The Speaker’s race that wasn’t

State Representative Joe Straus (R-Bexar County), the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, is a dying breed. A comparably moderate Republican, he runs the chamber based on the consent of its members (a novel concept). Instead of groveling to the whims and caprices of the majority of the majority, like Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) or soon-to-be-former Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)  in Congress, Straus actually gives a voice to all proposals with majority backing. Often times, these are red-meat conservative proposals, like solving the non-existent problems of voter fraud and unsafe abortion clinics, but they have sometimes been realistic and sensible ideas to solve the state’s problem.

Straus, of course, came to power by aligning himself with the Democratic caucus, and has remained in office largely through their toleration. In 2009, after three disastrously controversial sessions under the stewardship of Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland County), Straus overthrew the incumbent and has been distrusted by the most extreme factions of his party ever since. Some have a pathological hatred of anyone who work with Democrats and some are just anti-Semites (Straus is Jewish), but the main point is that the Tea Party and Straus go like water and oil.

A few names have popped up over the succeeding sessions to challenge Straus, but they have — without exception — dropped out before the actual vote came up. State Representative Scott Turner (R-Rockwall County), who is challenging Straus ahead of the 2015 session, says he will stay in until the bitter end to demand a vote.

However, the evidence is just not there that Turner can mount anything close to a credible campaign. If he gets more than 25 votes, I will legitimately be shocked.

First, let’s do some simple math. There are 150 members, meaning roughly 76 are needed to secure the gavel. We can put the 52 Democrats in as a given for Straus; they’ve supported him before and will be sure to do so again when the only other option is Turner, arguably too cozy with moneyed right-wing interests. Granted, one Democrat, State Representative Mike Villarreal (D-Bexar County), has resigned and his seat will not likely be filled by early January. Thus, for the sake of argument, there are 51 Democrats.

Then we can toss in 7 Tea Party-affiliated Representatives from the DFW portion of the state, who recently signed an open letter (Letter 1) stating their support for Straus. They are State Representatives Myra Crownover (R-Denton County), Giovanni Capriglione (R-Tarrant County), James Frank (R-Wichita County), Phil King (R-Parker County), Tan Parker (R-Denton County), Ron Simmons (R-Denton County) and Drew Springer (R-Cooke County). Capriglione, a true Tea Party darling, publicly announced and defended his support for Straus at the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party, one of the most infamously anti-Straus organization. It was quite the spectacle. Anyways, that brings the total up to 58.

Today, a further 7 State Representatives and State Representatives-elect publicly backed Straus, in yet another open letter (Letter 2). They are Trent Ashby (R-Angelina County), Cecil Bell (R-Montgomery County), Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches County), John Otto (R-Liberty County), Chris Paddie (R-Harrison County), Dade Phelan (R-Jefferson County) and Gary VanDeaver (R-Bowie County). The two open letters, respectively, touted Straus’ conservative credentials (first accessed via Quorum Report, though the letters themselves are open). This now brings the total up to 65.

Straus can be counted upon to vote for himself, as can be some of his closest lieutenants: State Representatives Byron Cook (R-Navarro County), Charlie Geren (R-Tarrant County), Jim Keffer (R-Eastland County) and Jason Villalba (R-Dallas County). That brings us to 70.

Now, I’m just spit-balling here, but if I had to name six more supporters, they would be State Representatives Drew Darby (R-Tom Green), Sarah Davis (R-Harris County), Kyle Kacal (R-Brazos County), J.M. Lozano (R-Kleberg County), J.D. Sheffield (R-Coryell County) and John Zerwas (R-Fort Bent County). They have not made official statements, but I would be very surprised if they voted the other way. Your mileage may vary.

That’s just math, folks. But the good news is that, at the end of the day, Straus will still be in charge for the 84th Legislature. In all likelihood, another faction of six or seven conservative Republicans will rally to Straus’ side tomorrow or the next day, and make my guesses moot. Scott Turner just will not win. Full stop.

