“Vote your districts, members.”
For a decade, this phrase was heard over and over as Speaker Pete Laney (D-Plainview) would call for votes on numerous bills as he presided as Speaker of the Texas House. During Speaker Laney’s tenure, the House Democratic caucus was heavily influenced by rural, white men, WD40s as they were nicknamed, members who would provide Democrats with a majority, but in exchange they would not be expected to march lock-step with the urban members that today overwhelmingly make up the Democratic caucus.
Before most votes, Speaker Laney reminded the Representatives to vote their districts, both as a precaution for their re-election and a reminder that they were there only to represent only the people who could vote for them. After Tuesday evening’s final vote on HB2 we saw five Democrats and one Republican split from their party's stance and vote their conscience. These six defectors leave us with a question: Were these members voting their districts or taking matters into their own hands?
We may criticize these members for breaking form and not falling in line, but for those of us in Austin, Houston, or the Metroplex: We are not their constituents. It is up to the voters they represent back home to determine if this vote was correct or not. This diary exists only to highlight who they are and to provide some background on these representatives.
It is worth noting, all the Democrats listed below, except for Rep. Herrero, are in what could be considered safe seats for the Democratic nominee in the next general election.
Read more about the 5 Democrats and 1 Republican including information on how President Obama's re-election campaign and Bill White's gubernatorial campaign performed in each member's district below the jump.
Ryan Guillen (HD 31, Rio Grande City) – Rep. Guillen was first elected in 2002. His district is currently made up of ten rural counties in the Rio Grande Valley including Star, Live Oak, and Atascosa. Over six terms, Rep Guillen faced his first, and thus far only, general election opponent in 2012. Rep Guillen’s legislative priorities have included border security, ranching, and agriculture. He currently serves as Chairman of the Committee on Culture, Recreation & Tourism. Rep. Guillen voted against tabling only three of the twenty two amendments offered to HB 2.
Abel Herrero (HD 34, Robstown) – An attorney from Nueces County, Rep. Herrero is serving his fourth term in the Texas House. Rep. Herrero lost re-election in 2010 but returned in 2012 after redistricting altered the political landscape of Nueces County. In 2012, President Obama received less than 55% of the vote in this district. In the 83rd legislative session, Rep. Herrero was a candidate for Democratic Caucus Chair and was a champion for public education when he succeeded in adding an amendment to the state budget that would keep school vouchers out of Texas. Rep. Herrero currently serves as Chairman of the Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence. Rep. Herrero voted against tabling all amendments to HB 2 and even authored one of his own.
Sergio Muñoz Jr. (HD 36, Palmview) – Heavy turnover in Hidalgo County has resulted in second term Representative Sergio Muñoz to be one of his county’s senior representatives. Rep. Muñoz’s website states his priorities include providing quality jobs, more community investment, and improving education. He has never faced a general election opponent and serves on the Appropriations, Insurance, and Local and Consent Calendars Committees. Rep. Muñoz voted against tabling all amendments to HB 2.
Armando "Mando" Martinez (HD 39, Weslaco) – In his fifth term, Rep. Martinez is the most senior member of Hidalgo County’s House delegation. Rep. Martinez, a firefighter and paramedic, faced opponents in the last two general elections, winning both times with over 75% of the vote. He serves as Vice-Chairman of the Transportation Committee and also serves on the Local and Consent Calendars and Higher Education Committees. Rep. Martinez’s website lists his priorities as avoiding further education budget cuts and expanding health care access through Medicaid and indigent health care. Rep. Martinez voted against tabling all amendments to HB 2.
Joe Pickett (HD 79, El Paso) – A nine term Representative of El Paso, Rep. Pickett is one of the last six caucasian members of the Democratic Caucus. This session has been an eventful one for Rep. Pickett. During a Transportation Committee meeting late in the session, he called out Texas TURF’s representative for constantly advocating against new revenues to pay for current road improvements without offering alternative solutions on how to pay for the necessary maintenance. Currently, Rep. Pickett serves as Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security & Public Safety where several bills expanding gun rights were referred, including the campus concealed carry bill. As Chair, Rep. Pickett allowed these bills to be voted out of his committee even though, to his credit, he chose to vote no on many of them. Rep. Pickett’s closest general election was in 2004 when he was re-elected with just over 66% of the vote. Rep. Pickett voted for only three of the twenty two amendments offered to HB 2.
**Special Notes: Democratic Rep. Joe Farias (HD 118, San Antonio) was absent for the vote and House District 50 has no current voting member due to Mark Strama's (D) registration to become the head of Austin’s Google Fiber.
For the Republicans in the Texas House, only one of their ninety five members had the courage to speak up and say that she felt HB 2 was bad public policy. That member is Representative Sarah Davis (HD 134, Houston). Rep. Davis has openly campaigned as a pro-women's health candidate and when it came time to make good on her campaign promise, she did. During the debate she referenced her district and constituents, pointing out she represents the Houston Medical Center and support for HB 2 among the medical community was slim, assuming it exists at all. Other Republican members, Dr. John Zerwas (HD 28, Richmond), Dr. JD Sheffield (HD 59, Gatesville), and Susan King (HD 71, Abeline), hedged on their support for HB 2 and joined the Democrats on many of the amendment votes. All three of these Republicans are doctors or have made a career practicing health care or medicine in some other way. At one point during the debate, Republican Representative Steve Toth (HD 15, The Woodlands) took to Twitter and called out Representative JD Sheffield for voting for many of the amendments sponsored by the Democrats. Rep. Toth has since deleted his tweet, but a screenshot was captured before he did so. It is unknown why he deleted this tweet.
It's up to the voters back home to determine if their personal representative was doing their job and representing their beliefs. HB 2 was only one of the hundreds of votes each of these representatives took this session, but it was a big one and mattered more than many others. The voters in these individuals’ districts will be the ones to decide if the above six members did the correct thing by breaking from their party or if the other one hundred forty two members did the correct thing by sticking with their party’s position. Primaries for the next general election are currently slated for March 4 with the candidate filing deadline set for December 9, 2013.