Straus annihilates Turner

The Texas Tribune reports that House Speaker Joe Straus (R-Bexar County) has been re-elected, as expected, to a rare fourth term as speaker. He annihilated his competition, embodied in State Representative Scott Turner (R-Rockwall County), by unbelievably lopsided margins. The final tally was 127 for the speaker, 19 for Turner (two absences and two vacancies). While Straus, yet again, received the unanimous support of Democrats, there were 76 votes in the Republican column alone for him. This means that, contrary to the misleading claims made by Straus’ detractors, he did not require bipartisan support for his election.

Turner could obviously tell that his quest for the speakership was quixotic at best and delusional at worst as early as November. But unlike the other speaker challenges, which were abandoned before January, Turner soldiered on for very different reasons. He never expected to actually win the gavel (at least I hope not). The entire point of the challenge was to force a record vote for speaker, something that has not been done since the 1970s. Right-wing groups, such as the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party and Michael Quinn Sullivan’s Empower Texans, have pledged to recruit primary challengers for all the Straus loyalists. We’ll see how that works out, but color me skeptical.

Thanks to Empower Texans, we have a roll call of all nineteen of the Turner loyalists. State Representatives Dawnna Dukes (D-Travis County) and Tom Craddick (R-Midland County) were the two absences. While Dukes has intimated that she would have supported Straus, Craddick — a former Speaker who was deposed by Straus in 2009 — is tougher to pin down.

State Representatives Rodney Anderson (R-Dallas County), Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock County), Pat Fallon (R-Denton County), Bryan Hughes (R-Wood County), Mark Keough (R-Montgomery County), Stephanie Klick (R-Tarrant County), Matt Krause (R-Tarrant County), Jeff Leach (R-Collin County), Matt Rinaldi (R-Dallas County), Scott Sanford (R-Collin County), Matt Schaefer (R-Smith County), Matt Shaheen (R-Collin County), David Simpson (R-Gregg County), Stuart Spitzer (R-Kaufman County), Jonathan Stickland (R-Tarrant County), Tony Tinderholt (R-Tarrant County), Molly White (R-Bell County) and Bill Zedler (R-Tarrant County) all supported Turner.

Interestingly enough, Turner — a native son of the DFW Metroplex — garnered a significant chunk of the delegation from up there, but only one representative from Greater Houston and zero from both the San Antonio and Austin areas, respectively.

The House is still Straus’ fiefdom, that much is no longer up for debate. The question is what type of lower house he will command over the next 140+ days. Texas Monthly just published a lengthy interview with Straus, and I strongly urge you to check it out. Most pressingly, he appeared strangely tepid on Greg Abbott’s prospects as Governor. This led Breitbart Texas to explode and publish a real hit piece against Straus. Trouble in paradise already, evidently.

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Is Joe Straus a liberal?

My friend Paul Burka at Texas Monthly pegs this question, rather facetiously, in response to a recent blog post at Forbes Magazine. Spoiler alert, the answer is a total and resounding NO! The original post, entitled “Meet the Harry Reid of Texas,” is a ludicrous attempt to paint the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, State Representative Joe Straus (R-Bexar County), a bona fide Republican, as some type of closet Democrat. It is penned by a gentleman named Patrick Gleason, who (a cursory background search will reveal) is a staffer for Americans for Tax Reform, otherwise known as Grover Norquist’s group.

The post, which Burka notes “has all the earmarks of a Michael Quinn Sullivan put-up,” delineates the pragmatic background of Straus. For those not familiar, he was first elected Speaker in 2009. At that time, a coalition of eleven moderate Republicans banded together with the Democrats to topple the regime of Speaker Tom Craddick. The anger against Craddick was not necessarily based on politics, but on leadership style. Craddick was brash, and railroaded over other Representatives in an attempt to wield absolute power.

Because Straus and his band of allies dealt with Democrats, his underlying loyalty has been suspect by the most extreme Republicans ever since. He has a steadfast dedication to the important issues, such as roads and infrastructure. Meanwhile, he openly calls for the lower house to not focus too intently on controversial, us-versus-them social issues.

For his part, Straus is better than his predecessor, and has always cooperated in good faith with Democrats on many important issues. However, at the end of the day, he is still a Republican. I would still prefer him to be replaced by a Democratic Speaker. And, in what should be most important for the Tea Party, he will –albeit reluctantly– bring up those controversial social issues when pushed by his members and State Leadership.

For example, the Texas House, under Straus’ stewardship, passed a Voter ID act. They also passed “Guns on Campus” last year, though the Senate did not. Ditto with onerous abortion restrictions last summer.

Accordingly, why do these right-wingers loathe Straus so much? For one, his rise to power is disquieting to party orthodoxy. But, in my opinion, it is far more than that. This is about distrust of a pragmatic Texas Republican, one of the last ones left in high office, and his honest effort to run a better State. Not a more conservative State, just a better State.

