Chisum bid may boost Straus bid
Chisum, R-Dumas, puts a face on those conservative Republicans irked that Straus became speaker in 2009 with the help of most of the House’s Democrats.
Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, said last summer that he’d run, but few considered him a threat. When Chisum got in, he got out.
Straus and 10 other Republican dissidents had joined with the Democrats to oust Republican Speaker Tom Craddick of Midland in 2009.
Some on Craddick’s team who had some power aren’t happy now that they don’t.
That includes Chisum, 72, a grizzled, well-off oil-and-gas man and rancher, who lost his coveted chairmanship of the powerful Appropriations Committee when Craddick was canned.
It had taken Chisum years to get back in with Craddick. Chisum entered the House in 1989 as a Democrat, and – like Craddick -- had backed Democrat Pete Laney for speaker in 1993.
Laney rewarded Chisum with the chairmanship of the Environmental Regulation Committee – a position he held for all 10 years Laney was speaker, even after Chisum switched to the GOP in 1995.
Chisum had said in 2001 that he would run for speaker if Laney didn’t. But he also said if Laney did run, he’d be proud to vote for him. So when Laney did, and Craddick won, it took four years for Chisum to get back to a chairmanship.
Straus, after winning in 2009, named Chisum vice-chairman of Environmental Regulation. But he made Republican Byron Cook of Corsicana chairman. Cook was a member of the “Group of Eleven” Republicans who linked up with Democrats to unseat Craddick.
Chisum, who has led efforts against things like gay marriage, represents the Old Guard among the Republicans, despite his Democratic history.
He says facing a $20 billion-plus budget shortfall when the Legislature convenes in January requires tough, seasoned leadership to avoid new taxes.
“It’s very important that we pass a balanced budget without raising taxes, and I think I bring some experience to the table that’s lacking right now in the leadership role,” Chisum said.
Straus’s short tenure – never having chaired a committee, been on committees that dealt with appropriations or taxes, or been through a legislative redistricting session – doesn’t provide that, Chisum argues.
Straus, 51, who lists his occupation as insurance and investments, was elected to the House on Feb. 5, 2005. He won a special election to replace Elizabeth Ames Jones after Gov. Perry appointed her to a vacancy on the Texas Railroad Commission.
Chisum said Straus, because of his linkage with the Democrats, didn’t have a majority of the House’s Republicans.
Straus has been courting some of those Craddick supporters, attending their fundraisers and helping raise money for them.
And, because Straus is relatively reserved and not out there, people may not realize how conservative he is.
He’s a lifelong Republican, an admirer of and campaigner for the late U.S. Sen. John Tower and the first President George Bush. He was Deputy Director of Business Liaison in the U.S. Department of Commerce the first two years of that Bush’s administration.
Straus playing footsie with some of the more conservative Republicans has irked some Democrats, like House Democratic Caucus chairman Jim Dunnam of Waco.
But if the Republicans pick up a few seats more than their current 77-73 edge over the Democrats, and Chisum picks up steam, the Democrats’ choice between a hard-right conservative and someone less so likely would favor Straus.
Straus is more in Laney’s leadership mold – wanting to protect the House as an institution.
Before he was picked by the Group of Eleven as their candidate for speaker, Straus was a low-key, polite, relatively quiet back-bencher, working to develop friendly relationships with colleagues across the political spectrum.
He also seems to carry forward Laney’s attitude that party politics may be how legislators get to Austin; though once there, they spend many days in the same room. They need to get along.
In these days of the House speaker being on an almost equal footing with the lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate, and the governor; who House members pick as their leader can have a huge impact on Texas priorities.
So, Tea Party?
Just so you’ll know, the Tea Party isn’t actually on the Texas ballot. The candidates who have had Tea Party leanings have run as Republicans.
There will be no opportunity on Election Day, or in early voting, to pull a lever to vote for the Tea Party by that name.
Longtime Texas political columnist Dave McNeely, who retired from the Austin American-Statesman in 2004, writes a weekly column on Texas politics for three dozen Texas newspapers. With longtime Dallas journalist and author Jim Henderson, McNeely is the author of “Bob Bullock: God Bless Texas.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (512) 458-2963.