The number of competing voices in state legislatures often leads members to form small groups to articulate the specific needs and desires of important segments of the larger body. Sometimes such groups content themselves with weekly breakfast meetings among like-minded members, but other times these groups take the more institutionalized form of legislative caucuses.
The development of legislative caucuses in Texas constitutes one element of the larger story of political change in the state. As previously excluded or weakly represented groups (minorities, women, Republicans, etc.) have increased their participation in state politics, the political system has become both more diverse and more competitive. Legislative caucuses have evolved to give voice to these newly incorporated social groups and the newly mobilized political parties.
A legislative caucus is a group of legislators who organize to advocate or influence legislation that promotes their common goals and interests. The Texas Ethics Commission (TEC) provides the specific legal definition in its Election Code:
[...] "legislative caucus" means an organization that is composed exclusively of members of the legislature, that elects or appoints officers and recognizes identified legislators as members of the organization, and that exists for research and other support of policy development and interests that the membership hold in common. The term includes an entity established by or for a legislative caucus to conduct research, education, or any other caucus activity. An organization whose only nonlegislator members are the lieutenant governor or the governor remains a "legislative caucus" for purposes of this section.1
Legislative caucuses may be one of two types: party or non-party. The party caucuses explicitly favor one party or another, and indeed, are direct outgrowths of the political parties in the Legislature. The party caucuses do not exercise the same degree of influence in organizing the Texas Legislature as they do in the U.S. Congress. Still, the increase in partisan competition over the past two decades has made them increasingly important.
Non-party caucuses might favor the legislative initiatives of one party more than those of another, but they usually try to distinguish their ideals and goals from party interests. The increasing diversity of the membership in the state capitol since the early 1970s has spurred the development of non-party caucuses, resulting in greater influence in organizing legislative affairs.
As of May 2004 fifteen legislative caucuses were registered with the Texas Ethics Commission. Outside the legislature there exist numerous political caucuses throughout the state, but unless they are composed of members of the legislature or established by or for a legislative caucus in order to perform some of the duties of a legislative caucus, they are not considered to be legislative caucuses in the state of Texas.
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