I obviously think Straus is more moderate and pragmatic his opponent, but that is not really the reason I am supportive of him. Lest the liberals think he will secretly go along with their agenda, like many on the far-right believe, Straus will put up disastrously extreme pieces of legislation this next session, for the simple reason that they will pass easily in the heavily Republican chamber. But he will do so as a result of the consent of the members, not because of any despotic proclivities or loyalties to outside parties. By that standard alone, he is better than Craddick, Turner or anyone else Michael Quinn Sullivan might prop up next.

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Predictions and hopes

Longtime readers of this blog will recall that I am not much for predictions. Well, to be fair, I used to predict things all the time, but I was notoriously wrong too many times to count. Accordingly, in an effort to save face, I will  not field my own electoral predictions, which are only slightly less reliable than the Tribune polls.

Rather, I want to note what I am looking for and what I am hoping for; admittedly, they are nearly mutual exclusive categories. Within those categories, I would like to look most specifically at both the Republican & Democratic primaries, as well as both Statewide races and those in Harris County. Within these four categories, there are quite a few overlapping key points, however.

1. HOW BIG IS THE STUPID VOTE?

This is one for the Democratic primary. I am using the official academic term, of course, to describe these so-called stupid voters. They are the voters who will cast their lots for Kesha Rogers (US Senate), Lloyd Wayne Oliver (District Attorney) and Lori Gray (115th District Court), in that order. Albeit, plenty of otherwise unintelligent voters may coincidentally vote for the non-egregious candidates, but there is no way to discern them from Adam.

Click here to read all my other points!

Civil Affairs: Primaries

CIVIL AFFAIRS

In mid-January, State Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) took the stage at a local meeting of the Lubbock Rotary Club, where he criticized the “Race to the Right” in Republican primaries, where candidates try to appeal to an increasingly extreme conservative voter base by outdoing one another’s political positions. Duncan, who is not up for re-election this year, took the opportunity to criticize many of his colleagues for what he felt was an insane example of political posturing.

“We have dumbed down our elections,” Duncan said in comments first reported by the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “It’s a race to say who’s the most conservative.”

Duncan, mind you, is no rogue liberal holdover in the Republican Party. In past legislative sessions, he served as the president pro tempore of the chamber and currently serves as the chairman of the Senate State Affairs Committee. In fact, it was Duncan who served as speaker of the body when Wendy Davis famously filibustered last June.

PLEASE SEE THE FULL ARTICLE FROM THE DAILY TEXAN!

Big money goes after Straus

The Associated Press reports that a new right-wing PAC, Accountability First, is targeting both House Speaker Joe Straus and allies in upcoming Republican primaries, in a rather transparent attempt to make the Texas House an even more right-wing chamber. Specifically, Rep. Byron Cook (R-Navarro County) and Rep. Jim Keffer (R-Eastland County), moderates and Straus allies, have seen their respective primary opponents be heavily funded by this PAC.

The PAC is largely underwritten by Wallace Hall, the embattled UT Regent on an alleged witch hunt against UT-Austin President Bill Powers. Hall is, of course, currently being investigated by the Legislature for abuse of office and possible impeachment. Also a heavy benefactor to the interest group is Jeff Sandefer, a longtime Perry adviser. Sandefer is probably best known for heralding many of the more-controversial education reforms in the right-wing’s playbook. Specifically, some of the aversions cast upon him are his alleged desire to turn schools such as the University of Texas into more of a technical/vocational institute.

Click here to read more!

Lege Update 7/2

As much as the omnibus anti-abortion bill seems to be all the rage these days, there is other stuff going on at the Legislature. Specifically, in addition to abortion, Gov. Perry added two more issues to the call: Transportation and Juvenile Criminal Justice. The same other two issues that were dealt with in the last special session.

The houses came very close to passing comprehensive legislation on Transportation funding and Capital Murder penalties for juveniles last special session. However, these bills were caught as collateral damage in the ultimate day’s filibuster. Like the abortion bill, these issues’ bills have been given new names to reflect the new session. SJR1 is the new Transportation Bill and SB2 is the new Criminal Justice bill. The Texas Tribune reports that both passed unanimously through committee today.

