Texas Latino Republican Legislators Can Set The Agenda, But Only If They Are Proactive

By Alex Gonzalez

The game of politics is more about showmanship than actual policy. Freshman legislators who want to get noticed, or be taken seriously, often have to rock the boat to move up in ranks, or to become media darlings.  They rock the establishment by becoming very vocal in the media about one specific issue which puts them in center of attention;  the more media attention they draw from offering their views on hot issues, the more leverage they gain with the Party establishment and voters  in their district, and outside their district as well.  Additionally, freshmen legislators, wishing to make their mark, introduce legislations in their respective cameras to bring attention to issues important to their voter, or “pressure  groups”, in their district.  Often, such legislations from the beginning do not have a realistic expectation of making it out committee, and onto any legislation filed it is assigned to. But the real objective of the bills are to create a movement to embellish the legislator or shift attention from other issue.

As a result, because the original purpose of such bills is to bring an issue forward and get attention from the media, whoever introduces the bills get all the credits and media attention.  They also become heroic symbols to their voters or groups, who see in them inspiration or potential national leaders. As a result, the only way for  freshman legislators, or a small group of legislators, who want to make their marks then is to engage in this game of showmanship.  As such, they agitate the system a little bit to the get necessary attention.  This may the only alternative for the only three Latino Republicans in Texas House of Representative to get things moving and gain National Recognition.

The Texas House of Representatives is made of 150 and 30 Senators. Of the 180 legislators, there are 38 Hispanic lawmakers in the Legislature, accounting for more than 20 percent of the House and Senate. There are 5 Democrat Senators and 30 House members, and only tree Republican Hispanic Houses members–Larry Gonzales( from Round Rock, a suburb of Austin) Jason Villalba (North Dallas) and J M Lozano ( a district surrounding Corpus Christi). As a result, Hispanic Republicans are at a vast disadvantage, not only because they are easily outnumber by Hispanic Democrats, but because their voices can easily  be overshadowed by the other 92 Republican House members who will build collations to pass bills. Also, the 3 Latino come from 3 very different districts.

So the only why that any of the three Hispanic legislators can have any say in any issue is by forming coalition (trade-off votes), or alliances with other Republicans with overlapping issues.  But this also limits what Hispanics Republican legislators can do because they are likely to support someone else’s legislation other than their own if they don’t file their own bills.

So unless the three Hispanic Republicans introduce their own legislations and build a support coalition with other fellow Republicans, their impact chances to make any meaningful impact in the state politics will be overshadow by the “loud voices” of the those who do introduce a legislation, or by the majority Republican bloc that seek to opposed any legislation by Democrats.   Therefore, without the proactive action of introductions legislations themselves, their chances to make a name for themselves are very limited because they will be promoting somebody else’s legislation.

Who Gets To Set The Agenda

In politics we have what is known as “setting the agenda.” This entails that the media can set the ‘agenda’ when it they conveniently talk about an issue, and thereby, forces legislators to take on the issues publicly and maybe even introduce legislation. Similarly, a legislator can set the agenda by introducing a bill that is popular or controversial, and thus, bring the media involvement  in  the issue that the legislators want to promote.

As I stated earlier, a legislator can set the agenda by getting the media to talk about him/her and  the legislature by getting the media to talk about them,  or by introducing a bill the can be controversial, yet such controversial bills are the ones that build the political carriers for many freshman legislators. Too, getting grass-roots “pressure groups” also is another advantage since they are very involved in local communities and through social media. The best example of   this sudden rise to popularity by introducing legislations occurred in the 82nd Session when freshmen Tea Party introduced bills that didn’t have a chance to pass, yet it did bring attention and popularity to those who introduce controversial bills.

In Texas, in the 82nd Session, thousands of bills were introduced during biennial legislative session and Latino Republicans also introduce about 200 bills; with the exception John Garza’s bill on immigration, none of the bills introduced by Latino GOP Republicans made the news. Republicans John Garza introduced 68 bill, Aaron Pena introduced 52, Raul Torres 48, Jose Eliseda 46, and Dee Margo 16.  And there were about 12 bills filed in which all Latino Republican legislators—Pena, Torres, Garza, Gonzales, Eliseda and Margo–were “involved.” But all those had to do more with voter fraud prevention, yet nobody really noticed them. Conversely, most of the six Latino GOP legislators had to be on the defensive on other bills like redistricting, Vote ID, anti-statuary bill, and cuts on education. In other word, they could not promote their promote their own bills and had to defend somebody else’s legislation.  As a result, their visibility was diminished.

