AUSTIN — Longtime Fort Worth Republican lawmaker Charlie Geren was named speaker pro tempore of the Texas House of Representatives on Wednesday as Speaker Dade Phelan named three other Tarrant County Republicans to chair committees.
Two Tarrant County Democrats who led a partisan uprising over voting legislation in 2021 lost leadership posts as committee chairs, but both said they were pleased with their new assignments.
Geren, a rancher and restaurant owner who represents the northwest portion of Tarrant County, has been in the House since 2001 and has been a member of the House Republican leadership under Phelan and former Speaker Joe Straus. As speaker pro tem, Geren will play a key role in the House administration and will be responsible for convening and presiding over the House in the speaker’s absence.
Phelan’s long-awaited committee assignments also boosted Tarrant County’s influence in other ways as Republican Reps. Craig Goldman of Fort Worth, Giovanni Capriglione of Southlake and Stephanie Klick of Fort Worth were named to head committees in the GOP-majority, 150-member chamber.
Goldman, who also leads the 86-member House Republican Caucus, will chair the Energy Resources Committee. Capriglione will head the Pensions, Investments and Financial Services Committee. Klick returned as chair of the Public Health Committee, where she has led a push for medical marijuana legislation in Texas.
Republican Rep. David Cook of Mansfield was named as vice-chair of Criminal Jurisprudence.
Phelan named eight Democrats to chair committees. His appointments defied demands from conservative Republicans and the state Republican leadership to keep committee chairs out of the hands of Democrats.
But the speaker did not return Tarrant County Democrats Chris Turner of Grand Prairie and Nicole Collier of Fort Worth as committee chairs. But Collier said she did not ask to be returned to the committee she led in the previous session, House Criminal Jurisprudence. Turner chaired the House Business and Industry Committee.
Turner and Collier led a 2021 Democratic House walk-out over a polarizing voting bill. Nearly all of the House Democrats staged a walk-out during the final hours of the regular session and fled to Washington, D.C., to keep the Republican majority from obtaining a quorum to pass the bill, which critics called one of the most restrictive in the country. The legislation ultimately passed in a special session.
“There’s no question that these committee reassignments are retaliation for Chris and Nicole standing up and fighting for voting rights for constituents,” said Matt Angle, founder of the Democrat-aligned Lone Star Project.
But the House members said their new assignments give them the opportunity to play constructive roles for both the state and their home districts. Turner will now serve as vice chair of the House Redistricting Committee and also as a member of the State Affairs and tax-writing Ways and Means committees, both of which he described as major committees. “I’m happy with my committees,” he said.
Collier is now a member of Public Health and Culture, Recreation and Tourism committees. The posts, she said, will enable her to continue her focus on improving public health and increasing cultural, recreation and tourism in Tarrant County, including developing and promoting the proposed Juneteenth museum.
Phelan also reassigned Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, who unsuccessfully ran against the incumbent speaker in a challenge for the leadership post on the opening day of the session in January.
Tinderholt, who served a total of 21 years in both the Air Force and Army, is chairman of the House Veterans Caucus and served on the Committee on Defense and Veterans Affairs and the Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety during the 2021 session. He will be on the County Affairs and Public Health committees during the current legislature.
Tinderholt, who took office in 2015, served on County Affairs during his first term in the legislature and said he’s “honored” to be returning “A lot of important legislation goes through there,” he said.
In announcing the 36 committees chairs and the speaker pro tempore, the equivalent of a committee chair, Phelan said he weighed “the preferences expressed by each member as well as the diverse talents they bring to the table — a combination that will drive our chamber’s success and impact on issues facing Texans this legislative session.”
Personal preferences, seniority, House demographics and regional make-up all played a part in the decisions, Phelan said.
Of the total appointments, he said, 28 (75 percent) are Republican and nine (25 percent) are Democrat. Phelan, answering criticism from ultra-conservatives, maintained that appointing members of the minority party to chair committees in the House has been a long- standing tradition, even before Republicans took control of the chamber from Democrats in 2003.
Overall, Tarrant County appeared to wind up with a diverse reach over influencing legislation. No one from Tarrant County was named to the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee, but Geren and Cook will both be on the House Calendars Committee that determines which committee-passed bills make it to a vote on the House floor.
Geren will also be on the State Affairs and the general investigating committee. Democratic Rep. Ramon Romero Jr. of Fort Worth, who has been in the House since 2015, will be on Urban Affairs and Transportation, both of which shape big issues in the populous Fort Worth-Arlington-Dallas metropolitan region.
The delegation’s two freshman members also landed on respected committees: Republican Rep. Nate Schatzline of Fort Worth will join Tinderholt on County Affairs and will be one of three Tarrant County members on Criminal Jurisprudence, serving along with vice-chair Cook and freshman colleague Salman Bhojani, a Euless Democrat. Bhojani will also serve on the Pensions, Investments and Financial Services Committee chaired by Capriglione.
David Montgomery is a longtime journalist who has served as an Austin Bureau chief for the Dallas Times Herald, Austin and Washington bureau chief for the Fort Worth Star Telegram, and Moscow bureau chief for Knight Ridder Newspapers. He also served in the Washington bureau of Knight Ridder and McClatchy Newspapers. As head of Media Southwest Freelance, he also reports and writes for freelance clients that include the Fort Worth Report, New York Times, Stateline, Texas Highways and other entities. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri.
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