Texas House Speaker appoints eight Democratic committee chairs, fewer than last session

Committee chairs decide which bills get hearings and committee votes, both important steps in passing new laws.

By Sarah AschFebruary 9, 2023 10:45 am,

Speaker Dade Phelan announced committee positions on Wednesday, appointing only eight Democrats to chair standing committees compared to the 13 he appointed during the last legislative session.

This decision came after an unsuccessful push by some Republicans in the GOP-controlled House to ban Democrats from chairing committees altogether. 

Phelan also tapped some fresh faces to lead at least two closely-watched committees, appointing Brad Buckley, a Republican from Killeen, to chair the Public Education Committee and Todd Hunter, a Republican from Corpus Christi, to helm the State Affairs Committee.

Niki Griswold, who covers state politics for the Austin American-Statesman, said the committee assignments shook out as she expected. She expected Phelan to appoint some Democrats, but after pressure from the right wing of the party, it isn’t surprising that he reduced the number of Democratic chairs, she said. 

“These committee chairs play a very important role in deciding which bills live or die in this process,” she said. “The committee chairs decide which bills get a hearing in their respective committees, which is really important for getting public testimony, especially for those more controversial bills. And even after those hearings happen, these committee chairs decide which bills will get a vote from the committee and potentially get sent to the floor of the full chamber for a vote by the body.”

Griswold said her eye is on the Public Education Committee, which last regular session was chaired by a Democrat and is now chaired by a Republican.

That’s a really important committee, especially this session, which is set to be the stage of a lot of heated debates, particularly over school vouchers, which is a push from the GOP that has some pretty strong opposition from Democrats and rural Republicans,” she said. “Now, Public Education is chaired by Rep. Brad Buckley. So we’ll have to see how open he is to this debate surrounding school choice and vouchers.”

Griswold said the other new committee chair, Todd Hunter, is deeply respected in the House and has been a close ally of Phelan’s. His committee, State Affairs, also handles controversial topics. 

Typically, that committee hears some of the most controversial and consequential bills, often related to immigration or LGBTQ issues,” she said. “This committee is one of the most powerful in the House. We will definitely expect to see a lot of heated debates in that committee this session.”

Overall, Griswold said Phelan rewarded his allies and avoided appointing powerful Democrats to committee seats or chairmanships. 

“Speaker Phelan … was pretty clear in slapping the wrists of the Democrats who led the effort to break quorum last session,” she said. “We don’t see a lot of really powerful Democrats as chairs or vice chairs in this session. So I think we did see Phelan reward his supporters.”

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