An emotional tornado is tearing across the Texas political landscape right now in the form of the race for Texas Speaker of the House. Google “Texas Speaker Race” and you will get a myriad of news from across the stratum on what is happening and why. What I will report here will be a speck on the back of an elephant in comparison of the data on the net for the subject.
So if you live outside of Texas and are reading this, you might wonder why this race impacts your state. Every state representative chamber, be they called a legislature or assembly, has a presiding Speaker. State governments are modeled after the federal model and that means that most bills will originate in the representative chamber. Tax bills must always come from the lower chamber. Who you have as Speaker has great impact on the bills that come to the floor through Calenders Committees for chamber vote consideration.
If you want to strangle, nullify, or just make an over-reaching federal bill miserable it has to start in the state House. Hmm – would Obamacare be such a bill? Can the right Speaker introduce and ramrod legislation through to combat un-Constitutional bills? You bet they can! There is a great desire in Texas to put in legislative form a great big “Thanks Barry, we’ll pass on your benevolence” bill for all the un-Constitutional laws headed our way in 2011 and beyond.
So for your consideration, the Texas Speaker of the House Race.
Joe Strauss became Speaker of the House under controversial circumstances in the 2009 Session for Texas. The current Speaker was Tom Craddick, the first Republican Speaker of the House in Texas since the Civil War. Craddick, while conservative, had a habit of using the position for political gain. He was the Texas Hammer and he made enemies on both sides of the aisle. What also hurt Craddick was the Texas was slipping in Republican House seats under his leadership. When the 2009 Session began, Republicans had a 2 seat advantage at 76-74 and when you factor in the RINO’s that were part of the 76, Republicans really did not control the House in 2009.
Enter the Gang of 11. I blogged about this group in August (See https://darrenyancy.com/2010/08/22/the-great-texas-rino-hunt/) and how they helped Strauss become leader with their vote and that of 65 Democrats. Craddick gets the boot and the 2009 Session begins. Along with getting the Gang of 11 plum committee assignments, liberal Democrats were also appointed to powerful committee chairs. That Session was a disaster for Texas with conservative bills like Voter ID and others getting “chubbed” away by Democrats. Democrats got a higher percentage of their bills passed under Strauss than Republicans. Strauss supporters claim that Joe played the hand that he was dealt and should not be persecuted for it. While there might have been some argument for that, when you campaign fundraise for Democrats like he did for Patrick Rose and you are a Republican, it causes issues. On top of that, you have Strauss’ own record on social issues that is less than stellar and conservatives were not happy with Strauss. Combine that with Barry O going wild in DC and Texans decided enough was enough.
When I blogged on this in August, I neglected to point out that carnage had already begun for the Gang of 11. Reps Delwin Jones and Tommy Merrit were defeated in primaries and Brian McCall heard competitive footsteps coming and bolted to take the chancellor position at Texas State University. Geren had a primary opponent as did 2 Strauss Lieutenants Vicki Truitt and Todd Smith. With the current mood in Texas, they will almost be assured of primary opponents again.
Texas voters put Republicans in a super-majority on November 2 with a 99-51 seat make up in the House starting in January. It is a voter mandate not being taken lightly and the electorate feels there are better options than Joe Strauss for House Speaker.
Rep. Leo Berman was testing the waters in the summer for House Speaker, but withdrew in October and threw his support behind new challenger Warren Chisum. Both Berman and Chisum had been Chairmen under former Speaker Craddick and made no bones about their distrust for Strauss. Berman has filed ethics charges against Strauss claiming misuse of campaign funds in his recent donations to Republican candidates in the fall election (http://parkercountyblog.com/2010/11/10/4740/). As you can imagine, there is no love lost there. From talks I had with state reps all over was that Chisum had zero traction. He was considered baggage from the Craddick days, hailed from an area of Texas losing population in a re-districting year, and was too cozy with oil & gas interests to get much-needed eminent domain legislation passed in Texas.
On November 11, McKinney Representative Ken Paxton entered the race and everything changed. Paxton has great ratings from every conservative outfit, has stood for social and fiscal conservatism and would appear to be a shoe in. But hold the phone – Joe had “pledge” cards from more than enough members to get re-elected and declared the supposed race was already over and for the average Joe to stay out of the race. This has caused a fury amongst the electorate and for good reason- elected officials were put in office by the people of the state of Texas and they should reflect the will of the people. With roughly 26 Republicans backing Paxton or “not” supporting Strauss ( I hear the unpublished amount is closer to 45), voters are now being told that the reps will do what they feel is in the best interest of their districts. As such, conservatives are getting in a foul mood and want action taken on having a fair shake at the House Speaker position. Most feel a Republican Caucus is the solution and pressure is coming at House Members like being in an industrial grade vise for one to happen and happen fast.
However, there are issues with a caucus. The first is transparency. A caucus is secret ballot and Members argue that runs against grain of the platform. The second is that there is no rule in the Republican Party of Texas or in the House Rules to require a caucus. On top of that, no rule exists to requires the caucus decision to be binding, meaning a victor could come out of caucus and still face defeat on the floor by opposition vote. These issues are causing some Members that should back Paxton publicly pause at the thought of rocking the boat for what they perceive to be a lost cause. There is some logic for this argument. If there are not enough votes to make a difference why make an enemy of the guy that can control the agenda. They need to help their districts, right?
Representative Bryan Hughes of Mineola was threatened with being drawn out of district when he was considering withdrawing his support from Strauss. A complaint was filed with the General Investigating and Ethics Committee over the incident and a kangaroo court was held on November 23, 2010 by committee chairs appointed by Strauss. The accused of making the threat, Rep Larry Philips of Sherman, was not sworn in as was Hughes to give testimony. Of course no wrongdoing was found and now questions abound about the legality of the hearing (http://www.empowertexans.com/issues/did_chuck_hopson_break_the_law).
So, if we follow the logic of not upsetting the apple cart, should Texas House Members go with the flow?
Not just no, but hell no. Comfort and concessions on principle have created this mess and its time for a political enema. Even if you toss out the alleged ethics charge on campaign contributions, and the potential threats to influence other members, the lousy performance in 2009 and Strauss’ social votes demand a look at another candidate. The caucus needs to be held and let the results be known and we deal with it. I and other conservatives are willing to grant secrecy in a caucus vote to get the change needed. If a representative takes it in the political shorts and cannot become a committee chair or no conservative legislative agenda they introduce gets passed because they did the right thing and supported the electorate, they will double their support. While Texas has some very real issues to deal with on a state level in January, the state is growing in conservatism and can be a bell weather for other states to garner strength from. We need leaders in charge that not only reflect the electorate, but do the right thing for the party. Strauss may indeed be squeaky clean on the allegations, but the appearance is enough to look at other candidates that have no such baggage.
How does this impact your state? If Texas is successful in replacing a RINO with a social and fiscal conservative, hopefully other states will take the reins and follow. If state legislatures around the nation get aggressive this next session in rejecting the over reach of Obama, DC will have no choice but to stew in its juices until a conservative sweep is complete in 2012. So how can anyone outside of Texas help? Get your groups to call and fax the offices of Texas House Members in support of Joe Strauss. Here is a list of Strauss Supporters (51 are Dems…):
Anderson, Charles “Doc”
Aycock, Jimmie Don
Button, Angie Chen
Callegari, William “Bill”
Lucio III, Eddie
Mallory Caraway, Barbara
McClendon, Ruth Jones
Munoz, Sergio, Jr.
The Texas House website is http://www.house.state.tx.us/index.php
Just to be fair, if that is possible with my slant in this article, here are the current candidates for Texas Speaker and their voting records.