Burka, for his part, agrees at least one piece of sentiment expressed in the Forbes article; right-wing pipe dreams passed out of a Texas Senate controlled by a Lieutenant Governor named Dan Patrick would almost certainly go nowhere in Straus’ House. The post also referenced State Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas County), a vocal Straus ally and one of the few –perhaps the only– openly moderate freshmen GOP Representatives. Villalba predicted that these pipe dreams, such as anti-Common Core bills, would be “put on the back burner” and eventually aged to death on the calendar committee.

In other places on the anti-Straus front, the Speaker has actually garnered some real opposition from among the House’s ranks. State Representative Scott Turner (R-Rockwall County) has announced a public campaign against the Speaker, though he still appears to be receiving only minimal support from usual suspects. Previous attempts against Sraus’ speakership have been spectacularly unsuccessful. Failed candidacies by both State Representative Bryan Hughes (R-Wood County) and David Simpson (R-Gregg County) were both aborted prior to actual voting.

I still maintain a good amount of respect for Straus, but my opinion is that Burka gives him far too much credit to stand up to the powers to be on contentious topics. It was a lot easier for Straus to be a moderate when his companions were Rick Perry as Governor (pre Presidential campaign) and David Dewhurst as Lieutenant Governor. Next session, in all likelihood, his companions will be Greg Abbott as Governor and Dan Patrick as Lieutenant Governor. Three full steps to the right, maybe more.

Straus folded like a cheap card table last summer when Perry began exacting pressure on him to pass the abortion restrictions. I have little doubt that he will fold once more when the time comes for Abbott to lay out his ambitious right-wing agenda. Just wait. Straus will, thankfully for him, largely placate his right-wing detractors. Unfortunately for the rest of us, it will be because of the dreaded 84th session.

Texpatriate endorses in Republican Agriculture Commissioner runoff

The Agriculture Commissioner is one of the most respected and powerful posts in the State, a steward of all things related to food, as well as a few other miscellaneous duties involving gas pumps and other odds and ends. For years, the Texas Farm Bureau has played kingmaker for this post, not only when Democrats carried the day in Texas, but for the past two decades of uninterrupted Republican rule. This year, they endorsed J. Allen Carnes in the Republican primary, something we later did too.  For all our efforts, Carnes came in dead last, and a runoff election has now emerged between Sid Miller and Tommy Merritt, two former State Representatives from the rural portion of the State.

The two men have somewhat similar stories, in that their service in the Legislature often consisted of right-wing grandstanding, and that they were both ultimately defeated for re-nomination in the 2012 Republican primary. Merritt was defeated by the more conservative David Simpson, who has since become a stalwart of Tea Party causes in the legislative. Miller, for his part, was defeated by J.D. Sheffield on account of allegedly neglecting the needs of his home constituency. Both men are lacking in the Agricultural credentials, to say the least, although the same thing could be said ten times over on the other side of the aisle.

Please click here to see who we choose!

Prop 6 is popular

The Texas Tribune reports that a recent poll taken on Prop 6, the water funding measure, finds the measure is very supportive among Texans. The poll also reported some other odds and ends, let me reprint the results and then delineate the implications below:

1. Do you support Prop 6?
55% YES
20% NO

2. Should the Legislature over Voters have the final say on this issue?
75% VOTERS
16% LEGISLATURE

The poll also offered a glimpse into some personal questions about the average polled Texan, including a few I felt really stood out.

3. What are your feelings about the bible?
38% Word of God, but not literal
35% Word of God, word-for-word literal
22% Word of Man

4. How important is religion in your life?
49% EXTREMELY IMPORTANT
29% SOMEWHAT IMPORTANT
10% NOT VERY IMPORTANT
13% NOT AT ALL IMPORTANT

5. How often do you go to church?
16% MORE THAN ONCE A WEEK
21% ONCE A WEEK
12% A FEW TIMES A MONTH
24% ONE OR TWO TIMES A YEAR
27% NEVER

Read analysis below the jump

Sine die, MoFos!

My general thoughts at the moment. The term “83rd Legislature Special Session” is such a taint upon this State, that I am ecstatic to delete it from my memory.

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The Texas Tribune reports that, just after 10PM last night and final passage of the Transportation funding legislation of HB1 and SJR1, the Dean of the Senate, John Whitmire, made the comment “Let’s adjourn this mutha [sic].” These bills passed by bipartisan margins, and earned praise from the Governor for not raising the gas tax. However, as has been pointed out to me, the gas tax hasn’t been raised in about 20 years, and any and all monetary tricks that do not involve raising it will not solve the problem. The Tribune lays out this problem:

“The latest version is estimated to raise $1.2 billion a year for TxDOT, a fraction of the more than $4 billion TxDOT has said it needs in additional annual funding to maintain current congestion levels as the state’s population grows.”