I have talked at length about the bills debated by the Legislature to create suitable (constitutional) penalties for juveniles convicted of capital murder. I have colloquially styled these the bills about “Miller compliance.” Last session, the Senate passed a bill which replaced the mandatory life-without-parole penalty (that was deemed unconstitutional) with a life-with-parole penalty. The House amended the bill to include the option of life-without-parole for the more heinous offenses. The bill that the Senate Criminal Justice Committee passed today, SB2, does not include that amendment. The vote was unanimous.

The Transportation measure, SJR1, which must pass with a 2/3 majority and then be approved by referendum this November, passed the Senate Finance Committee unanimously as well. That bill, which diverts over $1B from the Rainy Day Fund to the State Highway Fund, is identical to the measure nearly passed last Special Session.

Both of these bills are somewhat non-controversial, and should be passed by the Legislature ASAP. Contrary to public belief, these bills were not taken hostage by the Democrats. In fact, the Republicans made the strategic choice to kill them. Any honest follower of last week’s proceedings will remember that Kirk Watson stood up and said that the Democrats did not object to taking a final vote on the two bills before the SB5 filibuster occurred. Oh well.

locked

Then, of course, this happened. Starting at 3:30 today, the House State Affairs Committee held their obligatory public hearing on HB2, one of the successors to SB5. As I stated yesterday, Committee Chairman Byron Cook made clear that public comment would only run from 3:30PM to Midnight.

With 3,543 people signed up to testify, after getting started a little behind schedule (what a surprise), the Committee barely made it through 100 people before Cook took the unilateral, though not unexpected, step of cutting off public comment. Shortly after Midnight, without much warning, Cook abruptly ended the debate and took a vote. 8-3, along party lines in favor. However, the vote was taken so quickly that two Democrats could not return to the desk. Accordingly, the real vote should have been 8-5.

Shortly thereafter, the Capitol got cleared and locked down. The result, in the above photograph, was roughly 1000-1700 angry protesters banging on the doors to their place of government while 7 White Men and 1 White Woman, in the dead of night, passed punitively burdensome restrictions on the right to abortion.

The Texas Observer has the full story. This isn’t pretty, not in the slightest. I’ll sign off this evening by reprinting the words of the ranking Democrat on the Committee, Jessica Farrar, shortly after the panel approved the measure:

 “Once again, far-right House members in the State Affairs Committee blocked Texans from speaking against a bill that will harm woman across the state.  At midnight, the committee chairman cut off testimony, denying more than a thousand Texans the opportunity to speak out against dangerous legislation that would virtually ban safe and legal abortion statewide.”

“This isn’t the fair democratic process that we value in Texas.  This is politics at its worst”

“The Texas constitution says that the Governor may call a special session “on extraordinary occasions.  If this is such an ‘extraordinary occasion,’ Texans from across the state deserve the opportunity to voice their opinion.”

“On behalf of the women and men in the communities I serve — and those that were silenced tonight — I call on leadership to hold public hearings across the state so Texans can have their voice heard.”

 

Lege Update 7/1

At roughly 2PM today, the 83rd Legislature convened for their second Special Session. However, what happened at that time was not the biggest news of the day. Instead, the biggest news was what happened at High Noon at the Capitol. The Stand With Texas Women rally occurred, and saw an astronomical amount of people show up to oppose the draconian measures. I just heard Sen. Leticia Van de Putte on MSNBC say that “Eight thousand” protesters showed up.

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Wow. The Texas Tribune has an entire slideshow full of the festivities that occurred today. The rally included a local Austin band, Bright Light Social Hour, as well as Natalie Maines, a former member of the Dixie Chicks. An actress, Lisa Edelstein, also made an appearance.

Those politicians you would expect to speak also made statements, one by one. Senfronia Thompson, Jessica Farrar, Lon Burnam, Kirk Watson, Leticia Van de Putte and Wendy Davis, to be exact. Cecile Richards also made another appearance, and gave another speech. The rally was a big deal, to say the least.

