The 2017 Texas House & Senate, from left to right: Post special-session edition

Photo by Todd Wiseman

With candidates filing for the 2018 elections, and the Legislature apparently — finally — done for the year, I have updated my earlier ranking of members of the 2017 Texas House of Representatives and Senate. This includes votes from the regular session and from the summer special session, ranking lawmakers from most liberal to most conservative based on an analysis of 1,575 House and 1,831 Senate roll-call votes.


In the two charts, Republicans are indicated by red circles and Democrats by blue ones. The illustrations provide a mean ideal point for each representative and senator, referred to as the Lib-Con Score, along with the 95 percent credible interval (CI) for this point estimate. If two legislators’ CIs overlap, their positions on the ideological spectrum might be statistically equivalent, even if their Lib-Con Scores are different. The vertical dashed black lines indicate the location of the respective Democratic and Republican median Lib-Con Scores.

In addition, this table contains each representative’s Lib-Con Score and rank-ordered position on the Liberal-Conservative dimension, ranging from 1 (most liberal) to 149 (most conservative). The speaker of the House, Joe Straus of San Antonio, who by custom doesn’t ordinarily vote, is not included. The table also details the ideological location of each representative in relation to his or her co-partisans. In each party, every representative’s ideological location was compared with that of his or her party caucus colleagues and then placed into one of seven ideological categories going from left to right:

  1. More Liberal/Less Conservative Than 2/3
  2. More Liberal/Less Conservative Than 1/2
  3. More Liberal/Less Conservative Than 1/3
  4. Democratic/Republican Center
  5. More Conservative Than 1/3
  6. More Conservative Than 1/2
  7. More Conservative Than 2/3

For example, representatives in the Less Conservative Than 1/2 category have a Lib-Con Score and 95 percent CI that locates them at a position noticeably less conservative than one-half (but not than two-thirds) of their co-partisans.

A similar table is provided for the Senate. Given the smaller number of senators, no Intra-Party Lib-Con Location column is included; the ideological differences are apparent.

It’s important to keep in mind that Republicans can register Lib-Con Scores that are noticeably lower than those of most of their fellow Republicans while remaining conservative. It merely signifies that they have voting records that are less conservative than those of most of their fellow Republicans.

Texas Senate Ranking

Following the special session, the rank-order of the Texas senators from most liberal to most conservative remained identical to the rank-order after the regular session. There were no notable changes, either in the location of the 31 senators, or in the differences between their respective locations on the Liberal-Conservative dimension and the location of their 30 colleagues.



Texas House Ranking

The Texas House rankings after the special session update are also extremely similar to those published in June based solely on the regular session. No representative moved more than a few places in the rankings, with, for instance, the dozen least conservative GOP representatives following the regular session remaining the dozen least conservative after the special session, and the dozen most conservative GOP representatives after the regular session remaining the dozen most conservative after the special session.



The next speaker of the Texas House

Following Speaker Straus’s surprise decision last month to not seek re-election, the Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek provided a list of 10 Republicans being mentioned as potential candidates to succeed Straus as speaker. At the same time, the Texas House Republican Caucus has signaled that it is likely to hold an internal vote to choose an official GOP Caucus speaker candidate. This move is not wholeheartedly supported by all Republicans, and would not — under current rules — be legally binding in the formal speaker vote that takes place on the House floor, although the political costs of defection could be substantial.

Ideological affinity is only one of many factors involved in the election of a speaker. But, to the extent to which ideology is a primary factor in the process, we would expect the next speaker to be closer to the median Republican representative (the two median Republican representatives in 2017 are discussed below) if truly chosen by the Republican Caucus and closer to the median House member (who, in 2017, was Republican Linda Koop of Dallas) if truly chosen by the entire House membership.

Lib-Con Scores were calculated for 149 representatives: 55 Democrats and 94 Republicans. Every Republican was more conservative than every Democrat, with the least conservative Republican ranked 56 on the Lib-Con Score scale and the most conservative Republican ranked 149. The 10 potential GOP speaker candidates fall into four rough groups in terms of their location along the Liberal-Conservative dimension.

At the least conservative end of the spectrum are Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches (59), John Zerwas of Richmond (69) and Drew Darby of San Angelo (70). All three are located to the left of the House’s ideological median and have voting records that are notably less conservative than those of more than 2/3 of their fellow Republicans. Historical Lib-Con Score data indicate that this is also the ideological range in which Speaker Straus is located.

Next come two representatives who are to the right of the House median but to the left of the GOP Caucus median, Four Price of Amarillo (79) and Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi (94). Price and Hunter are, respectively, less conservative than more than one-half and one-third of their Republican colleagues.

The third group consists of two representatives who quite literally represent the GOP median, which is located smack dab in between the two of them, Phil King of Weatherford (102) and Tan Parker of Flower Mound (103). Both are notably more conservative than one-third of the GOP Caucus members.

The final group is located notably to the right of the GOP median. It ranges from Dennis Bonnen of Angleton (125) and Craig Goldman of Fort Worth (127) to Ron Simmons of Carrollton (136). The first two representatives are notably more conservative than more than one-half of their fellow Republicans while Simmons is notably more conservative than two-thirds.

Disclosure: Rice University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Mark P. Jones

Fellow in political science at Rice University’s Baker Institute