AUSTIN – Standing outside the State Capitol just after presiding over his first meeting as chair of the Texas House Republican Caucus, Rep. Craig Goldman recycled an anecdote from his freshman year in the House as he ticked through a laundry list of what all his new job entails.
Halfway into his first session as a Fort Worth lawmaker, he approached a senior senator and asked him to sponsor one of his bills, Goldman recalled recently. “You’re too late,” the senator admonished. “You should have asked me a month ago.”
Helping fledgling members avoid the type of rookie mistakes he committed is just one of the duties ahead of him in his unfolding role as leader of the 86-member Republican majority in the 150-member House.
In addition to serving as a top deputy to House Speaker Dade Phelan, Goldman expects to wear a multitude of hats: fire extinguisher, mentor to freshman members, coalition-builder, money-raiser, legislative strategist, confidant, player-coach and a host of other as-yet unforeseen tasks.
Rep. Stephanie Klick, one of Goldman’s Fort Worth colleagues who has also served as caucus chair, describes the job as the proverbial “trying to herd cats,” and Goldman acknowledges that it undoubtedly will encompass that element.
But his fundamental goal, he says, “is to help our members have the very best possible session they can” and to join Phelan and the rest of the Republican leadership in shaping the most successful outcome possible by the time the speaker gavels the session to a close in late May. Republicans control both chambers of the Legislature, boasting an 86-64 advantage over Democrats in the House and a 19-12 majority in the Senate.
Phelan, in an emailed statement to the Fort Worth Report, describes Goldman as “an effective leader in the GOP who has built an impressive track record of representing the needs of Texas House District 97 during his time in office.” Goldman, who represents House District 97 in southwest Tarrant County, was chosen as Republican leader by his GOP colleagues a day before the start of the 88th Legislature in early January. He chaired the first meeting Feb. 22.
The prestigious position could conceivably be a stepping stone to eventually becoming speaker, but Goldman flatly waves off any interest in making that leap. “Oh gosh no,” he says, adding that serving voters in District 97 is the “greatest honor in my life.”
Goldman, a Fort Worth native, was elected to the House in 2012, along with four other Republican freshmen from Tarrant County, all of whom were collectively dubbed the Tarrant County Five. Of the group, Klick and Rep. Giovanni Capriglione of Southlake are still in the House as well, and, like Goldman, are influential senior members and committee chairs.
A real estate investor and fifth-generation Texan whose father ran a gourmet food and fine wine store in Fort Worth, Goldman took office in January of 2013 and has steadily risen through the leadership ranks, earning respect for both his political skills and personal collegiality.
“His political instincts are the best I’ve ever worked with,” said past caucus chair Jim Murphy of Houston, whose decision not to seek re-election to the House opened up the spot that Goldman now occupies. “He can size up a situation, see what’s motivating politicians or an interest group, how it’ll play out in the media, how it’ll play out in the legislation … and ahead of everybody else. When he talks to a business group or interest group, they know he’s somebody who can deliver the mail.”
Goldman’s Democratic counterpart issues a similar assessment when sizing up his potential adversary in the session’s coming legislative skirmishes.
“I think it’s always important to know who you’re dealing with,” said House Democratic Caucus Chair Trey Martinez Fischer, a 10-term representative from San Antonio known for his confrontational style and encyclopedic knowledge of the rules. “And with Craig, you get somebody who’s an experienced lawmaker. He knows the process. He has a really good ability to read the room and react accordingly.”
Martinez Fischer looks forward to having constructive conversations with Goldman.
“I think the theme of this session is to try and work together and, if that’s something that Craig values, then we’re going to have a productive session,” he said.
Goldman and Martinez Fischer both face some of the same fundamental challenges in running their respective caucuses – ensuring their members stay united, putting out internal fires that threaten division, making sure members have ample resources to be secure in their districts and providing adequate research and recommendations in advancing their parties’ priorities. Fundamentally, says Murphy, the former Republican chair, “it’s establishing a brand” and “communicating it.”
Goldman appears secure in his Republican-dominated House district, particularly after he and other Tarrant County Republican House members fended off a fierce assault from Democrats who poured millions of dollars into an unsuccessful “blue wave” take-over attempt in 2020. More than $4 million from both parties was spent in the race for Goldman’s seat before he eventually won re-election by 8 points.
In addition to serving as majority leader, Goldman is also the newly named chair of the House Energy Resources Committee. In that position, he says, he wants to preserve a “status quo” in which “oil and gas is the backbone of the Texas economy and helping supply the world with a very much needed natural resource.”
As caucus chair, the 54-year-old lawmaker will help shape Republican strategy on the major challenges facing the Legislature, including the top-priority Republican effort to slash property taxes, which he describes as the “number one issue with people in my district.”
