Lege Lines: Texas Temper Tantrum
Freedom Caucus wigs out, “chubs,” stalls, kills every bill in sight
Dear at-risk black mothers, low-income public school students, and victims of online sexual predators: A small but dangerously immature cluster of House Republicans would rather play petty politics than help you.
In retaliation to House leadership supposedly neglecting their priorities this session, the Freedom Caucus – the extremist Tea Party-aligned faction that specializes in legislative disruption – late last week derailed more than 120 local and consent calendar bills, typically uncontroversial legislation meant to speedily pass. The dozen members include Reps. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford; Jeff Leach, R-Plano; Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving; Matt Shaheen, R-Plano; Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler; Kyle Biedermann, R-Fredericksburg; Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington; and Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park.
"What's happened to us has been personal retribution. It's been personal attacks, petty politics, and this caucus has had enough of it," decried Leach of the ostensibly slow pace of passing anti-choice, gun deregulation, and property tax reform bills, during an impromptu press conference last Thursday, May 11. Without a shred of irony or apparent self-awareness of the hypocrisy of his statement, Leach audaciously then vowed to pursue personal retribution, saying the caucus would "kill the entire local and consent calendar tomorrow, and essentially what we are doing is exactly what they did to our bills."
What ensued next on the House floor was an embarrassing display of petulant, oversized children throwing a tantrum.
With only a few hours left on the clock before the midnight deadline to pass House bills this session, caucus members – notably Stickland and Tinderholt – used the filibuster-like parliamentary maneuver "chubbing" – basically back-and-forth babble – to stall and ultimately kill bills. Sucking up each precious minute as slow, painful punishment to their less extremist GOP counterparts, the caucus' chicanery on the House floor nearly culminated in all-out GOP civil war. The drama was only broken up by an emotional and personal plea from GOP Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, who called on members to halt the time-wasting shenanigans and pass HB 810 to help those like his wife, who suffers from a spinal cord injury, by spurring the use of adult stem cells for patients with terminal illness or chronic disease. "I pray to God every time I go to mass that one day my wife will have the chance to be able to walk," said Springer, by then in tears. While the bill ended up passing 141-0, dozens of others died in what some are tactlessly referring to as the "Mother's Day Massacre."
Among the bills killed by GOP infighting: a measure by Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, that would have prevented "school lunch shaming" by not identifying low-income students who run out of money to pay for meals and allowing a two-week grace period for payment. (Thankfully, the Senate tacked the bill onto related legislation and passed it on Tuesday.) HB 2974, by Rep. Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park, would have created a new criminal offense for sexual predators who prey on children online. HB 2365 sought to improve housing for the state's migrant farmworkers, while HB 2107 could have allowed patients with certain illnesses to use medical marijuana if their doctors approve. And, facing an alarming maternal mortality rate, HB 2403 would have required that the state conduct a study on the causes of deaths among pregnant black women, who have the highest risk of maternal death.
But all these important proposals were reduced to rubble in the caucus' wake.
"For the Freedom Caucus, and for the conservative members of this House, it's always, always been about policy, 100 percent of the time," said Leach before the spree. Of course, that's 100% not true. While they pride themselves on being the only true stalwarts of liberty and the only pure conservatives in the House, the Freedom Caucus has proven they are nothing more than vindictive, infantile egomaniacs willing to jeopardize lives for the sake of their primaries.
It can be summed up no better than when five minutes remained on the House clock Thursday night and Stickland, seeking to drown time, requested a personal privilege speech, typically reserved for impassioned calls for deep reflection (like the aforementioned one by Springer). The last-minute tactic is symbolic of a greater flaw: For members of the caucus, the Legislature revolves around their privilege, their egos, and their agendas, the vulnerable be damned.