More Coverage of House Committee Assignments

Two Statesman articles covering House Committee Assignments:

By Tim EatonAMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Updated: 10:05 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011

Published: 9:25 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011

Republicans’ electoral victories in November translated to a stronger grip on the Texas House on Wednesday as Speaker Joe Straus unveiled committee assignments that increased the number of Republican chairs.

In the exercise that comes at the beginning of every session and often leaves various factions fuming, Straus managed to put together a list of legislative leaders that seemed to satisfy fiscally conservative groups and the House Democrats who supported him in his speaker’s race last month.

“I have tried to apply the interests and expertise of individual members to our state’s challenges, and to make sure the geographic and demographic diversity of Texas is fairly represented,” Straus said in a statement.

Michael Quinn Sullivan, president of the conservative organization Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, said Straus showed “some real improvement” by appointing more fiscally conservative chairs.

“He has done a good job in resetting the House leadership,” said Sullivan, a leader of unsuccessful efforts in recent months to oust Straus as speaker.

Despite losing some key chairmanships, Democrats largely accepted their roles without protest.

“Democrats did well,” said Jessica Farrar, D-Houston , the House Democratic leader.

“It’s quality of assignments, not quantity,” she said. “We’re well-situated to help with some very serious problems.”

The 150-member House has 49 Democrats this session, compared with 74 in 2009. Democrats hold chairmanships of 11 out of almost 40 committees.

Although there will not be any committee chairs from Central Texas, some of those Democratic incumbents said they were happy with their new roles.

Last session, Austin Democrat Mark Strama led the Committee on Technology, Economic Development and Workforce. The committee was broken up this session, and he didn’t get a leadership role on either of the new committees. He’s now on the Public Education and the Energy Resources committees.

“I like my new assignments better,” he said. “In this session, all that matters is mitigating the damage to the state from these budget cuts.”

Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat in the midst of a contested election, remained on the Higher Education, House Administration and Technology committees. Higher education “is one of the most important things to my constituents and my district,” she said.

Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, was also given an improved assignment, landing on the Calendars Committee, the powerful committee through which all major pieces of legislation must flow.

Another Austin Democrat, Rep. Dawnna Dukes, will serve again on the Appropriations Committee, which writes the House’s version of the budget bill, under returning Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie.

The biggest winner out of the new Central Texas Republicans might be Rep. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown , who landed a plum spot on the appropriations panel. Schwertner, a medical doctor, will also sit on the Public Health Committee.

With the committees in place, the real work in the House can begin. The Appropriations Committee already got to work. It had a hearing Wednesday afternoon, and another is set for 7 a.m. today .

teaton@statesman.com; 474-2993

Additional material from staff writer Jason Embry.

Winners and losers in House committee assignments

By Jason Embry | Thursday, February 10, 2011, 07:05 AM

Some up and some down with committees, altered sonogram bill moves out of committee and the Statesman pays tribute to Marissa Marquez’s footwear.

(Happy birthday to Dan Grant and Trey Newton.)

The House and Senate are out until Monday.

So now we have our House committees, and members are back in their districts for long weekends to either sulk or celebrate, or some mixture of the two.

Speaker Joe Straus had some important jobs to fill, plus he had to remake the House in response to Republicans’ huge electoral win. Yet there were winners and losers on each side (in no particular order)

WINNERS

Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana. In taking the helm of State Affairs, Cook becomes chairman of what is arguably one of the three most important committees in the House, along with Appropriations and Calendars. He’ll deal with electricity issues, telecom issues and (ready or not) immigration matters.

Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi. Four years ago, Hunter wasn’t even in the House. Now this close Straus ally is the Calendars chairman.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton. Bonnen wasn’t one of the original Anybody-But-Craddick Republicans who first elevated Straus to be speaker two years ago. But when Republicans met in a caucus meeting the day before the session to choose a speaker candidate, Bonnen was the most vocal about how the vote would be taken — and it all came up roses for Straus. Now he’s the chairman of the Sunset Advisory Commission and he’s leading the committee that will hear voter ID bills — a way to endear himself to the GOP grass roots if all goes well. He is also the vice chairman of Calendars and is on Transportation and Higher Ed — all strong.

Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. The former Craddick Democrat lost his seat on Appropriations two years ago. Now he’s got it back, and he’s the vice chairman, meaning he’s in a good position to be on the conference committee for the budget.

Rep. Harvey Hilderbran. I will defer to what Paul Burka wrote about Hilderbran: “He has always wanted to be a player, but he has always been relegated to second-string positions. This is his big chance. If the Republicans are ever going to raise revenue, this will be the year. He is also on State Affairs. If Hilderbran is ever going to have a breakout year, this is the time.”

Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin. Coming off his most productive session yet, Rodriguez secured a spot on Calendars. So did other people, but Rodriguez has had a steady climb since the days he was a young member on the legislative sidelines in the party out of power. Now he’s more of a player, though still in the party out of power. He will also serve on Transportation and Criminal Jurisprudence.

Party-Switchers Reps. Chuck Hopson, Allan Ritter and Aaron Pena kept or got chairmanships. All three switched from the Democrats to the Republicans between sessions. Ritter did particularly well, getting seats on Calendars and Ways and Means. And don’t forget that the aforementioned Todd Hunter also used to be a Democrat.

Craddick-Turned-Straus Supporters. Several former chairmen and supporters of former Speaker Tom Craddick’s did well. Jerry Madden, after a one-session absence, will return to the chairmanship of Corrections. Bill Callegari, Jim Jackson, Larry Phillips, Wayne Smith and Rick Hardcastle will be chairmen.

NON-WINNERS

Rep. Joe Pickett. Pickett lost the chairmanship of the Transportation Committee. He will be the chairman of the Defense and Veterans’ Affairs Committee, which isn’t a bad thing for an El Paso member to have. And he’s the only white Democratic chairman.

Rep. Rene Oliveira. You could see this one coming a mile away. Oliveira was the Democratic chairman most despised by Michael Quinn Sullivan and others who tried to oust Straus from the right before the session. He moves over to chair Land and Resource Management.

Rep. Todd Smith. Smith loses the chairmanship of the Elections Committee. Of course, that spot brought him a lot of headaches over voter ID in his primary, so he may be fine with it. Smith was able to use a seniority request to get on Public Ed, which is not a bad place to be.

Central Texas. Last session, there were two chairmen from the Austin area — Patrick Rose and Mark Strama. Now there are none. Rose is out of the Legislature and Strama’s committee was split. Strama told the Statesman’s Tim Eaton he’s actually happier with his assignments to Energy Resources and Public Education.

The Urban Affairs Committee. Look at some of the speaker’s appointees to this committee: Phil King, Tan Parker, Ken Paxton and David Simpson. Not exactly a collection of his best friends.

One other note: Notice how many members of the Straus inner circle are on the Redistricting Committee. Solomons, Hunter, Keffer, Branch, Geren, Eissler. The speaker will have plenty of avenues to pursue should he want to weigh in here.

For more, check out Tim Eaton’s story about committees from this morning’s Statesman.

• House Appropriations is moving full-steam ahead today with a 7 a.m. meeting that will hit on the prison system, Medicaid and the Foundation School Program. So, you know, a light day.

From the Statesman’s Andrew Kaspar: “A day that began with self-imposed changes to one state senator’s anti-abortion bill ended with additional adjustments that further eased requirements for doctors to show sonograms to women seeking abortions. Late Wednesday afternoon, the Senate State Affairs Committee went into a closed-door meeting about Sen. Dan Patrick’s bill. The amended bill eventually was approved 7-1, with Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, as the lone dissenting member. … The final product requires physicians to offer pregnant women a sonogram at least 24 hours before an abortion, and the woman must be given the opportunity to see the sonogram image and hear a description of the fetus and its heartbeat, if it is present. The bill introduced in January originally required women to undergo the sonogram.”

Supporters of the sonogram bill are planning a press conference this morning featuring a live sonogram, and then a rally on the south steps at 12:15.

From the Statesman’s Andrea Ball: “Until last week, most Texans had never heard of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the little-known entity that helps keep their houses warm, lights on and computers running. Now ERCOT — which acts as a sort of air traffic controller for the state energy industry — is facing media and political scrutiny over its handling of power outages that prompted rolling blackouts across Texas.”

Texas Tribune: “In his State of the State address, Gov. Rick Perry challenged Texas universities: develop a bachelor’s degree costing no more than $10,000, books included. But there already is a $10,000 bachelor’s degree — and the Legislature may be on the verge of eliminating it.”

• The Statesman’s Marques G. Harper looks this morning at some of the sharpest dressers in the Legislature. Davis, Truitt, E. Rodriguez, Marquez, Berman. You can read the story here. And don’t forget to check out the photo gallery.

In print

Lead stories from the front pages of the state’s largest newspapers, courtesy of the Newseum:

Austin American-Statesman: “Schools count on legal break

Dallas Morning News: “Hard freeze today, then it’s a wrap

Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “Colleges say cuts will harm student aid

Houston Chronicle: “Texas, EPA feud over greenhouse gas rules

San Antonio Express-News: “Cigarroa: UT cuts will hurt

Countdown

111 days until the end of the 82nd Texas Legislature.