House Speaker Joe Straus is lashing out at “outside forces” engaged in the discussion about who should be speaker of the 99-seat Republican majority. Would those outside forces be lobbyists and consultants? Business insiders? Major contributors? Nope. The “outside forces” that seem most disturbing are, well, you.
The insiders have had a nice little monopoly on the Office of the Speaker for at least a generation. State law prohibited the involvement of Texans in the discussions about who should be the third-ranking constitutional officer. Those provisions were struck down as unconstitutional about two years ago.
Those statutes were allegedly implemented to clamp down on speakership decisions being made in smoke-filled rooms by a few powerful elite insiders. The net effect of the law was the decision for the speakership being made in a different set of rooms by a few powerful elite insiders. Old boss, meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Now the times have changed, and those used to making decisions without your input aren’t too happy. Now the decision can be made in the light of day, with people expressing a preference. (See www.ConservativeSpeakerMandate.com to do so!)
In a public letter Mr. Straus yesterday wrote to State Rep. Warren Chisum of Pampa (a declared challenger to Mr. Straus), the San Antonio Republican wrote the “nasty tenor of this race emanates from you and your supporters, who are obviously behind the effort to hijack the speaker’s race from the membership and subject it to the influence of outside forces.”
(Note: I’ve never had a conversation with Mr. Chisum about his run for speaker. We have not endorsed his speaker candidacy, nor have we been supporting — or opposing — it.)
What riles some insiders are the more than 1,800 Texans who have now signed a letter calling for a conservative speaker to be selected by this near super-majority of conservatives. Untold others are making their own phone calls and sending personal notes. People are engaged. Or, to use the Speaker’s words, hijacking the process.
These are the same hijackers who defeated a record number of Straus committee chairs. Mr. Straus lost two committee chairs in the Republican Primary, and lost numerous Democratic chairs in the general. Not in recent memory has there been such a wholesale electoral clean out of the most powerful and “safe” of legislative leadership. Many, like defeated Democrat Jim McReynolds in HD12, actively campaigned on his close relationship with Mr. Straus in the lead up to the November election. So did defeated State Rep. Delwin Jones in Lubbock back in the Republican primary. The list could go on.
The pressure to support Mr. Straus’ re-election has apparently been intense. State Rep. Bryan Hughes of Mineola yesterday withdrew his support from Mr. Straus upon being told by an unnamed legislator that redistricting would be used to punish legislators not committed to Straus. (Mr. Straus came to the speakership by way of a caucus of 65 Democrats siding with 11 Republicans.) Mr. Straus denies it could have happened.
Frankly, I’m certain Mr. Straus himself would not have made or authorized such a vile (and illegal) threat, but given the hardball nature of insider politics with such power on the line, it also isn’t unthinkable an over-eager committee chair or other supporter might resort to such thuggery. That’s what happens in the absence of sunlight.
The selection of the speakership demands a lot more sunlight. In politics, sunlight is what happens when the people are involved.
The people have the right to be engaged. Rather than decry “outside forces,” Mr. Straus and his colleagues should welcome the interested involvement of the people for whom they work. Rather than perpetuate the bad old days of back room politics, the legislature should pursue a public dialogue on the speakership. It’s the people’s right to be involved.