This morning brings sad revelations that House Speaker Joe Straus has undoubtedly participated in what is one of the most disgusting cover-ups in Texas’ modern history. This is, of course, referring to Straus’ attempt to bully, threaten and intimidate a whistle-blowing UT Regent, Wallace Hall.
It is time for those in the legislature who are responsible to be held accountable for this sordid tale. Yes, it includes Joe Straus. But there are still unnamed members of the Texas House and Senate who should be forced to resign.
Hall, as you might recall, uncovered financial malfeasance at UT. That led to uncovering a clout-abuse scheme in which politically connected (though academically unqualified or under-qualified) students were given preferential admission. Straus and his cronies went into attack mode. Disgraced State Rep. Dan Flynn was tapped by Straus to use the Orwellian-named “Transparency” committee as the blunt instrument in attacking Hall and threatening impeachment. The crime alleged? That Hall asked too many questions.
Now a private investigation has revealed that, yes, Hall was spot-on about the clout-abuse scandal managed by the office of UT President Bill Powers.
Republican members of the Texas House who supported Straus are now confronted not only with the Straus attacks on conservative policy initiatives, but his cover up of (or participation in) a clout-abuse scandal.
While the report does not name legislators who were abusing their offices, the reports indicates that politically connected students from San Antonio and Highland Park got in through the secret clout door. Straus is from San Antonio, and his childhood chum Dan Branch – who was soundly stomped in the GOP primary for Attorney General – was the state representative from Highland Park. Oh, and he was Straus’ chairman of the House Committee on Higher Education.
The scandal and the cover-up both point to Joe Straus and his cronies.
House members who supported Straus‘ re-election need to decide how they will proceed. Will they rally behind a speaker who sent Reaganesque mailers to shore up his street-cred with primary voters, only to then attack conservative policies five weeks into the session? Will they stick with Straus despite growing evidence that he was neck-deep in the clout-abuse scandal? Will they keep Straus in power despite clear indications that the House’s attacks on Wallace Hall were motivated as a cover-up?
Or, will those members move to separate themselves and the House from the stain of corruption and retribution that is defining the Straus speakership? Most of those conservatives who support Straus did so honestly believing they could affect change from inside the Straus regime; Straus is telling them that they cannot.
Just as importantly, the unnamed members of the Texas Legislature — the House and the Senate — described in the investigation must be named and forced to resign. Absent those members being named and removed from office, it will be rightly assumed that anyone who participated in the cover-up did so to protect their own abusive actions.
Members of the Texas House can be pawns in the corrupt dealings of the Austin powerbrokers aligned with Joe Straus, or they can be heroes for honesty and integrity in government. Quite frankly, there are a small number of Republican House members who are probably too far-gone, too deeply bought, or just too timid. But a great many are not, and Texans will applaud them for doing the right thing.
This is a sad day; none of us want to discover that our beloved state’s capitol is stained with this kind of corruption and cover-up.
But this can also be the Lone Star State’s best day if our public servants will rise to the occassion and move quickly to clean up Austin.