SJR1 ended up finally passing the House 106-21. Unlike last time, the vast majority of the dissenting votes were Democrats. In fact, most of the liberal Democrats (Burnam, Collier, Farrar, etc) voted against the measure. Additionally, the journals finally came out in the Senate and we can see their final roll call on the joint resolution: 22-3, with Dan Patrick, Ken Paxton and Charles Schwertner voting nay. I understand, trying to appeal to a Tea Party base in a Statewide primary, why the cupcake cadets voted no, but Schwertner is a mystery.

On HB1, the House passed the bill with only David Simpson objecting and the Senate with only Kel Seliger against.

If you are curious what this bill does, I invite you to consult my prior work on the matter. HB1 is a bill, so Perry still must sign it, but SJR1 is not, and it simply goes directly to referendum. However, as you may recall, it will not go before voters in 2013, but rather in 2014.

As for the 83rd Legislature, it is dunzo. After passing both bills, they adjourned sine die. No more. That’s it. Sayonara. What this means, however, is that all the other issues possibly to be added to the call must wait until the 84th Legislature, due to convene in January of 2015.

What this means for me is that I can now focus, nearly exclusively, on Municipal elections. Of course, there will still be some issues pertaining to the 2014 Primaries, but the Mayoral election will now be sure to heat up. I have been asked multiple times to start making predictions, but I had been holding off until the Legislature adjourned. Well, now that they have adjourned, I guess I have run out of excuses…

Off the Kuff has more.

Lege update 7/18

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Shortly after 9:30 this morning, Governor Perry signed HB2, the omnibus anti-abortion bill, into law. The law is a death warrant for thousands of poor, rural women who will now be denied access to abortion clinics. Democrats had promised a same-day lawsuit to be filed the date of signature, but it looks like they did not follow through on the threat.

At his signing statement, Perry surrounded himself with fellow Conservatives. The Texas Tribune reports that Perry doubled down on the lie that HB2 is about the 20 week ban. ““This is a bill that protects unborn babies after the fifth month of a pregnancy,” Perry said. Once again, that is not the point of the bill. In addition to the 20 week ban, it requires abortion doctors to administer all drugs in person, have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and –& this is the big one– require the clinics convert into ambulatory surgical centers.

Per the above photographs, there were protesters at the capital today. They donned black clothing, carried wire coathangers and chanted “SHAME!” over and over again.

In other news, the House voted to advance HJR2, a transportation funding measure not identical to the one the Senate passed last week. The Senate bill had originally drawn Transportation funding from the Rainy Day Fund. This bill siphons the 25% of the Gas Tax earmarked for education to TXDOT. In order to make up for this, the Rainy Day Fund would be withdrawn for education funding.

This bill, HJR2, was approved 108-25, with only Tea Party Republicans voting against the measure. Debbie Riddle, Jodie Laudenberg, David Simpson, Bryan Hughes: all those people.

The House also approved a companion bill, HB16, by a 124-11 vote. The entire Transportation funding plan will only come into effect if the Senate approves HJR2 with at least 21 votes and the constitutional amendment is approved by a majority of voters.

The Legislature then adjourned until next Thursday, July 25th. At that point, the Legislature will have about one week left.

Straus and the 83rd

Or is it the 84th? I don’t even remember anymore.

Anyways, David Simpson’s campaign to elect a “Christian Conservative” whimpered without a bang. In fact, he dropped it, so Joe Straus was re-elected by acclamation. Cheer up, it could be worse.

Now, everyone is talking about how Governor Perry has the unmitigated temerity to suggest we actually cut taxes and cut spending once again. Also on his priority list would be drug testing people on welfare and attempting to invalidate Roe v. Wade in the lone star state. Additionally, the Governor has strongly come out in favor of arming teachers.

Meanwhile, the Texas Tribune says that the State Senate will be maintaining the 2/3 rule, great news for the obstructing Democratic minority.

But the Straus news is what truly brings me to my key point: the paper tiger of the extreme Conservative. First, the far-right threatened to depose Straus in 2011, but no one even ran a feasible campaign against him. More recently, the Fiscal Cliff deal, in which a minority of House Republicans voted for Boehner’s deal, set off all the alarms on the Capitol Hill gossip rags about how Boehner’s speakership was doomed. In the end, only 12 Republicans defected, and none of them even voted for a legitimate candidate.

This brings us to what occurred yesterday in Austin. Joe Straus had been predicted by the ubiquitous prophets of doom to see some real challenging impediment to his speakership. First there was Bryan Hughes, then there was David Simpson. Both had something in common (besides the crazed Tea Party, theocratic ideologies): their campaigns self-aborted. This is similar to the Eric Cantor for Speaker campaigns (except that one never actually existed), just a bunch of hype by the media and pundits, myself included (for the record, I’m not comparing myself to the legitimate press).