Texas House Democrats hint at disunity ahead of possible October special session
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Following a disappointing 2023 legislative session for Texas Democrats, state Rep. John Bryant, D-Dallas, said it’s time to take an active stand against Republicans after the party seemed “unwilling to work together” during the session.
Bryant, Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, and Victoria Neave Criado, D-Dallas, discussed weak consensus within their own party during a panel Saturday at The Texas Tribune Festival moderated by Matthew Watkins, managing editor of news and politics.
The party failed to exert its influence on many important issues in the House during the session — something Bryant blamed on “go-along-get-along” Democrats.
Bryant cited property tax cut legislationas a major missed opportunity for Democrats, who failed to wager their power to amend the bill to benefit renters.
“Part of the problem is we have 25 members who are either chairman or vice chair or have received other emoluments from the Speaker of the House,” Bryant said. “They argue in our caucus every single time not to take action that offends the Republican majority.”
Martinez Fischer serves as chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus and Neave Criado chairs the County Affairs Committee and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.
Despite a contrast in opinion, Criado said there is a benefit to different leadership styles within the caucus. “It's about doing the right thing for the people that we represent,” she said.
All three panel participants said they will oppose the school voucher bill during the special legislative session next month, a proposal that if approved would let parents take their kids out of public schools and enroll them into private ones using taxpayers' money. This will require Democrats to be unified with no room to waver or compromise, Bryant said.
“I think the case is so strong in our favor, it's really going to be a question of whether we can overcome … the billionaire caucus that is out there,” he said. “Putting the pressure on these Republicans and keep our wobbly Democrats in line. Not all the Democrats are talking the same way as the three of us.”
Neave Criado said the party will need to focus on what unites it to focus on raising teacher pay and taking care of public schools.
“I want to see us united. … I know that there are so many of us that are [united] and so that's what's important in the end is being united to fight for the people that we care about and our constituents back home,” Neave Criado said.
To get things done, Bryant said the responsibility falls on the public hold their representatives accountable.
“I have no confidence whatsoever that working as a caucus alone is going to do this,” he said. “It's going to require the public to come down on your individual member with phone calls, letters and your personal presence to guarantee that we don't lose so many Democrats that we can lose hope.”
As The Texas Tribune's signature event of the year, The Texas Tribune Festival brings Texans closer to politics, policy and the day’s news from Texas and beyond. Browse on-demand recordings and catch up on the biggest headlines from Festival events at the Tribune’s Festival news page.