1:54 pm CST - January 03, 2011
Posted under On The Record
Please find attached my thoughts regarding the proposed Republican Caucus vote on the next Speaker. As you know a considerable amount of time each session is spent on legislation necessitated by unintended consequences of seemly innocuous bills passed in prior sessions.
In my view the pending Republican Caucus vote presents an analogist dilemma. What may appear on its face as benign and routine may is fact have unintended and insidious consequences. I have attempted to elaborate in the attached letter.
Text of Letter:
Dear Chairmen Taylor,
The Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives is “one of the most powerful and influential political figures in the state, vested with the responsibility of overseeing the course of lawmaking in every possible area of interest to any Texan.” Those words were written as the joint position of The American Civil Liberties Union, The Free Market Foundation and The Eagle Forum in their Motion for Injunction against the Texas Ethics Commission regarding the enforcement of the so-called “Speaker Statute”.
This unlikely coalition of organizations only tends to substantiate the significance of the Speaker’s position. Article 3 Section 9(b) of the Texas Constitution sets out his/her election as the first order of business of each new Legislative Session. Why then would one group of legislators to the exclusion of another smaller group seek to disenfranchise their colleagues from such an important and constitutional function as the election of the Speaker?
The Chairman of the Texas House Republican Caucus has called for a meeting of the Republican Caucus the day before the House convenes for the next legislative session for just that purpose. I am confident that no member of the Republican Caucus perceives in any manner that participation in a caucus-only election of the Speaker disenfranchises anyone. However, for the sake of a different perspective, let’s say that the 1965 Voting Rights Act applied to the Speaker’s Race.
Section 2 of the Act was amended in 1982 to prohibit any voting practice or procedure that has a discriminatory effect or result on otherwise qualified minority voters. No longer is it necessary to show a discriminatory purpose, only effect. As stated, there is no discriminatory purpose here, but certainly a discriminatory effect. The forty-nine (49) Democratic legislators not being allowed to participate in what is tantamount to the election of the Speaker consist of forty-two minorities; fifteen (15) African Americans, twenty-five (25) Hispanics and one (1) Asian. Should the Republican Caucus Bylaws be followed an additional two African-Americans and four Hispanic Republican Elect members and one Hispanic former Democrat would be denied a vote as well. These forty-nine minority House Members and the eight millions Texans they represent are being disenfranchised from the Speaker’s election.
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires that “any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting, different from that in force or effect on November 1, 1964… in any covered jurisdiction…” must be pre-cleared by the Justice Department or the United States District Court of the District of Columbia to determine that such change does not have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote of racial minorities.
Those who take the position that the Caucus vote is non-binding, therefore, “ no harm no foul”, are missing an important point; that the institution and its citizens will be harmed by the process and procedure leading to the vote itself, and not simply the outcome of the vote. The Voting Rights Act may or may not apply to the Speaker’s race but an overlay of the Act on the proposed election procedure should give all my Republican colleagues reason to pause and reconsider.
I leave you with this quote from Republican Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen to his fellow Republican Senators on April 22, 1965, when urging the passage of the Voting Rights Act wherein he emphasized the constitutional principle of “consent of the governed” before posing this rhetorical question: “How then shall there be government by the people if some of the people cannot speak?” One hundred years to the month after the Civil War ended, in Dirksen’s words, “we seek a solution which overrides emotion and sentimentality, prejudice and politics and which will provide a fair and equitable solution.”
Joseph D. Deshotel