Earlier this month we began laying out a few factors citizens (and their legislators) can use to judge candidates seeking election as the next Texas House Speaker.
Among the three criteria is a requirement that the individual should win the support of a majority of the Republican Caucus, specifically:
A speaker candidate must be the nominee of the House Republican Caucus, having won the support of a majority of his colleagues.
In December 2008, Democrats nearly captured the Texas House, securing 74 of 150 seats in the Obama wave. After the election, Democratic Caucus chief Jim Dunnam released a list of 64 Democrats who had pledged to vote for anyone but then-House Speaker Tom Craddick, a Republican from Midland who was seeking a fourth term.
After brokering a deal with Dunnam and his “ABCDs (Anyone-But-Craddick Democrats),” eleven liberal Republicans met at the Austin home of State Rep. Byron Cook (R–Corsicana) where they selected Straus only after many rounds of balloting. Several in the group were seen as having too much baggage to be the nominee, and too little trust in each other that they would share power when eventually elected. Straus was so new—he had served less than two terms—that he hadn’t had time to make enemies. His colleagues described him as “virtually unknown in the House.”
With the support of the Democrats and eleven turncoat Republicans, Straus had the majority necessary to become the Speaker of the Texas House and was installed as a figurehead for that Democrat-Republican coalition government.
Indebted to the Democrats that placed (and kept) him in office, Straus granted Democrats the power to kill major legislation like Voter ID and handed them control of some of the chamber’s most powerful committees. Two prominent examples are the Ways and Means Committee and the Local & Consent Calendars Committee.
On Ways and Means, which handles all tax-related legislation, Straus handed control to Democrat State Rep. Rene Oliveira of Brownsville. Oliveira famously required Republican bill authors to find a Democrat to support their legislation before he would allow it to pass out of his committee.
And Straus took the Local & Consent Calendars Committee, which passes more bills than all other committees combined, away from mainstream Republicans and placed it in the hands of Democrat State Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston. As a result, in recent years Thompson has passed more bills out of the House than any other Texas lawmaker.
Any Republican 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 priorities 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.
The push by conservative legislators in the Texas Freedom Caucus to change the rules of the House Republican Caucus and require the nomination of a speaker candidate within the caucus was the move that pushed Straus to retire from the Texas Legislature and opened the opportunity for authentic Republicans to elect the next speaker.
The next Speaker of the Texas House must be one that is not only chosen by the majority party, but one who will champion the values of the party that Texans have entrusted with their government for more than two decades.