Joint Interim Committees

Where are the Dems?

As Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick make their appointments to joint interim committees, Democrats are finding themselves with few or no members on these vital policy-building bodies.

On Jan. 23, Dewhurst announced his appointments to the Select Committee on Public School Accountability, a new 15-member task force comprised of legislators and stakeholders established last session: Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano (as chair of the Senate Educa­tion Committee, she was on automatically), and Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands. They join Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, in his role as chair of the House Committee on Public Education, and Crad­dick's appointee, freshman Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington. The speaker's press secretary, Alexis DeLee, said all appointees are well-qualified, and there is diversity in the citizen appointments, but minority House caucus leader Jim Dunnam of Waco is not surprised the speaker excluded legislative Democrats. "It's what we've come to expect from Craddick on these appointments. No one with an alternative viewpoint gets on the conference committees," Dunnam said. He expressed particular disappointment that Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, had been passed over, in spite of his long record on public education and school accountability.

This comes after Dewhurst replaced two outgoing Dems on the Sunset Advisory CommissionEliot Shapleigh of El Paso and John Whitmire of Houston – with a Democrat (Juan Hinojosa of McAllen) and a Republican (Glenn Hegar from Katy). While voicing her respect for the appointees to both committees, Senate Democratic caucus leader Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio said she is "personally disappointed" about the new balance. Pointing to the Senate's long history of bipartisanship and consensus politics, Van de Putte said the lack of Democrats or Republicans from major city center, rural, border, or Central Texas districts on the accountability committee could lead to important voices being left unheard. Her staff will monitor the committee, but, she said, "There's a big difference between monitoring and having a seat at the table." She noted that getting consensus on the floor next session could be difficult, as Democrats will have a reduced role in forming whatever policy comes out of committee. "You can have us inside the tent or outside," Van de Putte said, "and you need consensus. You want buy-in."

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