Ethics Committee Chairman – either ignorant of the laws or chose to ignore them

Quick! Someone get a primer on ethics and the law over to Joe Straus’ General Investigating & Ethics Committee, before they meet again…

The committee’s chairman — Chuck Hopson (R-Jacksonville) — is either ignorant of the laws governing his committee, or just chose to ignore them last week. Neither paints a flattering picture of the Speaker’s leadership team. Especially since Speaker Straus now says he wants lawmakers to address ethics reform this spring.

Vice Chairman of Threats?
For everyone playing along at home, here’s where we find ourselves. The vice chairman of the Ethics committee, State Rep. Larry Phillips (R-Sherman), was accused of threatening to use redistricting as a tool of retribution against every Republican opposing the re-election of Speaker Straus. That’d be illegal, if true.

By the way, Mr. Phillips currently holds several powerful leadership positions in the House, courtesy of the Speaker.

Mr. Phillips’ accuser was a fellow Straus supporter, State Rep. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola). (Hughes has since left Team Straus over the incident.) Speaker Straus and Mr. Hopson called for an immediate hearing. Most of the establishment ire was directed, of course, at Mr. Hughes.

Oath For Thee, Not For Me
At the hearing last week, the committee chairman Hopson didn’t bother to follow the law.

According to Texas’ government code, “All legislative committees shall require witnesses to give testimony under oath, subject to the penalties of perjury… The oath required by this section may be waived by any committee except a general investigating committee.” (Um, that’d be your committee, Mr. Hopson.)

Did Hopson Break The Law?
Mr. Hughes had to ask to be administered the oath (“…to tell the truth…”) before offering his testimony. Chairman Hopson, who coincidentally has received tens of thousands of dollars from Mr. Straus, let Mr. Phillips deny the accusation without being so sworn. Why?

Mr. Phillips’ statement came in two parts: first, praising Speaker Straus’ bona fides as a conservative; second, flatly denying the accusation. It’s unclear which part of his statement Mr. Phillips’ wouldn’t want to make under oath.

Mr. Hughes and Mr. Phillips are both attorneys, and therefore understand the “penalties of perjury” all too well. Make no mistake: one of them is lying. They told starkly different stories – one man under oath, the other not.

As expected, the committee took no action because neither Mr. Hughes nor Mr. Phillips had a recording of their conversation.

Our friends at Liberty Institute say the meeting — because only one witness was placed under oath — was “illegal.” The organization’s president and chief counsel, Kelly Shackelford, called on Speaker Straus to “repudiate such actions and illegality immediately.”

Ethically Speaking
Will Speaker Straus call for an investigation of his investigator’s sloppy committee practices? Don’t count on it. He did, though, tell the Houston Chronicle that ethics reform is a priority for him next session.

Those comments came in an article trashing House Republican Caucus chairman Larry Taylor for allegedly double-billing the state and his campaign account for expenses. Never mind that the Friendswood Republican provided the paper with bank statements negating the claims, Speaker Straus appeared to publicly toss Taylor under the ethical bus. Moderately, of course.

6,400 And Growing!
Nearly 6,400 Texans are calling on the near-supermajority Texas House Republicans to elect a conservative Speaker for the new legislative session. Individual Texans — along with conservative movement, tea party and Republican leaders — say the November election was a mandate for conservative leadership. Join in the call!



For Texas,
Michael Quinn Sullivan
& the Team

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