Many conservatives have suggested Texas House Speaker Joe Straus might be a little too cozy with the Legislature’s liberals. The policy results of that relationship has been mapped and diagrammed by a Rice University professor and publicized by the Texas Tribune. All things considered, the Republican Straus allowed Democrats to run things pretty much to the same degree they did 2001… when their party held the speakership.
The Texas Tribune reports Rice political science professor Mark Jones “argues that first-time Speaker Joe Straus sacrificed agenda control by building a coalition of more moderate Republicans and the overwhelming majority of Democrats.”
That’s a pretty strong statement by iteself. But on his own blog, Dr. Jones goes even further in his own words:
In 2009, Republican Speaker Joe Straus replaced Craddick with the backing of a handful of moderate Republicans and an overwhelming majority of Democrats. The apparent price paid by Straus for this Democratic support was the delegation of a great deal of his agenda control powers (especially negative agenda control) to the Democratic Party House leadership.
“Price paid… for … support” paints quite the picture. Much is made of the deals former Speaker Tom Craddick made, but he didn’t cede agenda control, as Dr. Jones has defined it. In fact, it would seem Craddick’s deals were made to enhance his party’s control of the agenda in the early years of his speakership.
You can follow the methodology Dr. Jones uses pretty easily, as he tracks the relative power of the political parties to pass legislation. In fact, Dr. Jones argues, the Democrats under Straus have as much power as they did when they actually ran the House.
Giving control to the opposition party might play well on the pages of the state’s left-leaning newspapers, but it doesn’t do much for the conservative voters who make up the overwhelming majority of the state’s electorate. And that’s a problem for Mr. Straus.
In fact, the team Speaker Straus has surrounded himself with makes an even greater problem for a great many conservatives. Some of Straus’ committee chairs – like Republican Jim Pitts and Democrats Rene Oliveria and Joe Pickett – are calling for “revenue enhancements” (like expanded gambling and gas-tax hikes), as well as ending some sales tax exemptions, to bring in more dollars. Other Straus appointees (like Democrat Garnet Coleman) are opposing Attorney General Greg Abbott’s ObamaCare and EPA lawsuits.
Mr. Straus has argued he had no choice but to spread committee leadership 50/50, since the Republican/Democrat divide was so close. But as Dr. Jones has noted, the Speaker went a step further and gave away “agenda control” for their support of his speakership. That was clearly a step too far, legislatively.
Of course, the partisan divide doesn’t explain why Mr. Straus also gave up his own personal political control. He is currently refusing to support any Republican challenger to a Democratic incumbent. Which makes one think Mr. Straus won’t have much stomach for making leadership changes, even if Republicans pick up seats and he retains his speakership.
If Joe Straus wants conservatives to support him, which he may not, he needs to regain the agenda-control. He could start in any number of ways, like knocking his wayward committee chairs off their posts or even working to elect a few conservative challengers.
Here’s hoping Mr. Straus moves quickly to signal an end to the liberals’ stealth control of the legislature. Only he can, for now.