and highlights the politicians, advocacy groups, and donors that have the biggest impact during the 140-day legislative session. Check back throughout the session for updates.