Speaker Straus: The middle man
In an increasingly partisan state, it’s increasingly hard to be the man in the middle.
That’s the tightrope that Texas House Speaker Joe Strauss, R-San Antonio, is walking.
Consider the dynamics:
Straus, despite being a lifelong Republican, would never have ousted former Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland,
Tom Craddick, R-Midland, in the first place without the support of most of the House’s Democrats.
Yet to continue as speaker, he now has a vested interest in seeing Republicans hold their narrow 77-73 edge in the 150-member House. Or add to it – but not too much.
That’s because if the Democrats make good on their goal this year of again reaching majority status in the House, they are almost certain to pick one of their number for the job.
Meanwhile, Straus, who was among those addressing the recent Republican State Convention in Dallas, came in for criticism from the likes of David Barton, vice-chairman of the state GOP from 1997 to 2006.
Barton, who runs a self-styled conservative Christian organization called “Wallbuilders,” distributed thousands of flyers at the convention, charging Straus poses a greater danger to conservative Republicans than do the Democrats.
Among Straus’s sins listed by Barton was having a former moderate-conservative Democratic state rep., Clyde Alexander, as his chief of staff for his first year.
Straus has been courting the Republicans, including calling for increasing their majority in the House. But that currying favor with his fellow Republicans has drawn some heat from some of the Democrats who “brung” him.
For instance, Jim Dunnam, the Waco Democrat who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, was critical of Straus for appointing conservative Larry Taylor of Friendswood to be the fourth Republican to just one Democrat of the House’s five members on the Sunset Advisory Commission.
A little history on how Straus, who had never so much as chaired a committee in his almost four years in the House, was elevated to preside over the whole House.
Straus and 10 other Republicans, disgruntled (to put it mildly) with the autocratic behavior of Tom Craddick as House speaker, decided to select one of their number to be their speaker candidate.
Dunnam delivered a list of 64 Democrats who pledged not to vote for Craddick for a fourth twoyear term under any circumstances.
One of the 11 ABC (“Anybody But Craddick”) Republicans, Byron Cook of Corsicana, hosted a meeting at his Austin house, with 10 attendees and the 11th attending electronically. After each round of voting, they dropped the lowest finisher from the next ballot. Straus won, by one vote.
And then he and the other members of what was called “The Group of 11” joined with the 64 Democrats, and quickly attracted enough additional Republicans and Democrats that Straus held a press conference to release a list of 85 supporters – nine more than the 76 needed to win.
In this year’s election, Straus’s danger in getting too many Republicans is that they may flank him on the right. But if that were to happen, most Democrats would probably back Straus, who has been far more even-handed in his oversight of the House than Craddick was.
As for the likes of former vice-chair Barton, another person who wanted Straus out as speaker – ultra-conservative Eagle Forum leader Cathie Adams of Dallas, who was interim chair of the state GOP – was voted out as chairman in favor of Houston’s Steve Munisteri.
Former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, a progressive Democrat, was fond of saying there’s nothing in the middle of the road except white lines and dead armadillos. Straus may field-test Hightower’s theory.
Whatever happens, Straus, or whoever in an outside chance might replace him next year, will have a large part in drawing House districts in next year’s redistricting. The Legislature is unlikely to agree on a redistricting plan, and so the chore will fall to the Legislative Redistricting Board – a five member body comprised of the Land Commissioner, Attorney General, Comptroller, Lieutenant Governor, and yes, the speaker.
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There was some buzz last year before the Group of 11 met that one of their number, Brian McCall of Plano, might be the victor. Had that happened, then McCall would be speaker, and possibly someone else would have been named the new chancellor of the Texas State University System.
Maybe even Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, a former TSU regent who badly wanted the job.
Wentworth was so chapped he didn’t get it that, six weeks after the TSU board chose McCall, he fired off an angry letter to the chairman of the board criticizing them for failing to pick him.
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Reach Out And Touch Someone . . . . The state Republican convention endorsed an Arizona-style immigration enforcement law, condemned by many Hispanic groups. Then the state party put up on its website an ad, in Spanish, inviting Hispanics to join the GOP.
Contact McNeely at davemcneely111@gmail. com or (512) 458-2963.