5 Tarrant freshmen making a name in state House

Posted Monday, Feb. 11, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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AUSTIN -- They forged a common bond as like-minded candidates in Republican primary races, united by conservative themes from states rights to contempt for big government.

Now, as members of the 2013 Legislature, Tarrant County's five new Republican House members are making their presence felt.

Their collective strength was on display last week when they chose one of their own, Rep. Stephanie Klick, to lead the Tarrant County House delegation in an election for what is typically an uncontested position. Klick, a former Tarrant County Republican Party chairwoman, was chosen in a 6-3 vote over six-year Rep. Diane Patrick of Arlington.

"The new group from Tarrant County was a Tea Party freshman dream team," says Mike Hailey, editor and publisher of Capitol Inside, an online publication that covers state government and politics. "They're very conservative as a group, and a few of them seem to be starting out as far to the right as it can get for individual members."

Rep. Giovanni Capriglione of Southlake, who defeated longtime incumbent and committee Chairwoman Vicki Truitt of Keller in last year's Republican primary, has been named chairman of the new Freshman Republican Caucus. Its creation this year is a testament to the large number of GOP newcomers.

This year's rookie class is the largest in 40 years. Of the 41 new members, 29 are Republicans, according to the House clerk's office.

The Tarrant County five - Klick, Capriglione, Jonathan Stickland of Bedford and Craig Goldman and Matt Krause of Fort Worth - all carried Tea Party endorsements and often saw one another at the same candidate forums during the election season, forming an alliance that has continued and strengthened during the opening weeks of the Legislature.

With seven new faces, the revamped delegation bears little resemblance to its makeup during the 2011 session. In addition to the five new Republicans, the 2013 delegation includes new Democrats Nicole Collier of Fort Worth, a freshman, and Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, a former member who was defeated in 2010 but rebounded in last year's election. He represents the new 101st District in eastern Tarrant County.

Only four lawmakers from the 2011 legislative session are back this year - Patrick, Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, and Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, one of House Speaker Joe Straus' top lieutenants. The delegation, which expanded from 10 to 11 seats with the creation of Turner's district, has eight Republicans and three Democrats.

Members of the revamped delegation chose Klick as their new chairwoman in a closed meeting that was barred even to staff members, according to participants.

All six Republicans who were present -- the five new members and Zedler -- voted for Klick. Burnam and Turner supported Patrick. Geren and Collier didn't attend.

"A couple of days [before the meeting], several of my colleagues asked me to consider [running] and I did," said Klick, who was county GOP chairwoman for six years before running for the Legislature. "We've got a large delegation of new people and some of the new members have different needs than some of the seasoned folks do. When you've got seven new members from one county, that's a lot."

Patrick, a former Arlington educator who has been a member of the House since 2007, had served in effect as interim delegation chairman and organized an initial delegation meeting last month that included a briefing by North Texas transportation leaders. She is a member of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee and vice chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee.

Patrick said she sought the delegation leadership because "I am passionate about Tarrant County issues." She said she will continue "to stay focused on issues that matter to Tarrant County."

Klick's supporters said the election contest was not intended as an affront to Patrick but was aimed at injecting what Krause described as "new blood" into the delegation leadership.

"We elected seven new [representatives] this incoming session," Krause said. "From my point of view, I thought it would be great to have a chairman who reflected that change."

"I don't think it was anything against Diane," said Zedler, a Tea Party-backed fifth-term lawmaker who was elected delegation vice chairman. He said Klick's backers chose her in part because she was "very knowledgeable about county affairs" through her former political leadership post.

But Burnam, the dean of the delegation, said fallout from the contested election could create friction in the group.

"I'm afraid it might," he said. "Historically, this has been the most cohesive and collegial urban delegation in the state."

Burnam, who became a House member in 1997, said he doesn't recall a contested election for delegation chairman in his nine terms in the House. Asked for his reaction, Burnam said, "I think the behavior speaks for itself and I don't want to comment on it."

Geren said he didn't "have an impression" about the outcome. "I wasn't there," he said.

'Consistent message'

Klick, a former nurse whom Straus appointed to the House Human Services Committee, said the Republican freshmen developed a close working relationship well before entering the Legislature.

"We saw each other all the time during the campaign," she recalled. "Some of us knew each other before we were candidates."

Most of the five candidates effectively secured their legislative seats in the Republican primary with heavy grassroots support from Tea Party activists and intense door-knocking efforts in their respective districts. Krause and Goldman had to get past Democratic opponents but easily prevailed in the November general election.

Krause, like Capriglione, ousted a Republican House member in the primary, defeating one-term Rep. Barbara Nash of Arlington.

Klick defeated North Richland Hills Mayor Pro Tem Ken Sapp in a runoff, winning 54 percent to 46 percent. Geren came under criticism from Klick's supporters for contributing a total of $1,500 to her opponent.

The sweep of Tea Party candidates was initially seen as being potentially troublesome for Straus, who has periodically faced conservative dissent since becoming speaker in 2009. Zedler and Krause both signaled their intention to vote for Straus' challenger for speaker, Rep. David Simpson of Longview, but Simpson withdrew on the opening day of the Legislature and Straus was re-elected by acclamation without a roll call.

"All five of the freshmen had a very consistent message," said San Antonio political consultant Luke Macias.

"All of them talked about the need to drive dollars back to the classroom in education, they talked about addressing the drain of illegal immigration on our budget, and they talked about being honest with our voters about our budget by eliminating accounting gimmicks."

Macias was a consultant for Giovanni, Krause and Stickland. North Texas consultant Kevin Brannon was strategist for Klick and Goldman.

After the election, the five prepared for their tenure in the Legislature by jointly attending briefings with major Tarrant County employers and joined other new Republicans from around the state in pre-session workshops on parliamentary procedures and House rules.

"They planned on being able to hit the ground running and they have," said Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, a member of the House for more than 14 years. "This is the first time I recall the new members actually doing their own organizing."

And, he added, "They're going to make an impact." Of the five new members from Tarrant County, three - Capriglione, Krause and Stickland - have filed a total of 18 bills, including several eye-catching measures reflecting their views on issues such as the Second Amendment and what they denounce as intrusive federal policies. Klick and Goldman had not filed any bills by late last week, according to the Legislature's website.

Krause, a constitutional attorney, has filed a "come-and-take-it" bill that would bar state and local enforcement agents from being deputized to enforce federal firearms regulations. He is also pushing a bill that would exempt gun manufacturers in Texas from federal regulations as long as the weapons don't leave Texas and cross into interstate commerce.

Capriglione has resurrected a controversial bill from two previous sessions that would allow concealed handgun licensees to carry their weapons in college buildings.Stickland has drawn attention with legislation to give state tax breaks to Hobby Lobby Stores and other religiously based businesses forced to pay federal fines for not complying with contraceptive mandates under the Affordable Care Act.

Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram's Austin bureau chief.

Twitter: @daveymontgomery

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