He’s also sponsoring nearly 15 bills, including measures to eliminate the franchise tax, increase punishment for illegal voting from a misdemeanor to a felony, and outlaw paper license tags that have become a nightmare for law enforcement and a huge money-maker for criminal enterprises.
Paper tags, duplicating those displayed on new vehicles, are deployed for a variety of nefarious activities, including skipping tolls and disguising vehicles used by car thieves and drug cartels. Goldman was already planning to introduce the measure when Grand Prairie Police Officer Brandon Paul Tsai died from injuries in a collision while chasing a car with a fake tag in November of 2022.
The Tarrant lawmaker considers the 2019 passage of Molly Jane’s Law, which arms law enforcement with stronger tools to track serial offenders, as his biggest legislative achievement. Goldman was surrounded by colleagues as he stood on the House floor explaining the bill, named after Molly Jane Matheson, a 22-year-old Fort Worth woman who was raped and murdered in a serial attack. Goldman went to high school with her parents.
As caucus treasurer during the previous session, Goldman brought in a record $1.8 million that helped augment other fund-raising sources for GOP House candidates and incumbents in the 2022 election, enabling Republicans to sustain their two-decade-old majority over Democrats going into this year’s biennial legislative session.
“I think it was just a natural progression for him to move up,” said Rep. Jim Smithee, a 38-year member from Amarillo, predicting that Goldman will do a “good job” as Republican leader. “It’s not like he walked in as chair. He’s worked hard to raise money. He helped other members a lot. He’s got a history.”
When it came time to choose a new caucus chairman for the 88th Legislature, Goldman was declared the winner in a secret ballot vote in the Capitol extension on Jan. 9, a day before the session started. Rep. Andrew Murr of Junction also sought the office, according to members, but the results of the secret balloting are not disclosed. Murr, asked about the leadership contest after a committee hearing, declined to confirm that he made a bid for the position and said he supports the choice of Goldman as caucus chair.
The caucus held its first meeting under the new leader on Feb. 22, gathering behind closed doors in the Reagan Building, a quick walk northwest of the Capitol on the Capitol grounds.
After thanking members for selecting him as their leader, Goldman said, the lawmakers then chose a 16-member policy committee that reviews bills coming to the floor each day and makes recommendations on how Republican members should vote. Rep. David Cook, a second-term Tarrant County member and former mayor of Mansfield, was named vice-chair.
The gathering was over in about 20 minutes, adhering to Goldman’s disdain for wordy meetings.
“I’m not about meeting just to meet,” Goldman explained.
Bolstered by a one-member addition to the GOP majority following last year’s elections, the Republican Caucus ranges from the ultra-conservative Texas Freedom Caucus to members in marginally Republican “purple” districts facing potential threats from Democrats. In the center are mainstream Republicans who tend to be predictably supportive of the Republican leadership.
The Freedom Caucus was notoriously rebellious against the House leadership under Speaker Joe Straus, at times pushing back against the leadership policies when Straus was in charge as the state’s longest-serving speaker from 2009 to 2019. But Rep. Matt Schaefer of Tyler, chairman of this year’s 12-member Freedom Caucus says there is no sign of discord between his group and Goldman.
“I believe Craig Goldman is highly motivated to oppose Democrat policies for the Texas House and in that respect the Freedom Caucus is going to be working very closely with him,” said Schaefer. The selection of two Freedom Caucus members to the Republican policy committee also enhances relations between his group and the House Republican chair, he said. “We expect that Craig Goldman will be listening to what the Freedom Caucus has to say,” Schaefer said.
After rising in the ranks to serve as policy chair, secretary and treasurer, Goldman said he decided to pursue the caucus chair position when the vacancy opened up. He began calling members and said he “and got very good feedback” as colleagues urged him to run and backed him for election.
In addition to the House members, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Senate’s presiding officer, also serve as ex-officio members of the Republican Caucus and are always welcome to address the group. The caucus has a staff whose standing mission is to assist members both in the capitol and their districts.
During the daily sessions on the House floor, Goldman can be expected to constantly work the floor, making himself available to colleagues on any needed issue. “That’s my role is to help members any way possible, especially first-termers … and help them be the best members they can possibly be,” he said.
Goldman acknowledges that there will always be challenges and potential dust-ups. “It’s always going to happen,” he said. “I can’t predict what it’s going to be.” But overall, he said, his role as chair is to keep the internal dissent as petty as possible — if not non-existent — and head off larger conflicts that threaten to derail the broader Republican agenda. In short, he said, “my goal is to hopefully just put out small fires and not have to worry about big fires.”
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.
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