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The next contest for the U.S. House seat representing Texas’ 23rd District is still a year away, but already incumbent Rep. Will Hurd is a target. Pete Gallego, an Alpine Democrat who represented the district before losing his seat to Hurd by a narrow margin in 2014, went on the attack, telling the Texas Tribune, "One of my biggest disappointments in watching Will is that Will tends to have a 96 percent straight Republican, straight party voting record. He’s a follower."
In much of Texas, loyalty to the GOP is hardly a liability. But the situation is a little more complicated in the 23rd, a swing district in the state, and the only one expected to see a real contest in the 2016 general election.
Following a 2003 Republican redistricting that found the district be in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Supreme Court ordered the district to be re-drawn in 2006. Minority rights and civil rights groups have challenged a most recent 2011 Republican redistricting for congressional seats, claiming lines drawn in the 23rd dilute minority voting strength. The district stretches west from San Antonio almost to El Paso, incorporating a large swath of Texas’ border with Mexico.
The competitive nature of the district has resulted in three representatives in as many election cycles. The non-partisan Congressional Quarterly and the Rothenberg and Gonzales Political Report have both identified Hurd’s seat as one of the top 10 "toss-up" House seats up for grabs in 2016. In other words, the 23rd is a district in which blind partisanship could conceivably be an impediment to re-election.
We were curious whether the 96 percent figure Gallego cited was literally true, or just hyperbole — and whether that number is unusually high — so we took a closer look at Hurd’s voting record.
Anthony Gutierrez, the communications representative for Gallego, confirmed that the 96 percent figure was pulled from Hurd’s score by CQ Roll Call. The week Gallego’s comments were made, the number calculated by CQ was actually 96.4 percent, to be exact, although the number fluctuates constantly because it is based on numbers from the current legislative session. As of Nov. 6, 2015, it had fallen to 95.6 percent.
It’s also important to put these numbers in context. During his term, Hurd has voted with the party a greater percentage of the time than the Republican average across the House over the same time period, 93.6 percent, but he diverges more often than 17 of his 24 fellow Texas Republicans, a group that has voted with the party an average of 97.4 percent of the time in party unity votes during the 114th Congress.
Based on voting in the current legislative session, five of the 10 most party-loyal Republicans in the House are from Texas. Hurd was not among them.
Across the aisle, the 11 Texas Democrats in the House have voted with their party 89.6 percent of the time during the 114th Congress, 92.1 percent of the time on party unity votes. If you average the percentage of the time each has voted with their party considering all terms, not just the current one, that number comes up to 92.6 percent. The spread in their voting records is also much bigger compared with the Texas GOP. The most loyal voter, the 35th District’s Lloyd Doggett, has voted with the Democrats 97.9 percent of the time in party unity votes. At the other end of the spectrum, the 28th’s Henry Cuellar sides with the party in only 69.5 percent party unity votes votes.
While it’s not strictly relevant to the truth value of Gallego’s claim about Hurd, all this begs the question of Gallego’s own voting record during his tenure in the House. During Gallego’s time in Congress, he voted with his party 81 percent of the time, according to Open Congress voting records. Of course, this number can’t be directly compared with the 89.6 percent average mentioned above for Texas Democrats in the House, because that figure is for the current session, not the one Gallego served. In the interest of comparing apples to apples, we calculated how frequently Gallego’s fellow Texas Democrats in the House voted with their party during his term. The average came out to a slightly more modest 86.2 percent.
Gallego was the only one-term Democratic representative from Texas in the 113th Congress, which means that for every other representative, we can compare the percentage of the time they voted with the party during that term to the percentage of the time they voted with the party in all votes over the course of their multi-term career. If we do that, we see that all but one broke with the party more often than average that term.
So while Gallego still broke with the party more often than average, it was a Congress in which Texas Democrats in general voted with the party less consistently than usual.
Responding by email, Hurd’s campaign manager Justin Hollis did not dispute the voting record. He leveled his own criticism of Gallego. "It took Pete Gallego losing in 2014 to finally become interested in the legislative process."
It’s worth keeping in mind that since CQ and Open Congress data don’t weigh votes by importance, the numbers don’t tell the full story as far as whether a representative’s votes against the party are on substantive issues or minor procedural matters. But then again, Gallego never claimed to have the full story.
Pete Gallego said Will Hurd "tends to have a 96 percent straight Republican, straight party voting record."
At the time of the statement, Pete Gallego’s claim and the percentage were consistent with Hurd’s voting record.
We rate this claim True.
TRUE – The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.
Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.
News blog post, "Pete Gallego Mounts Campaign Against Will Hurd," The Texas Tribune, Oct. 23, 2015
Blog post, "House Ratings," Rothenberg and Gonzales Political Report, October 16, 2015.
Court ruling, "League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry," June 28, 2006, Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School.
Email, Anthony Gutierrez, communications rep for Pete Gallego, October 28, 2015
Database, CQ Vote Watch, accessed Nov. 6, 2015.
Email, Justin Hollis, campaign manager for Will Hurd, Nov. 5, 2015
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