When legislators return to Austin next January, one of the first items on their agenda will be the election of a Speaker of the House. For the first time in decades there’s an open contest.
Since current House Speaker Joe Straus announced he would not seek re-election last October, seven candidates—six Republicans and one Democrat—have thrown their hat in the ring to succeed him and more are expected to enter the fray before it’s all said and done.
And since Straus’ announcement, citizen activists have been pontificating on who that individual should be, falling into two major camps.
In the first group are a large number of grassroots activists who are pressing some of the most conservative legislators to run, including stalwarts such as State Reps. Matt Rinaldi (R–Irving) and Matt Schaefer (R–Tyler) and other members of the Freedom Caucus.
The second group, on the other hand, claim it will be too hard for a member of the solidly-conservative Freedom Caucus to win. They’ve advocated for a compromise candidate, such as State Rep. Phil King (R–Weatherford) or others who fall closer to the middle of the bell curve on metrics such as our Fiscal Responsibility Index. They argue that a candidate like King would be a major upgrade and someone the grassroots could work with, even if they don’t consider them one of their own.
So, who’s right? Well, both groups. Sort of.
Those pressuring Freedom Caucus members to run are right to do so. Those most conservative members of the Texas House have an obligation to deliver on their campaign promises, such as property tax relief. In order to pass big conservative reforms, they must elect a speaker who will at least allow debate on conservative priorities. If no one currently in the race is someone they can trust to bring those priorities to the floor for a vote, then they ought to be running themselves.
Contrarily, it’s not necessary that the individual in charge of conducting the chamber’s business be the most vocally conservative member. After all, team captains on sports teams often aren’t the players who score the most points themselves. Instead they are the ones who ensure their teammates are in position to make the score. Speakers don’t typically vote or carry legislation and they shouldn’t necessarily promise legislative results. But they can ensure Republican priorities get a full and fair debate—even priorities they might not personally support.
So, if it’s not about personalities and it’s not about positioning, what is it about? It’s about principles.
For decades now, Texas voters have placed Republicans in charge of their state government and it is the enactment of the Republican Party’s agenda that is the proper goal of the Texas Legislature. For that to be accomplished, the leader of the Texas House must be someone committed to open and honest deliberation on those issues.
Indeed, the next speaker of the Texas House must be an individual who citizens can trust to get conservative reforms to the floor for a vote. How can that be measured?
I propose the following criteria:
- A speaker candidate must win the support of a majority of his Republican colleagues and be the nominee of the Republican Caucus.
Any Republican lawmaker who strikes another Straus-ian bargain where his election as speaker relies on the support of Democrat lawmakers will always be beholden to them and cannot be trusted to ensure Republican bills receive a vote. It is essential that Democrats no longer usurp the speaker’s authority. In a solidly-Republican state like Texas, the speaker ought to be elected by the Republicans, not the Democrats and a group of turncoats.
- A speaker candidate must have a record of supporting conservative reforms even when doing so in the past required opposition to leadership.
Citizens have been told time and time again that if they entrust a politician with power, he will do the right thing. And they are betrayed and disappointed time and time again. Taxpayers can avoid such a mistake by supporting someone with an authentic record of leadership on the issues.
- A speaker candidate must make a public, on-the-record pledge to bring specific conservative reforms to the House floor for debate and a vote.
Officeholders can only be held accountable to their promises. A promise to bring particular legislation to the floor for a vote will allow Texans to measure the new speaker’s success at the end of the legislative session.
Are these three the only conditions citizens should consider? No, but they should serve as a sufficient filter to begin deliberations.
Only 150 individuals will have the capability to vote for the next Speaker of the Texas House when the legislature returns in January, but the decision will impact all 28 million citizens of the Lone Star State.
Over the next several weeks, we will be exploring each of these criteria in detail.
Each of us should be in the ear of our state representative demanding they do the will of the people—and that means ensuring full and fair debate on the priorities the people have elected their representatives to accomplish.