Several weeks ago, Speaker candidate Rep. Scott Turner penned a letter to State Rep. Charlie Geren and House Speaker Joe Straus, calling on them to end their divisive rhetoric about a roll call vote for Speaker and join him in jointly asking the Secretary of State for a record vote. Under the Texas Constitution, three members of the legislature are entitled to ask for a vote to be recorded. Turner’s effort at civility was met with a bizarre response from Geren, and silence from Straus.
Rather than accept the request and cooperate with his colleague from Collin County, Geren claimed that he had – surprise! – already penned his own letter just hours before the Turner letter was released to the press. Nevermind – as AgendaWise correctly points out – Geren claimed to have “walked over” the letter, so that there was no electronic paper trail to prove whether his letter was actually sent before Turner’s letter was published that evening.
When the Geren letter was finally released to the public two days later, it turned out that he didn’t actually make a request. In the letter, only Geren and State Rep. Ken Sheets told the Secretary of State that they “intend” to call for a record vote.
Turner didn’t ask Straus and Geren to announce their “intent.” He asked them to join him in a constitutionally operative request by three members for a record vote.
Geren’s response is bizarre, but the silence from Straus is deafening.
Straus hasn’t always been so quiet on the issue of record votes for Speaker. In 2007, Straus was entering his second term as a state representative. He was supportive of a group including Rep. Jim Pitts, Rep. Senfronia Thompson, and sixty of her pledges and their efforts to oust Republican Speaker Tom Craddick.
When Craddick supporters began suggesting that there be a roll call vote to begin the 80th legislature, Straus “blasted” the idea:
“I believe we must protect the institutions of good government against even the appearance of coercion,” Straus wrote in a press release. “We must ensure that no single member stands in a hotter spotlight than any other when he or she casts a vote on Tuesday. My support for any candidate for Speaker is predicated on his or her support of a fair process. I believe this outweighs any member’s personal ambitions.”
(Four years later Straus would accuse his opponent of having “no shame” for raising issues related to the appearance of coercion through Straus’s use of pledge cards.)
On the same day in 2007, Geren came out in support of Pitts and his Democratic allies, pointing his finger at the idea of a record vote as the reason for his support. Geren said the call for a record vote sent him “over the edge” and was the “straw that snapped [his] back.” “It had me very upset,” he said of the proposal. He told reporters that he favored a “secret vote” out of “fear of retribution if the incumbent wins.”
Straus and Geren didn’t support a record vote in 2007 when they were working with the Democrats to take power away from Republicans, and they don’t really favor one today. A record vote for Speaker will force them and their supporters to own their legislative accomplishments (or lack thereof) and defend their records in campaigns next spring. Straus holds on to power by deceiving Texans about their legislative objectives and results. Taking record votes on their policies endangers their political longevity.
Texans have the right to know where their elected representatives stand on bringing conservative leadership to the House. Far from preserving an individual’s political ambition, it is the duty of House members to represent their district without fear or favor. Hiding behind a lack of on-the-record votes fundamentally undermines this aim.