By Mark P. Jones
The Texas Senate’s roll-call votes from this year’s regular session make it possible, as we did earlier with the House, to rank the state’s 31 senators from left to right on the political spectrum.
Political scientists have for decades used roll-call votes cast by members of the U.S. Congress to plot them on the Liberal-Conservative dimension along which most legislative politics now takes place. This ranking of the Texas Senate does the same — by drawing on the 1,387 non-lopsided roll-call votes taken during the 2019 regular session. As with previous rankings conducted in 2017 (post-special session), 2017 (regular session), 2015, 2013 and 2011, this one uses a Bayesian estimation procedure belonging to the family of methodological approaches that represent political science’s gold standard for roll-call vote analysis.
In the chart below, Republicans are indicated by red dots and Democrats by blue ones. Based on the roll-call vote analysis, it provides a mean ideal point for each senator, referred to as the Lib-Con Score, along with the 95 percent credible interval (CI) for that estimate. If two legislators’ CIs overlap, their positions on the ideological spectrum might be statistically equivalent, even if their Lib-Con Scores are different. Also included are vertical dashed black lines, which indicate the location of the median Democratic and Republican senators. (Here’s a table with the 31 senators ranked from most liberal to most conservative.)
It’s important to keep in mind that Republican senators can register Lib-Con Scores that are noticeably lower than those of most of their fellow Republicans while remaining conservative. It simply means they have voting records that are less conservative than most of their Republican colleagues. In 2019, every Republican senator’s Lib-Con Score is significantly more conservative than that of every Democratic senator; every Democrat’s score is significantly more liberal than every Republican’s.
The 19 Republican senators fall into three general groups. Bob Hall of Edgewood is in a group of one at the conservative end of the ideological spectrum. His Lib-Con Score is significantly more conservative than that of every other GOP senator.
The remaining 18 Republicans fall into two groups, a more conservative group of ten senators and a more centrist group of eight. Of note, the CIs of the members of these two groups do not overlap in any instance, with every member of the first group significantly more conservative than every member of the latter group.
Members of the more conservative group range from Bryan Hughes of Mineola to Brian Birdwell of Granbury. Hughes and Paul Bettencourt of Houston can be seen as representing a somewhat distinct conservative wing within this more conservative group.
The more centrist of these two groups ranges from Jane Nelson of Flower Mound to Kel Seliger of Amarillo. Seliger can be seen as representing a somewhat distinct centrist wing within this group.
The 12 Democratic senators also fall into three general groups. At the centrist end of the ideological spectrum are three senators, Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa of McAllen, Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville and Royce West of Dallas. Hinojosa and Lucio have Lib-Con Scores that are significantly more centrist than those of all of the other nine Democrats, while West’s is significantly more centrist than those of seven of the nine more liberal Democrats.
José Rodríguez of El Paso and José Menéndez of San Antonio anchor the liberal end of the Democratic delegation’s ideological spectrum, with Lib-Con Scores that are significantly more liberal than those of most of their Democratic colleagues.
In between these liberal and centrist groups is a much larger group of seven senators ranging from Judith Zaffirini of Laredo to Nathan Johnson of Dallas.
The Senate Center
Four senators (two Democrats and two Republicans) stand out for having Lib-Con Scores that are closer to the Lib-Con Score of multiple members of the other party than they are to the Lib-Con Score of two or more of their co-partisans. To the extent to which there is a consensual center in the Texas Senate, it is represented most visibly by these four senators: Republicans Seliger and Pete Flores of Pleasanton and Democrats Hinojosa and Lucio.
Seliger and Flores have Lib-Con Scores that are closer to those of some Democrats than they are to the Lib-Con Scores of fellow Republicans Bettencourt, Hughes and Hall. And Hinojosa and Lucio have Lib-Con Scores that are closer to a handful of Republicans than they are to Rodríguez and Menéndez.