Just a week before the special session is set to begin, Republicans in House Speaker Joe Straus’ home county of Bexar passed a resolution calling for him to be replaced as Speaker of the Texas House. Following this repudiation, Straus changed his tune and revealed his contempt for a key Republican priority.
In a vote of 36-28, members of the Bexar County Executive Committee meeting passed a resolution by Mike O’Donnell calling for a change of leadership in the Texas House, citing Straus’ failure to support the party platform as justification. Since taking the gavel in 2009, Straus has more often been seen thwarting efforts to pass Republican Party priorities rather than assisting efforts to pass them.
So how did he respond? With a flash of honesty, and teeth bared.
“Speaker Straus understands that voicing concerns about harmful bathroom bills is unpopular with some, but he was elected to act in the best interest of District 121 and the state of Texas,” said Straus spokesman Jason Embry in a statement.
Gone are previous claims the Texas Privacy Act is an “unnecessary” legislative exercise, that Texans aren’t really in support of it, and the bill will somehow bankrupt the Texas economy – a ridiculous claim refuted by even the left-leaning PolitiFact.
Instead Straus has replaced his discredited rhetoric with something much more arrogant and pithy:
“Texans are wrong and I know what’s best for them.”
That’s the tone of Straus’ statement, something more akin to how a parent would speak to an unruly child than how a citizen legislator – a public servant – should speak to his constituents.
Indeed, the whole concept of republicanism is that the people are the king and legislators are our subjects, the belief our founding fathers fought for and secured at Lexington and Concord, at Yorktown, and the fields of San Jacinto. They fought for a nation where government was “of the people, by the people, for the people”—and fortunately, they defeated the elitist tyrants who sought to control them.
It’s rather telling none of Straus’ Republican colleagues are defending him for his tone or his stance on the Privacy Act – an item 21 State Senators voted for and more than 80 State Representatives signed their names to. The only ones defending him are lobbyists, liberals, and Democrats such as his Bexar County colleague, Diego Bernal (D–San Antonio) who spoke up for Straus’ Republican bona fides on Twitter.
— Diego Bernal (@DiegoBernalTX) July 11, 2017
Since he was first elected in 2009, Straus has retained unanimous support from Texas House Democrats and used their committed votes to secure his hold to power. In exchange, he’s used that power to support their interests and thwart those of his own party, as he did during the regular session with the Texas Privacy Act.
But the question is, what will he do now?
What will Straus do now that Gov. Greg Abbott has called a special session and placed the Privacy Act on lawmakers’ agenda a second time, and is courting them publicly to ensure it passes?
When Straus first ran for Speaker – and throughout his time on the dais – Straus has promised a “member-driven House” where lawmakers are free to “vote their districts,” promising he would refrain from forcing his agenda on anyone.
While he rarely governed that way, he is now publicly abandoning the lofty rhetoric.
Since taking power, Straus has defied conservative citizens and those at all levels of government by obstructing their ability to pass wildly popular reforms. And rather than allow his fellow lawmakers to set the agenda, Straus has routinely imposed his own views on the entire state.
It was Straus’ team who sought to bring Obamacare to Texas. It was his team who killed bills to end government-union collusion, efforts to strengthen the state’s spending limit, and to reform property taxes. It was his lieutenants who delayed a ban on sanctuary cities for six years, and worked to gut the version in 2017 prior to allowing it to come to the floor.
And this session he personally killed the Senate version of the Texas Privacy Act by refusing to even refer it to a committee. His chief lieutenant, State Affairs Chairman Byron Cook (R–Corsicana), scuttled the House version by refusing to even hold a vote for it in committee.
All while more than 80 House Republicans had signed their name to the bill in support. So much for a “member-driven House.”
As the regular session was winding down, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick offered to clean up the House’s mistake by passing mandatory sunset legislation to allow the legislature to avoid a special session on the condition that Straus allow a floor vote on two measures; one that protected privacy and business freedom, and one that reformed property taxes.
In the same arrogance he displayed today, Straus thumbed his nose at Patrick and at Texans by passing empty, do-nothing versions of each bill, and announcing he would “compromise no further.”
“He said he has compromised enough, but in fact, he has not compromised at all,” Patrick said succinctly.
One thing should now be crystal clear: as long as Straus holds the Speaker’s gavel, the Texas Privacy Act and other Republican priorities can be expected to fail in every session, whether it is a 140-day regular session, or a 30-day special session.
At some point very soon, Gov. Greg Abbott and House Republicans will have to make a choice between standing with Straus and standing with Texans. The fate of conservative priorities hangs in the balance.