Then, the House and the Senate gaveled into session. Shortly thereafter, they gaveled out. Until July 9th. This drains the clock on about 25% of the Second Special Session. However, the notion that the legislature adjourned for a week is slightly misleading. This is because, while the full House or the full Senate will be out of session, Committees will be free to operate as needed.

In a little bit of review, let me note that the omnibus abortion regulation bill will be heard in the House State Affairs Committee and the Senate Health & Human Services Committee, respectively. Tomorrow, the House will hear its omnibus abortion regulation bill, HB2, in committee.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that this hearing will take place at 3:30 on Tuesday. However, flying straight in the face of House tradition, Committee Chairman Byron Cook will be cutting off testimony promptly at midnight. As many may remember, Cook has done this once before. Expect the hearing to be messy. Very, very messy.

In other news, broadly related to this ugly legislation, Texas Leftist has an awesome piece on how the Democrats were able to expose the Republicans’ extremism and hypocrisy on the subject.

Citizens’ Filibuster and more

Most notably, after holding a largely successful “Citizens Filibuster” into the wee hours of the morning yesterday, the House State Affairs Committee adjourned without voting on the Omnibus Abortion restriction bill. However, the committee quietly reconvened today and voted out the bill.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that the hearings on HB60, the equivalent of the Senate’s anti-abortion bill but also including the 20 week ban, extended until 3:40 in the morning last night as nearly 2000 women showed up to testify against the burdensome regulations. I was in meetings all day today, so I never had a chance to be on the first people writing on this. Off the Kuff, Texas Leftist and Brains & Eggs (who spelled my name right, yea!!!) have much more on the topic of the filibuster.

The bigger issue, unfortunately, is that it didn’t really mean much. The Texas Tribune reports that the State Affairs Committee approved the bill anyway. However, there is actually quite a lot to discuss on the actions by this committee. The committee not only approved HB60, which is different than the Senate’s bill (SB5), but they also rubber-stamped SB5 itself. This means the legislation goes straight to Perry if the full House votes favorably upon it. However, in one shining glimmer of hope, the Tribune article notes that there may have been a Point of Order violation when Chairman Bryan Cook cut testimony short.

From the Tribune article: “Farrar and reproductive rights advocates allege Cook’s decision to end testimony could endanger the legislation. House members may be able to kill the bill on a point of order if the committee did not follow proper legislative procedures when they ended testimony. If approved, advocates could also sue the state and seek to overturn the legislation, arguing the state ignored democratic processes by denying them the opportunity to speak on the bill.”

If Turner and his gang can P.O.O. the bill, that would be fabulous. I have always maintained that this bill would be unconstitutional and summarily thrown out in Federal Court. Last but not least, I thoroughly recommend watching Rachel Maddow’s thoughts on the matter. Jessica Farrar joins her as the guest (TX @ 6 min; Farrar @ 14 min).

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/26315908/#52280296

Though I can’t find an article for it, I know that the House third-read passed the redistricting maps. It’s a done deal now.

Finally, in an exceedingly bizarre series of events, the Austin American-Statesman reports that Sen. John Whitmire alleged that Governor Perry vetoed one of his bills, SB1234/Truancy Reform, by mistake. The article opened the idea of Perry calling a mea culpa on the matter, and the Legislature summarily re-approving the legislation in the final days of the Special Session. However, in the recent update to the article, Perry reaffirmed it was not by mistake. Even if it was (it probably was), there is no way he would ever admit to it, it would make him look too bad. Whitmire claims he had some good sources, but as our Editorial Board says, he isn’t always to be trusted.

I was supposed to meet with Dan Branch today, but Special Session needs came calling. I did get to see, in unrelated news, a mock trial being put on by Dallas County. It was the hypothetical “Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald.” After a very, very, very short trial for Capital Murder (three hours), a jury of Dallas’ judges deadlocked 9-3 in favor of guilt. It will be in the news soon enough, and you will probably see me in the video (I’m in the second row).