By Mark P. Jones, The Texas Tribune
“We ranked Texas House members along the ideological spectrum based on their 2023 votes” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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The Texas Legislature’s 2023 regular session and four special sessions are now over, as the legislature ended its longest year ever, having been in session for two-thirds of 2023, with the votes cast over the course of these 246 days allowing us to rank the members of the Texas House of Representatives from the conservative to liberal ends of the ideological spectrum. (See the methodological note at the end of this article.)
The members of the Republican House delegation hold a wide range of ideological positions. The conservative end of the Texas House GOP caucus is anchored by Steve Toth of The Woodlands, Briscoe Cain of Deer Park, Tony Tinderholt of Arlington, Matt Schaefer of Tyler, Cody Vasut of Angleton and Shelby Slawson of Stephenville. The other end of the GOP caucus ideological spectrum is anchored by Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City, Steve Allison of San Antonio, J.M. Lozano of Kingsville, Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, Morgan Meyer of University Park and John Raney of College Station. Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan of Beaumont by custom does not ordinarily vote and is not included in the analysis here, nor is Bryan Slaton of Royse City, who was expelled from the House in early May, or Fanny Jetton of Richmond, who temporarily served when her husband, Jacey Jetton, was called to active military duty.
Within the Republican delegation, three distinct blocs of representatives appear in the data.
At the most conservative end of the House GOP ideological spectrum is a group of 16 representatives ranging from Toth and Cain to Jared Patterson of Frisco and Matt Shaheen of Plano. As a group, these 16 representatives are significantly more conservative than more than two-thirds of their fellow Republican legislators. Toth is significantly more conservative than 82 of his 83 fellow Republicans (99%) and Cain than 80 of 83 (96%) while Shaheen and Patterson are both significantly more conservative than 59 of their 83 (71%) GOP colleagues.
At the least conservative end of the House GOP ideological spectrum is a group of 15 representatives ranging from Guillen and Allison to Drew Darby of San Angelo and Ken King of Canadian. As a group, these 15 representatives are significantly less conservative than more than three-fourths of their fellow Republican legislators. Guillen (a former Democrat) is significantly less conservative than 71 of his 83 (86%) fellow Republicans and Allison than 69 of 83 (83%), while Darby and King are significantly less conservative than 66 of their 83 (80%) fellow Republican legislators. While Guillen is the least conservative Republican, he still has a voting record that is significantly more conservative than that of the most conservative Democrat.
The majority of House Republicans (53 of 84, or 63%) occupy a middle ground between these two ideological poles. Kronda Thimesch of Lewisville and Tom Craddick of Midland (a former House speaker) are at the absolute center of the Texas House Republican Caucus, with one-half of the GOP representatives more conservative, and one-half less conservative, than each of them.
The 64-member Democratic House delegation also reflects a diverse set of ideological positions, albeit one that is somewhat less polarized than the Republican delegation. The Democratic delegation is anchored at its liberal end by Christina Morales of Houston, Gene Wu of Houston, Ana-Maria Ramos of Richardson, Jessica González of Dallas, Vikki Goodwin of Austin and Erin Zwiener of Driftwood. The Democratic delegation is anchored at its least liberal end by Richard Peña Raymond of Laredo, Terry Canales of Edinburg, Tracy King of Uvalde, Sergio Muñoz Jr. of Palmview, Bobby Guerra of Mission and Oscar Longoria of Mission. While Peña Raymond is the most conservative Democrat, he still has a voting record that is significantly more liberal than that of the least conservative Republican.
As with their Republican colleagues, three distinct blocs of Democratic legislators also appear in the data.
At the most liberal end of the Democratic ideological spectrum, five representatives stand out, with Lib-Con Scores that are significantly more liberal than those of more than three-fifths of their Democratic colleagues. They range from Morales, who is significantly more liberal than 50 of her 63 (79%) fellow Democrats, to Goodwin, who is significantly more liberal than 38 of 63 (60%) Democrats. Lib-Con Scores measure how liberal or conservative lawmakers are.
At the other end of the Democratic ideological spectrum are eight Democrats whose Lib-Con Scores are significantly less liberal than those of more than three-fourths of their fellow Democrats. They range from Peña Raymond, who is significantly less liberal than 60 of his 63 (95%) Democratic colleagues, to Eddie Morales Jr. of Eagle Pass, who is significantly less liberal than 55 of his 63 (87%) fellow Democrats.
The majority of House Democrats (51 of 64, or 80%) occupy the middle ground. The median House Democrats in 2023, who represent the absolute center of the Democratic House caucus, are Rhetta Bowers of Rowlett and Penny Morales Shaw of Houston.
Political scientists have for decades used roll-call votes cast by members of the U.S. Congress to map their places on the Liberal-Conservative scale along which most legislative politics now takes place. This ranking of the Texas House members, which has been conducted biennially since 2011, does the same thing, by drawing on the 1,558 non-lopsided roll-call votes taken during the 2023 regular session and four special sessions held during 2023. Non-lopsided votes are those where at least 2.5% of the representatives casting a vote are on the losing side.
Unlike in previous analyses, information from votes on bills located on the House Local & Consent Calendar are not included in this analysis. This is primarily due to the calculated effort this year by a small number of Republican House members to make their Lib-Con Scores appear more conservative than they actually were by strategically registering their opposition to bills on the Local & Consent Calendar in a way that was inconsistent with their floor voting behavior.
As with previous rankings conducted earlier this year after the 2023 regular session, in 2021 (post special session), 2021, 2019, 2017 (post special session), 2017, 2015, 2013 and 2011, this one uses a Bayesian estimation procedure belonging to the family of methodological approaches that represent the political science discipline’s gold standard for roll-call vote analysis.
State representatives are ranked from most liberal to most conservative based on their Liberal-Conservative Scores, with the 95% credible interval (CI) for this point estimate also provided. If two legislators’ CIs overlap, their positions on the ideological spectrum might be statistically equivalent, even if their Lib-Con Scores are different.
In no case in 2023 did the CI of a House Republican overlap with that of a House Democrat, indicating that every Republican is significantly more conservative than every Democrat, and every Democrat is significantly more liberal than every Republican. This is a sharp contrast to the dynamics of the Texas House as recently as 1989 and 1995 respectively, when 28 and 20 Democrats were more conservative than at least one Republican and 45 and 39 Republicans were more liberal than at least one Democrat. However over the subsequent 30 to 35 years, a combination of the nationalization of partisan politics, a growing focus on ideological purity in each party, and the retirement (or party switching) of incumbents whose popularity in their district allowed them to resist these trends has created a widening chasm between Democrats and Republicans in the Texas Legislature.
Mark P. Jones is the Political Science Fellow at Rice University’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/12/15/mark-jones-texas-house-special-2023-liberal-conservative-scores/.
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