So even though last Session we had six Latino Republicans legislator who introduced many bills they wanted to promote,  more popular  or controversial  bills introduced by other legislators took center stage, and as a result,  the media focused and those issues. In this instance, the media and those legislators got all the attention and thereby set the agenda, whereas Latino Republicans and their bills received very little attention; and they spent most of their time on the defense explaining why the GOP was antagonizing the Latino community in Texas. Essentially, as Republicans, they had to be defending somebody else’s  bill.

With only three Latino Republicans in Texas legislature it may seem unfeasible they can do more than six legislators from last Session. However, if the three legislators are proactive—setting the agenda–and file bills that can be supported by all of them, and bills that the majority of Republican in the House will support, they can actually do more with less. But they need bills where they can find support from “pressure groups”, and that can get the media involved and civic and religions Hispanic organization involved, even if it is just for showmanship.   Because if they don’t, somebody else will want get the media attention by being “tough” on something, and will thereby set the agenda.

Sen. Dan Patrick

One of the best examples of a legislator who can set a sequence of events with unintended consequences for Latino Republicans is what happened with the anti-sanctuary bill. The bill was introduced by Sen. Dan Patrick Republican of Houston.  Sen. Patrick comes from a very liberal/progressive big city where the Major Ann Parker and Democrat Sheriff Adrian Garcia have all the power over local law enforcement. As a result, it is possible that Sen. Patrick thought that by introducing the anti-sanctuary bill, he would take a jab major Parker and Sherriff Garcia by making then look weak on crime by not checking people’s legal status when stopped by police.

But this set a wave unintended consequences because now all of the factions with the GOP see this as answer to illegal immigration. I say that this had unintended consequences because Sen. Dan Patrick is one the strongest,  defenders of in-state-tuition for undocumented students. And he was very unapologetic about when he defended his support for the bill in conversation with Sen. Ted Cruz. Also, Patrick, now the chairman of the Education Committee, had of one friendliest record towards immigrants. So it is possible that Sen. Patrick never really intended the bill to be more than symbolic bill against Major Parker and Sherriff Garcia, but legislation became its own monster that had serious implications with Republicans legislators who had to explain why they would support this bill.

Furthermore, the House of Representatives has a populist purpose at its core. Because  it is a large body-members, Representatives spend a vast amount of time competing for attention, and thus, often introduce multiple symbolic bills whose only goal is to draw attention.    For example, in 82nd Session, about 70%  of the bills were file in House of Representatives.  And, if we look a top bills introduced, none had to do with the most contentions bills in Texas—voter ID, Redistricting, immigration; here are the top bills introduced by category:

Bills Introduced/filed in the Texas legislature in 2011



Education 909
Taxation 483
County Government 427
Property Interests 399
Criminal Procedure 391
Occupational Regulation 382
Special Districts – Authorities 382
City Government 377
Crimes 367
Insurance 336

However, there were only 15 immigration bills introduced in the House and  3 were in the Senate, yet this issue even though were very few, took center stage in the Hispanic communities more than with the voter ID and redistricting even though the main issues on the top in the legislature had nothing to do with immigration. As a result, there is way for the Texas GOP to fix the image problem with Latinos, but it will require the game of showmanship by which Latinos legislators, in conjunction with Republican Majority, to introduce bills that will create the environment where Latino Republican legislators can standout. If you want to standout in the legislature, stop waiting by the sidelines until “the loud voices” set the agenda and then have to spend their time on the defensive explaining why the Republican Party is not as bad as the media says. And let the media and “loud voices” define what GOP is, be on the offense and introduce  conservative market-based legislation that can appeal to Latinos like education, driver licenses for non-aliens, and charter schools programs.

Less means more. When I asked Rep, Larry Gonzales, if it would be more difficult to mark the role of GOP Hispanics in the legislature, he thought that actually this time around the small number of three could do more. He believes that the current GOP Latino legislators in the House had more in common than the “gang” of 6 legislators in the past Session. And a result, the overlapping issues between the “gang” of 3 may be more successful in revamping the image of the GOP. But for this to be successful they would have to introduce bills that Hispanic organizations/civic, Texas businesses, pressure groups, and the media can rally behind. Essentially, they will have to rock the boat and learn to set the agenda; and. put on a political show that will put them in center of media circus.

Alex Gonzalez  is a political Analyst and Political Director for Latinos Ready To Vote!  He received a Bachelors Degree and a Masters’ Degree, with emphasis in American politics,  from San Francisco State University.
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