Friday, January 16, 2015

Foes of House Speaker aim to punish | Last Word

If the fantasies of many Texas Democrats had played out, San Antonio would become a powerhouse in Austin this coming week when state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte would be sworn in as lieutenant governor – one of the most powerful positions in Texas.

What’s more, San Antonians would occupy two of the three top positions in state government, with Representative Joe Straus as the powerful speaker of the House.

Of course, that didn’t happen.

Van de Putte was crushed in a Republican landslide last November, losing to Sen. Dan Patrick by nearly 20 percent and nearly a million votes.

But this week Straus was re-elected Speaker of the House in what might be called a super landslide with a strange twist.

Straus is a Republican, but he received stronger support among Democratic members of the House than among Republican members.

Straus won all 50 votes among the Democratic House members, but “only” 80 percent of the Republicans.

Nineteen Tea Party Republicans voted for Rep. Scott Turner, Republican, of Frisco, arguing that Straus was too moderate and didn’t push hard enough on issues such as immigration, abortion, gun rights and whether federal airport security agents should be arrested if they got too personal in pat downs.

The fact that Straus gets so much Democratic support is part of the argument against him.

But the reality is that Democrats have no reasonable alternative. 

With only a third of the House seats, they can’t even dream of electing one of their own.

And while Straus is quite conservative, he has delivered on a pledge he made when he was first elected speaker six years ago to assist each House member in representing his or her district.

That’s part of the reason that even some Tea Party Republicans supported Straus – that and the fact that they might be given worthless committee assignments if they didn’t.

Some of the newer Republicans don’t remember what it was like under the previous speaker, Republican Tom Craddick of Midland.

Craddick and his lieutenants earned a reputation for enforcing discipline on members, pressuring them to support his agenda even when it meant voting against the wishes of their own constituents.

It is that sort of leadership Straus’s opponents want.

People who stray from their orthodoxy are to be punished.

Since they don’t control the speakership, they will try to do it at the polls.

Normally, when it becomes clear that a speaker candidate has gathered enough votes to guarantee election the opposition withdraws and the speaker is elected by voice vote.

By the time of the vote, about 120 of the 150 House members had voiced their support for Straus

This time, however, Straus’s small band of opponents demanded a record vote for the first time since 1975, promising that those who voted for Straus would pay the price in the next Republican primary.

Immediately after his election, one of the opposing groups – Texans for Fiscal Responsibility – sent an email to voters saying, “I am sorry to report that on this first day of the legislative session, your state representative … voted for the liberal Austin establishment by keeping Joe Straus as speaker of the Texas House.”

It’s possible, with the incredible shrinking voter turnout, that they may be able to deliver on their threat in some districts.

Meanwhile, we can expect Straus to do what he’s done in the three previous sessions over which he presided: Try to keep the House focused on basic issues.

Those, he said, will include school finance and more funding for roads.

It’s not sexy stuff.

It is not Tea Party rhetoric casting the government as tyrant.

It’s Straus saying in his calm, quiet way that he is a conservative, but he wants government to work.

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