When was the last time a speaker of the Texas House was even challenged in his own primary? Not in the last 20 years, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s elections database.
And since 1992, only four times has an incumbent speaker faced any challenge in their district whatsoever — primary or general. In the national sea-change election of 1994, then-Speaker Pete Laney squeaked by a general election win with 64.6 percent of the vote.
In the Obama-wave 2008 election, a politically weakened Tom Craddick narrowly won a general election bid… with 62.1 percent of the vote. (He lost the speakership a month later.)
The New York Times, in fact, referred to Joe Straus’ election as House Speaker over Mr. Craddick as riding the Obama wave, noting a “coup by moderate Republicans” joining with the Obama Democrats elected that year. (The article was titled “Texas Rebellion Gives a Centrist a Lift.”)
The strength of a speaker is often measured by the staying power of his allies. A complaint against Mr. Craddick were claims his committee chairs and allies were left vulnerable when targeted in elections.
Joe Straus has been unsuccessful in protecting his own inner-circle. Republican chairmen Delwin Jones of Lubbock and Tommy Merritt of Longview were defeated in the 2010 primary, and Democratic Straus ally Jim McReynolds fell that November. Straus cheerleader (and committee chairman) Brian McCall of Plano resigned his seat in 2010, to avoid a primary fight and take a job in higher ed.
Since then, Straus committee chairs have been retiring in droves — all worried about having to defend themselves against charges of being aligned with a speaker uncommitted to even the most basic of fiscally conservative reforms.
Mr. Straus even worked against the Republican wave of 2010, doing his best to keep vulnerable Democrats in office by refusing to support Republican challengers — including doing a fundraiser for one of his doomed Democratic chairs.
(Meanwhile, Ken Paxton — who attempted a late-game challenge to Straus in 2011, and the talking heads in Austin declared politically dead as a result — is walking essentially unopposed into a state senate seat.)
Using history as their guide, legislators expect a Speaker of the House to be standing on the most solid ground; Mr. Straus has an unthinkable primary challenge. Add the loss of even one committee chairman or Straus-friendly freshman, and the voice of his speakership becomes an inaudible whisper.