Hughes Drinks the Conservative Kool-Aid
Speaker hopeful threatens lege process in far right pandering
By Richard Whittaker, 2:30PM, Wed. Jun. 6, 2012
We all know that Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, has ambitions to replace San Antonio Rep. Joe Straus as House speaker. Now as he suggests dismantling core parts of the legislative process, people are asking: Has he lost his damn mind?
The question arose after Hughes took part in a "teletownhall" held by right wing think tank Empower Texans PAC and hosted by Texans for Fiscal Responsibility head honcho Michael Quinn Sullivan. The whole event (up on YouTube and posted by Quorum Report) begins with a whopping inaccuracy, courtesy of MQS (or 'mucus' to his friends.) "For the last more than 40 years," he burbled, "you and I as Texans weren't allowed to participate in discussions about the leadership of the Texas House, discussions about the third most powerful figure in Texas politics."
That, in simple terms, is good old fashioned bull. One, Texans were never prevented from discussing the speaker race. They were simply restricted from spending money on it (and no, cash is not the same as free speech, so don't even start that.) They were restricted by something called the speaker statute, but that got tossed out as unconstitutional in 2008. So when Sullivan says "Finally you and I have the opportunity to flex our First Amendment rights," he's either got his facts wrong or just doesn't remember the speaker races in 2009 or 2011.
Does Hughes, who should know better, correct Sullivan on this? Nope. Instead, he joins in a full hour of pandering to the crowd and laying out an agenda that should have any seasoned lawmaker slackjawed in disbelief. Case in point: The first question from Johnny in Bedford. After fulminating against Straus, he complained about "[conservative] legislation just dying in these stupid committees without having a straight up or down vote. I want to know if you and if you are, are you going to do this stupid committee stuff or are you planning on having straight up or down votes for us conservatives?"
Hughes response? "Thank you for that question, and a lot of people are asking about that." He put in a few talking points about fiscal responsibility, but when it comes to the committee, he agreed to Johnny that folks are "frustrated when these conservative bill get filed and they never come up for a vote." He followed this up with vague burblings that the speaker should do more to set the agenda "to make sure that a bill doesn't languish in committee."
OK, hold up. Does someone need to remind Hughes that the purpose of committees is to improve, refine, and occasionally dump bad legislation? And while we're on it, let's remember that the biggest pieces of legislation to get shoved down the pipe with minimal committee time last session – voter ID, redistricting, mandatory sonograms – have all ended up in court. So, if you want to take one second to think about it, Straus allowed the House to run on exactly the lines Hughes is proposing. And all it did was run up the state's legal bills.
That's not the only time that Hughes acted dumber than anyone thinks he is. He even attempted to blame the committee system for the failure to pass meaningful state level immigration reform. Er, Bryan? There's this little thing called the preemption doctrine, which puts that kind of issue in the hands of the Feds – something that a committee chair and legislative staff should know and would point out.
But why would supposedly smart people like Hughes and (shudder) mucus want to get rid of that honing process? Could it be that, as an ally of the totalitarian free market bill machine the American Legislative Exchange Council, Empower Texans has a vested interest in getting their man wielding the gavel. ALEC has been pissed ever since their last front man in the speaker's chair, Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, got removed in 2009 (yeah, after the speaker statute was overturned.) If Hughes becomes speaker, there's a good chance it would happen on the backs of clueless first and second termers from the Tea Party who swallowed the lie that governance is easy (ask outgoing one termer Rep. Lanham Lyne R-Wichita Falls about that.) And will they really be setting the agenda, or will that be back safely in the hands of ALEC and Empower Texans?
Watch for Sullivan et al to be putting the screws to potential anti-Straus allies at the Republican Party of Texas State Convention this weekend. Maybe this time it will end better for Hughes than his bizarre and botched attempt to make Rep. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, speaker in 2011.