On the heels of House Speaker Joe Straus’ announcement last month that he would be retiring from the Texas Legislature one of his lieutenants threw his hat in the ring to replace him.
State Rep. John Zerwas of Richmond runs for office as a Republican but his record is anything but… Known as the “Obamacare Republican,” Zerwas led efforts to bring Obamacare to Texas in 2013, killed efforts to repeal in-state tuition for illegal immigrants in 2015, and most recently led the attempt to raid the Economic Stabilization Fund as Straus’ budget writer.
Though he announced his intention to seek the gavel last month, Zerwas began his campaign in earnest on Monday by sitting down for a lengthy one-on-one interview with the Texas Tribune.
Throughout the interview, questions lobbed at the liberal Republican centered around how he would be different from Straus. Asked if he’s more conservative than Straus, Zerwas said, “That’s a hard one for me to answer.” And asked to identify any major issues on which he splits from Straus: “Not anything that comes to mind right now.”
Zerwas also moved to evade questions regarding whether he supports or opposes amending the bylaws of the House Republican Caucus to nominate a Speaker internally.
Zerwas kinda slipping & sliding around speaker selection question but making pretty clear he believes next speaker needs support of Ds & Rs
— Patrick Svitek (@PatrickSvitek) November 6, 2017
The reason? Zerwas is making plays for those Democrat votes, admitting later in the interview that he would have voted against State Rep. Matt Schaefer’s (R-Tyler) amendment to strengthen Senate Bill 4, the legislation to ban sanctuary cities.
Zerwas and a number of his other Republican colleagues ducked that vote during the regular session to preserve their ability to work with Democrats—a move that appears to have worked out for them so far.
A few weeks ago, a Democratic lawmaker told a Houston Chronicle reporter that the Democratic Caucus was still open to supporting a select minority of Republicans for Speaker and provided her with a list of those legislators.
“There were 12 names on the list: the nine who voted against Schaefer’s amendment, and the three who were absent,” she wrote.
Given Zerwas’ horrendous record on fiscal matters, and the fact he ran point on bringing Obamacare to Texas in 2013, Zerwas likely knows that he has no probable path to victory in the Republican Caucus.
Indeed, if conservative lawmakers are successful in changing the caucus’ bylaws, Zerwas would have to hang his hopes on the same method that Straus used to get elected: convincing almost two dozen of his GOP colleagues defecting and joining with Democrats to elect him.
But despite Zerwas’ maneuverings and machinations, Austin sources told Texas Scorecard they didn’t think Zerwas was ultimately going to be “the guy” the Austin Cartel rallied around for Speaker.
“Zerwas is just a placeholder candidate,” remarked one source.
“I think he’s a walking horse for someone like Price or Clardy” said another, referring to Republican State Reps. Four Price of Amarillo and Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches both of whom have already told their local newspapers that they are exploring runs and both of whom already have opponents in the Republican primary.
Both Price and Clardy are liberal Republican legislators who scraped the bottom of the barrel of the Fiscal Responsibility Index and are significantly closer to Democrats than their own Republican colleagues.
Zerwas’ campaign makes it clear that conservative activists across the state will have to continue engaging their Republican lawmakers and demanding they move on amending the caucus bylaws, clear the way for a conservative Speaker, and work constructively to pass pro-taxpayer reforms.
What activists should remember is that right now, they have all the momentum, and that by speaking out and getting involved in the primary elections they can continue to take power away from the Austin Swamp, away from the lobby cartel, and return it to citizen hands.