How I Spent My Summer Vacation! Floor Fight at the Convention in Ft. Worth over Immigration Policy--What Just Happened?

[Editor’s Note: Mark Ramsey is a member of the State Republican Executive Committee (SREC), was a member of the 2014 State Platform and Resolutions Committee in Ft. Worth, and wrote the amendment that passed overwhelmingly, but was ultimately replaced by an amendment by substitution plank similar to the Minority Report.]

What a wild week at the largest GOP gathering on our planet! When I arrived Monday the Temporary Platform and Resolutions Committee – (TPARC) of the Republican Party of Texas (RPT) had about 3000 platform planks that had been submitted by Senate Districts and Counties across Texas. They were divided into six subcommittees for evaluation, debate, and about 10 hours of public testimony spread over Monday and Tuesday. The results of the work of the six subcommittees then went to the full TPARC Wednesday. Roughly 300 planks of the 3000 made the first cut.

Wednesday morning there were 90 minutes of public testimony, followed by a rapid fire consideration of the planks one at a time. Most planks were non-controversial and have been in the platform in one form or another for years if not decades, but still required time.

By far the most controversial topic was what to do with the immigration plank that in 2012 was consolidated into a single comprehensive one called “The Texas Solution” by its supporters (2012TS). By the time the full TPARC met Wednesday, it was already unrecognizable compared to 2012. MAJOR changes had been made to it, undoubtedly influenced by the huge popularity and recent election landslide mandate by Sen. Dan Patrick in the race for Lt. Governor.

Major differences in the immigration planks’ details include whether the border is secured “first,” who determines that it is secure (states or federal government), and whether any visa or guest worker program must wait until the border is secured. Other variables include insisting applicants speak English, preventing visa applicants from obtaining public assistance, specifying those here illegally cannot participate in legalization (visa/citizenship/etc.), whether to address “mass deportation,” penalties and back taxes, and building a fence.

The full Permanent Platform and Resolutions Committee (PPARC, not to be confused with TPARC), met on Thursday evening after SD caucuses finished. The PPARC membership was different after several TPARC members were voted out in SD caucus and replaced. There were 45 minutes of public testimony followed by debate and deliberation by the PPARC members. Several items in the main platform language regarding immigration were debated and attempts made to further improve the language, but after a climactic 15-15 tie vote, these attempts by members to replace the ALREADY SIGNIFICANTLY CHANGED TPARC-generated immigration language with what later became the Minority Report failed. The TPARC-generated language became the PPARC language. There is much misinformation floating around about this vote. When a motion is made, 50%-plus-one is required to approve it. A tie fails.

The Chair did not vote on this at all, as is customary for the chair on voting. The Chair has the right to vote but customarily does not do so.

Immediately after PPARC adjournment, three “minority reports” were filed, two dealing with legalization of marijuana and one being essentially the language on immigration that had just failed in the 15-15 tie vote. I signed on to that minority report #2, as did eleven others. (Under current RPT rules, a minority report requires 7 votes to be reported out to the main body of delegates, and must be filed within 30 minutes after adjournment of the committee.)

Saturday, the full platform from the PPARC was considered by the full body of 7000+ delegates in general session in the main arena. After the PPARC chairman presented the full platform and moved adoption, the two minority reports on marijuana were dealt with. Next was the immigration minority report, which I presented. [Contrary to an accusation from the floor, I did not claim authorship of the minority report. I said I was a signer. Driving home I double-checked by listening to the audio, but that story continues to make rounds. As Mark Twain once observed, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”]

I then offered an amendment to the main PPARC platform (NOT the minority report) that inserted a trigger or break or threshold between the “Secure the Border First” step and the implementation of the visa plank many objected to. It specified that the states, not the federal government would verify whether or not the border was secured, and importantly, changed the visa provision to a temporary one of five years, rather than the presumably permanent one that came out of PPARC. This is similar to the way other countries handle this. I have a five year visa in my passport to work in Brazil, for example, that expires in another couple of months. The amendment provided an enforcement mechanism – a carrot – to secure the border first. One side wants to secure the border, the other side wants a visa program, and this was a way to get both! [Note: there IS a visa program in the substitute version that later passed, but with weaker restrictions. Note also that due to the very tight language in the “no amnesty” plank in both the platform language and the final language, the visa programs do NOT apply to those in the country illegally.]

By proposing the amendment to the PPARC platform and not the Minority Report, both could be debated—“perfected” in the sometimes obtuse language of Robert’s Rules of Order—and then the delegates would choose between the two perfected planks (or motions) on immigration. Any other amendment strategy would have risked one or both not getting a fair debate and possibly even shutting down debate on the rest of the platform. I was committed to both options getting a fair hearing.

Once the amendment passed overwhelmingly, delegates now had two good proposals to further “perfect”—the AMENDED PPARC language and the UNAMENDED Minority Report language. I then supported the AMENDED PPARC language. It included numerous items I thought superior to the Minority Report such as:

  • Strongest language on securing the borders FIRST, 
  • State control on deciding if border was secure, not Federal government, 
  • Explicitly TEMPORARY visa program rather than implied PERMANENT one, 
  • Requirement that all visa applicants speak English, 
  • Criminal background check for all visa applicants, 
  • Payment of penalties and back taxes prior to visa issuance, 
  • Ban on visa holders from obtaining government assistance payments or healthcare, 
  • Recognition that we should not “mass deport” everyone, 
  • It was not believed to be offensive to legal immigrants. However, an ill-advised “call of the previous question” cut off further amendments.

Ultimately, Final language almost identical to the Minority Report prevailed, (lacking the above bullet point items but still including a visa program after borders are secured). The Final Adopted Substitute language also lacked the final bullet of the Minority Report, which required visa applicants to apply from their country of origin. Hopefully the chart below helps explain some of the nuanced differences between the old 2012 Texas Solution, the AMENDED PPARC language, (which as shown in the chart below was NOT “The Texas Solution”), the Minority Report, and the Final (adopted) Substitute plank.

Though I personally preferred the AMENDED PPARC language, not all delegates were aware that it was conservative and what the nuances between the two were. I believe the result was still a win for conservatives and the GOP as we unify looking forward toward the November election!


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