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Today’s Republican Party is too radical even for Rick Perry

Mark Jones states a few facts about the Texas version of the DREAM Act that Rick Perry signed in 2001, and what it says about the Republican Party now.

In 2001 the Republican Party enjoyed a narrow majority over the Democratic Party in the Texas Senate (16 to 15), and was in its last session as the minority party in the Texas House, with 72 seats to the Democratic Party’s 78. The final version of HB 1403 was amended and passed by the Senate on May 21, 2001, voted on for a second time in the House (which concurred with the Senate’s amended version) on May 24, and signed into law by Perry on June 16.

In the Senate, the bill passed by a 27 to 3 vote, with 12 Republicans and 15 Democrats in favor, and three Republicans against. Seven of the 12 Republicans who supported the bill continue to serve today in the Texas Senate, with three (Sens. John Carona, Troy Fraser, and Florence Shapiro) among only eight senators (out of a total of 19 Republicans) to receive awards for their legislative voting record from the conservative watchdog group, Empower Texans. Also voting yes was Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Todd Staples, who was then a senator.

The final version of the bill received even stronger Republican backing in the House, with 64 Republicans joining 66 Democrats to vote yes (130 total) versus only two dissenting votes (both Republicans). In the vote on the original version of HB 1403 on April 23, 67 Republicans joined 75 Democrats to approve the bill, with one Republican voting no. Ten years later, 23 of the 64 Republicans (along with two Democrats who would later switch to the Republican Party) who voted yea on the final version of the bill continued in office, as did two Republicans who voted for the bill on April 23, but were absent on May 24.

These legislators are some of the Texas House’s most conservative members (based on both the Empower Texans 2011 Legislative Scorecard as well as the Baker Institute’s 2011 Liberal-Conservative rating), including former House Speaker (2003-09) Tom Craddick, Sid Miller, Leo Berman, Phil King, Dennis Bonnen, Wayne Christian, and Bill Callegari. All were classified by both Empower Texans and the Baker Institute as among the most conservative third of the Republican delegation in the 2011 Texas House. Furthermore, five additional representatives who supported the bill (Gary Elkins, Charlie Howard, Lois Kolkhorst, Geanie Morrison, and Burt Solomons) were considered by both Empower Texans and the Baker Institute to be among the most conservative half of the 2011 Republican caucus.

Berman is especially well known for his hawkish stance on immigration. In 2011 he was the author of several bills in this area, including one patterned on Arizona’s SB 1070 and others which proposed to end birthright citizenship and to make English the state’s official language. In addition, one of the Republican representatives who voted for HB 1403, Kenny Marchant, now represents Texas in the U.S. House, where he is located in the most conservative decile of the House membership by Voteview.org.

Yes, even Leo freaking Berman voted for HB1403 – which was authored by Rick Noriega, by the way – back then. The underlying point in all this cannot be emphasized enough: Today’s Republican Party has gone completely off the rails, abandoning principles and opposing policies it once championed in pursuit of a bizarre, destructive, and ultimately unattainable ideological purity in the eyes of its unhinged base. The fact that Rick Perry – Rick Perry! – is being attacked as a liberal tells you all you need to know. Thankfully, the Lege rebuffed attempts to repeal HB1403 this year, with prominent Republicans like Sen. Robert Duncan stepping up to help beat it back (for what it’s worth, I don’t recall seeing Perry say anything at the time), but with David Dewhurst now hopping aboard the xenophobia train, I would expect there to be a lot more pressure on this in 2013. It’s truly a sad state of affairs.

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