Since the grow-government establishment in Austin cannot win when they take their case to the voters, as witnessed by this year’s elections, they must rely on deception and strategic power plays to keep their noses in the taxpayers’ trough.

Lately, some of these deceivers, including the serpentine leader of a phony pro-life organization, Joe Pojman, have taken to denying basic historical facts about the ascendancy of liberal House Speaker Joe Straus.

Specifically, Pojman claims the statement that Joe Straus was elected by 65 Democrats and 11 Republicans is untrue. Pojman hangs his hat on the fact that Straus was eventually elected by an acclamation voice vote after he was the only candidate nominated for Speaker in 2009. This ignores the strategic backroom plays Straus and his liberal Republican allies used to put themselves in power before the eventual vote.

To be fair on the numbers, it was in fact a group of 64 Democrats who empowered the “Gang of 11” liberal Republicans to anoint Straus as Speaker.

In December 2008, after Democrats nearly split the Texas House, securing 74 seats in the Obama wave, Democratic Caucus chief Jim Dunnam released a list of 64 Democrats who had pledged to vote for anyone but then-House Speaker Tom Craddick.

The eleven liberal Republicans met at the Austin home of Rep. Byron Cook on Polo Road (still today, the remaining members, which now number only four, refer to themselves as the “Polo Road Gang”).

The “Gang of 11” cleverly selected Straus only after many rounds of balloting. Several of the group had too much baggage to be the nominee, and too little trust in each other that they would share power when eventually elected. Straus was so new – he had served less than two terms – that he had no time to make enemies. His colleagues described him as “virtually unknown in the House.

(Nevermind that Straus is soft spoken and passive-aggressive, and was simply not the type of person who was going to gain baggage while serving as a follower.)

Most importantly, as a weak man with nothing in the way of vision or principles, Straus was uniquely positioned to allow the other ten and their lobbyist and political consultant allies to dominate his administration.

The gang announced Straus as their pick, and then spent a couple of days promising the Democrats that they would kill Republican priorities like Voter ID and pro-life legislation. This announcement drew the support of Dunnam’s pledges, plus six other Democrats and four additional Republicans.

At that point, Straus’s election was a foregone conclusion – as long as there wasn’t another Republican on the ballot. Craddick withdrew and a brief effort by Republican John Smithee to reassemble the Republican caucus behind a more conservative candidate was unsuccessful.

If Craddick had withdrawn when the opposition to his continued leadership became clear, some other more natural choice might have been elected Speaker. Joe Straus, possessing neither policy experience nor leadership ability, never could have won an open race for Speaker. He relied on Dunnam’s 64 pledges and his 10 damaged goods liberal Republican allies for an improbable win. As it is often said, “Straus happened.”

Today, Straus knows that he could never win a statewide election. He manages to hold on to his power through an elaborate system of rewards and punishments. He exploits the hopes and fears of those he claims to represent in order to hold on to a position in which he misrepresents the people of Texas. But Straus’s best efforts can only add additional grains to the sand timer. The clock will run out on his power, and the people will regain control of their House.

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.


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