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Simpson took on majority in Texas House

By Glenn Evans
Jan. 8, 2017 at 12:11 a.m.

State Representative David Simpson visits with supporters while awaiting voting results as he runs for district 1 state senator, on Tuesday March 1, 2016, during his elections night watch party at the Tyler Street Bistro. (Michael Cavazos/News-Journal Photo)

David Simpson ruffled feathers at the Capitol for three terms, though not always the feathers one might expect from a conservative Republican who broadcasts his Christian faith.

"My most vicious attacks ad hominem didn't come from Democrats — they came from Republicans," Simpson said last week, reflecting on his time in the Texas House of Representatives. "I enforced the rules as a freshman against the most senior member of the Democrats and the chair of the Local and Consent Committee."

That dispute, with Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston in Simpson's first legislative session, set the template for future stands. Many were solo actions, as when he struck down Thompson's anti-puppy mill bill because such a wide-ranging measure did not qualify for the fast-track local and consent list, Simpson said.

By the end of that first session, though, Thompson had become an ally who allowed one of Simpson's first bills to pass as a rider attached to one of hers.

Simpson's philosophy of government was, and remains, straightforward: Civil government is here to prevent people from harming each other, catch and punish them when they do and otherwise get out of the way.

"The Constitution's great as a talking point, 'til it's not convenient," he said. "The Constitution's there to protect everybody."

It should have protected a contract that a homeowner wanted to break with his neighborhood association, but 143 House members said that resident could fly Old Glory at his house regardless of what's in the homeowners contract he had signed.

Simpson was the sole vote against that one, too.

Up in smoke

He remained a minority voice throughout three terms despite being a member of the majority party. He blames a faith-based decision for alienating tea party voters, who had carried his previous elections, in his failed bid to join the Senate.

His House Bill 2165, introduced in the 2015 session, would have placed marijuana in the same legal category as a tomato plant. Needless to say, so-called conservatives flocked to oppose it but Simpson had dual purposes, both of them conservative — helping veterans and children without creating more government.

First, he said, the God-made plant helps veterans cope with post-traumatic stress disorder, and parents of children with seizure disorders should have legal access to the promise of seizure-free living the plant offers.

Secondly, he said erasing the plant from the penal code is better than creating a government registry for people to legally use it.

"I filed a little bill and maybe caused some consternation among some of my tea party supporters who didn't understand freedom," he said. "It's easy to love your own liberty, but what we need to do is love our neighbor's liberty as much as our own. ... I hope doctors will understand that we've got veterans addicted to opioids and this is better. It was the right thing to do, and I'd file it again."

Standing apart

He'd also urge a humanitarian response again to Central American refugees, many of them unaccompanied children, who flooded the Mexican border in record numbers in the summer of 2014. The issue, though, pitted him against a largely tea party crowd of about 160 shouting him down at a town hall meeting on the subject.

The 2015 session was still weeks away when Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt and Sheriff Maxey Cerliano flew to Austin to stare down Simpson after learning he would be on a panel advocating reform of civil asset forfeitures.

Those are valuables seized by police who suspect they were used in criminal activity, but the government can keep them by filing a civil lawsuit the owner has to fight in court.

"I get emails all the time," he said, referring to property owners. "It is a serious issue. I don't think it's going to be dealt with in one step in Texas as it has in New Mexico and other states."

Simpson voted with the Democrats during the 2015 session, opposing Republicans' successful bill to ax the Travis County Public Integrity Unit. That division of the Travis County District Attorney's Office historically prosecuted state officeholders and its functions now are carried by the accused official's home county D.A.

Simpson also has long opposed so-called school choice measures, the most well-known being vouchers, that allow parents to spend state tax dollars on private school settings. That public/private conflict is enough to sour Simpson, but he said school choice also diminishes the freedom that private and homeschool families find outside the government's funding mechanism.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the Senate that Simpson tried to join, has named school choice a priority for the session that starts Tuesday.

"If the lieutenant governor is successful, you're going to hurt the public schools," Simpson said. "But you're also going to hurt the home schoolers and private schools because the regulation will follow that money — and it should."

Were they listening

Simpson probably didn't draw much love from fellow House Republicans as he complained, session after session, about their practice of diverting money collected for rural firefighters to the general fund to balance the state budget.

In his third session that was still happening, though less so in the case of the firefighter fund. And House leaders and members campaigning last year for re-election made Simpson's anti-diversion complaint part of their campaign schtick.

A multi-generational timber man, Simpson said last week he was happy to again consider blue jeans part of his work uniform. He isn't ruling out public service in the future but for now it doesn't sound like he's eager to throw his hat back into the political ring.

"My girls want me to run again," he said, referring to his daughters and maybe his wife, Susan. "I don't have any plans, I haven't lost my passion."

He said that passion will keep him involved in the public arena as his former colleagues regather for the 85th Legislative Session.

"I'll be watching, watching the budget and priorities," he said, continuing to "shine a light" — a term he uses to describe his habit of declining to go along to get along in the political world.

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