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As the 2019 legislative session in Texas fast approaches, behind the scenes the race for the next Speaker of the House is heating up, with increasing reports that State Rep. Drew Darby (R–San Angelo) is gearing up to join the race.

Capitol sources say that Darby wanted to publicly join the race as early as February of this year, but has since decided to mount his campaign behind the scenes. Darby is allegedly rallying Democrats as well as liberal and moderate Republicans with a message that the House needs a speaker who will stand up to Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

By failing to run his campaign openly, Darby could fall afoul of state law. Texas Government Code Chapter 302 makes it a Class A Misdemeanor to campaign for speaker without filing a declaration of speaker candidacy with the Texas Ethics Commission.

In February, Texas Scorecard reported that Darby sent campaign donations to a number of colleagues, including several Republican members opposed by Gov. Greg Abbott in the primaries. Since then, Darby has reportedly been attempting to build goodwill with colleagues in both parties in an attempt to establish a coalition of Democrats and establishment Republicans to give him the gavel in January.

Darby’s Democrat-focused campaign comes despite new rules passed in the House Republican Caucus designed to unify the party around one candidate for speaker. Darby has refused to sign the Republican Party’s pledge to support the caucus nominee for the position, and has since been seen palling around with Democrat lawmakers.

For example, in May Darby travelled 200 miles to Austin to dress up for an evening at the local community theatre with two liberal Austin Democrat legislators and Mindy Ellmer, the lobbyist wife of State Rep. Charlie Geren (R–Fort Worth).

The concept of a “coalition” speaker candidate is far from novel. In 2009, Democrats joined with a minority of Republicans to elect Speaker Joe Straus. Earlier this year, a Democrat candidate admitted during a debate that the best hope for liberal legislators to kill conservative legislation was to elect a coalition speaker.

For Democrats who seek to thwart the conservative agenda, Darby might be an ideal choice.

A fixture of Straus’ leadership team, Darby helped head a bipartisan coalition to obstruct conservative reforms.

During last session alone, Darby voted to raid the Economic Stabilization Fund, against the wishes of Gov. Greg Abbott and conservatives. He also voted against efforts to strengthen property tax reform, and when a bill to limit state spending to population and inflation sponsored by the chairman of the House Republican Caucus came to the floor, Darby voted with every Democrat to kill the bill in the final days of the special session.

As Darby mounts his behind-the-scenes campaign, the question at the forefront is which Republicans would be willing to go against the majority of Republicans and partner with Democrats to help give Darby the gavel?