The Texas political scene is influenced by more than just the usual two political parties (Democrats and Republicans). It is influenced by four voting blocs or political tribes: Democrats and three groups of Republicans: Liberal Republicans, Moderate Republicans, and Conservative Republicans. Dr. Mark Jones, a well-respected political scientist at Rice University, recognized this political divide in his 2017 analysis of the Texas House: “The 94 members of the GOP House delegation cover a wide range of positions along the liberal-conservative ideological spectrum… The ideological diversity of the House GOP caucus is reflected in the substantial differences observed among its members. Sixteen of the 94 Republican House members are significantly less conservative … while 19 are significantly more conservative than … their fellow Republicans.” In other words, Dr. Jones’ analysis confirmed that in addition to Democrats, there are indeed three rather distinct voting blocs among Republicans.
Here’s a description of these four tribes and some representative members of each:
Obviously the most liberal of the four tribes, Texas Democrats tend to vote as a cohesive unit. Though they hold no state-wide elected offices and have long been in the minority in the Texas House and Senate, they still hold considerable power. Most often Texas Democrats wield their power by joining forces with liberal Republicans to advance a liberal cause or to thwart a more conservative agenda. Key members of this tribe:
This political tribe is the most powerful faction in the Texas House as it boasts the Speaker of the House and important members of House leadership. This tribe wields its considerable power by fast-tracking favored legislation and running out the clock on disfavored bills. This tribe is able to expand its already formidable power by coercing cooperation from moderate Republicans and by making alliances with Democrats. Key members of this tribe:
By far the largest faction of Republicans, this group consists of the middle-of-the-road, go-along-to-get-along types. This tribe has more conservative instincts that the liberal leadership tribe, but often votes with the liberals to avoid being shut out of committee chairmanships and to avoid having their legislation ignored. This group typically boasts of strong conservative principles on the campaign trail, but allows themselves to get bullied by leadership into more liberal votes. It is because of this group that we have taken a close look at certain “character” votes – votes where House members were backed into a legislative corner and forced to take a stand – with the liberal faction or with the conservative faction. Key members of this tribe:
This group, self-described as the Texas Freedom Caucus, inhabits the opposite end of the political spectrum from Democrats and frequently opposes the liberal Republican House leadership as well. While fewer in number than the other political tribes, this faction is often able to exhibit out-sized influence by its sheer willingness to fight and its alliance with grassroots voters. Key members of this tribe:
The Bottom Line:
The Texas political scene is not as simple as Democrats vs. Republicans. Although Republicans hold strong majorities in both houses as well as the governorship and every other statewide office, there are serious ideological divides within the Republican Party. Political power in Texas is generally divided among four tribes – Democrats, Liberal Republicans, Moderate Republicans, and Conservative Republicans. Understanding these divisions of power, the key players on each team, and the money that supports them, is crucial to following Texas politics and discerning who is really on your side.
PACs Have Political Tribes Too: We go beyond political rhetoric to examine some prominent PACs from each political tribe.
An Easy Guide to the Big Money PACs in Texas Politics – In this Series: