AUSTIN, Texas—After months and months of effort, grassroots activists scored a major victory Saturday when the Texas GOP’s executive committee voted to concur with efforts by the Bexar County Republican Party to hold one of the state’s most powerful elected officials accountable by a vote of 43-19.
Taking power in 2009 through the result of a Democrat-led coup against Republican Speaker Tom Craddick of Midland, House Speaker Joe Straus spent almost a decade obstructing and subverting the will of Republican primary voters and the party platform—killing efforts to protect life, gun rights, and limit government from coming to the floor of the Texas House.
But despite Straus’ open defiance of the Texas GOP, efforts to depose him both in his district and on the floor of the Texas House repeatedly fell short until Fall of 2017 when the Texas Freedom Caucus successfully pushed the Texas House Republican Caucus to amend its bylaws and provide for a process to elect the Speaker internally. Under that albeit flawed process, Straus or a similar liberal Republican would no longer have the ability to partner with Democrats in order to win the gavel.
Such a change made it clear that no matter the result of the primary elections, Straus would no longer be returning as Speaker. And rather than lose in caucus, he headed for the hills—announcing his “retirement” along with that of his lead hatchetman, State Rep. Byron Cook (R—Corsicana).
Meanwhile, all across the state grassroots Texans had finally had enough, and pushed their county executive committees to pass “No Confidence” resolutions condemning Straus and calling on his constituents to pursue a Rule 44 censure resolution to hold him accountable.
According to Rule 44 of the party’s bylaws, an elected official may be censured if he is found to have violated the core principles of the party on three or more occasions. Following a county party’s decision to censure an elected official, the resolution would then be presented to the State Republican Executive Committee for final approval.
After Bexar County activists passed a resolution against Straus last year, the question was before the SREC at its January meeting to vote to concur or not to concur with the resolution—a vote that was closely watched by grassroots activists around the state considering the impact.
Debate on the issue raged for more than an hour, with contentious arguments on both sides, but perhaps most cogent were the arguments from Senate District 10 Committeeman Jeremy Blosser who said, “This is our mechanism to condemn our elected officials from giving power to Democrats.”
That argument struck home with SD 20 Committeewoman Janie Melendez who said Straus’ loyalty to Democrat representatives in the Rio Grande Valley made it hard to grow the party in its weakest part of the state.
Following a motion of previous question by SD 11 Committeeman JT Edwards, the SREC voted the resolution 41-19. Such a margin fell short of the two-thirds of the full membership required by Rule 44, but giving RPT Chairman James Dickey and Vice Chair Amy Clark the opportunity to cast deciding votes.
Both voted in favor of the resolution.
The SREC’s decision to stand with grassroots activists should be cause for celebration for conservatives across the state. While Straus should have undoubtedly been dethroned sooner, the party’s formal condemnation of his record as Speaker of the Texas House should allow the ugly chapter in Texas Republican history to come to a final end.
While Straus is gone from the battlefield, the forces that propelled him and kept him in power are still ever present in the Texas GOP. And grassroots voters still have a long road ahead of them to bringing accountable and honest leadership to the Texas House. The Republican Primary election on March 6th provides them an opportunity to do just that.